Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Firefly Hollow development part 2: Curiosities.



This is part two of a short series of posts about the development of my most recent book, Firefly Hollow written by Alison McGhee. See my post from June 26th to read part one.

Putting a story together, or rather discovering one and unearthing it, is tricky business. Steven King describes it this way:

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth.” 

What parts of my story did I have? Not much. I had a few sketches that were resonating and some notes about the characters, but still no real sense of the story yet.
I tried asking myself questions about the characters: Who is this vole? Where does he live? I caught a few glimmers of things but any sort of narrative remained elusive.

So, I did what many illustrators do when they are stuck: Research. 

I started collecting images of voles, crickets and paintings of water that I really loved. I looked up rafts and boats, grabbing  anything that caught my eye. Some of the images I already had in a folder that is constantly updated called "curiosities".  In his book on creativity "Catching the Big Fish", David Lynch calls these collections "firewood". I love the term, and it is perfect the way he describes it, but I shied away from naming my folder likewise. I didn't want to burn through my material too quickly! I started putting things up and soon I had a wall of the shed covered in images. 
Writing is hard work, I happen to think that it is MUCH harder than illustrating though many of my writer friends disagree with me. Writing good picture books is particularly difficult, you will know this if you have ever tried. Trying, as I was, to write something like the final manuscript of Firefly Hollow Firefly...was....lets just say that it is like showing at Wimbledon and trying to compete because you beat everyone in your family at badminton. Nevertheless, I tried to write the picture book version of my story-numerous times. They were terrible; really, really bad. 

As an illustrator, I respond to a text and then begin to add my own voice. Ultimately, I try to create a corresponding visual narrative that enhances and supports the written word-basically creating a parallel emotional narrative. That is a summarization, and I don't think about it that way when I am working, but its the closest I can come to describing the process. I had nothing to respond to so I continued on with what I felt right...the pictures. I sketched little visual "notes" about things that I thought would be fun to paint. 
I was still on hold for the project in my desk so I scanned a few of the sketches and painted them up in Photoshop (just for the fun of it) as a color studies. 

Firefly Hollow!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Jonathan Stroud on Goodreads

I am a big fan of Jonathan Stroud's books. If you are as well, make sure that you are signed up on Goodreads. He will be answering questions from readers on July 29th. Sign up today-its free and a great resource!

http://www.goodreads.com/

Friday, June 26, 2015

The beginnings of Firefly Hollow. A fortunate delay, a change of venue, the kindness of neighbors, and finally...taking my own advice


The fortunate delay.


It was one of those rare times in publishing where there was a lull in the constant demand of my production schedule.
I was waiting for feedback from a publisher on a final round of sketches for a picture book.
In the past, I would have begun feverishly scratching away at the waiting heap of work for the next book. But there was no heap of work. I had been turning down projects-waiting for and wanting something that I felt a particular type connection with. This could have been a bit nerve-wracking for any self employed artist.  Fortunately, I had other things that were demanding my attention.


A change of venue.


At the time, my studio space was located in a revolutionary era merchant building. While it was charming, the roof had begun to leak and late nights of driving from Providence back to our little bay-side town were getting tiresome. Given my usual level of exhaustion, it was actually getting dangerous.
It was time to go.


The kindness of neighbors. 


Anika (see posts relating to Anika Denise) and I decided that it was time to to renovate our dilapidated garage.
But that process would take several months to complete so where was I to work?

This is the magical part, the part where the greatest gifts come out of the ether unannounced and without fanfare.

I asked for help.

I asked my friend and next door neighbor Doc Pete (he is really a doctor) to help me move some of the larger items out of the way so I could begin evaluating the task of rebuilding the garage.
Two minutes later I was looking at my new temporary studio, Pete's shed.
Doc Pete's shed was an eight foot by ten foot structure. It had a door, two windows, and electricity. Rent free. We cleared it out, opened the windows, and I could hear and smell the waves on the bay.
I was in heaven.


Taking my own advice...finally.


I taught at Rhode Island School of design for a few years.
Part of the job was handing out lots of unsolicited advice.
One of my favorite tidbits for aspiring illustrators was to use any "down time" they might have to create personal projects.
I had given that advice enough and now it was time to follow it. I quickly realized that this was quite a bit harder than I imagined.

But I had been given the gift of time, the gift of change, and a quiet place to accept those gifts.

I began to sketch and wrote this above my drawing.."Cricket and Vole"
This is what they looked like.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just a quick note on perseverance in life and children's book publishing.



Most of us know the story of Hans August and Margret Rey, but in case you do not, here is the cliff note version from Wikipedia. It does not include many of the hardships that I am sure these folks endured. I thought of them because I have been reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.(yes, you must read it)
Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in Hamburg, Germany, as was his wife Margret. Hans and Margret's fathers were German Jews; Margret's mother was not. The couple first met in Hamburg at Margret's sister's 16th birthday party. They met again in Brazil, where Hans was working as a salesman of bathtubs and Margret had gone to escape the rise of Nazism Germany. They married in 1935 and moved to Paris in August of that year.
While in Paris, Hans's animal drawings came to the attention of a French publisher, who commissioned him to write a children's book. The result, Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, is little remembered, but one of its characters, an adorably impish monkey named Curious George, was such a success that the couple considered writing a book just about him. The outbreak of World War II interrupted their work. As Jews, the Reys decided to flee Paris before the Nazis seized the city. Hans assembled two bicycles, and they fled Paris just a few hours before it fell. Among the meager possessions they brought with them was the illustrated manuscript of Curious George.
The Reys' odyssey brought them to Bayonne, France where they were issued life-saving visas signed by Vice-Consul Manuel Vieira Braga (following instructions from Aristides de Sousa Mendes) on June 20, 1940. They crossed the Spanish border, where they bought train tickets to Lisbon. From there they returned to Brazil, where they had met five years earlier, but this time they continued to New York. The Reys escaped Europe carrying the manuscript to the first Curious George book, which they then published in New York by Houghton Mifflin in 1941. Hans and Margret originally planned to use watercolor illustrations, but since they were responsible for the color separation, he changed these to the cartoon-like images that continue to be featured in each of the books.
Wow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Firefly Hollow detail-revisited


Back on November on November 18th, I posted a sketch from the work on my desk that day. I just remembered that I planned to share a glimpse of the same part of the finished piece. 
Both are details of a larger painting from my forthcoming book Firefly Hollow written by Alison McGhee. 
Cheers.
Chris