CAROL: Once you have an idea, what's your next step? How many sketches do you do before you know if an idea is working or not? Do you do the sketches digitally? Do you write the text first or draw the images first?
JENN: My process is still evolving. 99% percent of the time I’ve no clue what I am doing. I simply have this urge to do something! It’s unbearable if I don’t. I generate many of my ideas through Tara Lazar’s November PiBoIdMo, as I mentioned last week. I also like using Scholastic’s Story Starter’s website.
When I am extremely lucky I’ll have a light bulb moment, typically while walking the dog. Sometimes an idea will spring forth from a sketch especially if I find myself sketching the same character. The biggest key to a successful idea is making sure it’s a person, place, thing, idea that you love. I love nature, I love horses, dogs, cats, cows, frogs and birds, I love quirky and slightly subversive kids, I love little towns, barn, and farms. When you love deeply you know intimately and I believe that translates to the words you write and the pictures you draw. I will likely never write about monsters, clowns, snakes or life in the big, big city. I’ve no desire to have a long-term relationship with those characters.
Much of my process depends on my mood and energy level. As a single parent working ‘normal’ 8-5 hours, some days I may only have 20 minutes to an hour to work on my craft. I am a very linear thinker and process most of my information internally before I ever commit to anything on paper. It drives most people I know crazy. I know an idea is worth developing if I clearly see the characters and images in my head and I can sense the story arc. My personality needs clear direction in order to move forward. The book out on submission right now with my agent, Danielle Smith – Red Fox Literary, was that way. It started with a PiBoIdMo 2012 idea. Then a single sketch. It percolated in my synapses for another year before I grabbed a legal pad and began writing the story out long hand.
Once I have the bones of the story I then move to my laptop and begin the arduous revision journey. Namely, cutting down the word count. Then it goes to my agent for her thumbs-up before I move to thumbnail sketches. During this part of the process I will pretty quickly pick up any flaws in the pacing or story-arc, so the manuscript keeps evolving. All my sketches are analog – pencil to paper. The number of sketches I do often depends on how well formed the images are in my mind. Some pages I see clearly. Others are literally blanks so I will do a lot of loose, sloppy copy, gesture drawing to shake out the image.
I also employ an old Interior Design tactic: tracing paper.
This allows me to layer elements on a sketch and move things around. I love this phase. The story really comes to life with the pictures. I know the image is right when there is magic on the page and I feel this tremendous sense of gratitude. I am pretty spiritual so if I find myself saying, “YES! Thank you God.” then I know I’ve gotten it right. I also check for action, reaction, and interaction occurring on the page.
CAROL How do you know when to take an idea all the way to a book?
JENN Once I’ve completed all the sketches and firmed up the manuscript I scan everything into Photoshop and lay in the text. Hopefully I’ve allotted room for the words in my images and allowed for white space and some quiet pages. All sketches are then shared with Danielle for her review, comments, edit requests and approval. She typically shares with me which sketches she’d like to see in color comps for the Picture Book Dummy. Then I begin the painting phase. For my current submission we went through about five rounds of color edits before she said we were ready to submit.
Join us next week when Jenn discusses and demonstrates the digital tools she uses to paint these wonderful drawings!