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Behind the scenes of a picture book

It’s been a while since I did a picture book post, much less one that focuses on artwork. But when I came across this blog post on Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s artistic process, I knew I had to share. For one, the artwork here is simply spectacular—and who doesn’t like to look at pretty pictures? And second, if you want to be humbled, check out the stages of the relief print technique, of which Rohmann is a master.

Furthermore, I’m always fascinated by an artist’s process, especially when the artist is illustrating an outside author’s words. In particular, I was struck by the fact that Rohmann inserted the text into his very first sketch—even though the text is simply “Whoopee!” It show the respect for the words that’s crucial for a successful picture book collaboration.

And taking it one step further, Rohmann is clearly concerned not only with leaving enough space for the words to read, but for placing the words for maximum visual effect.  It’s notable in some of the other finished spreads how much room he leaves for the text to stand out. As an editor, time and again I’d struggle with designers to cram text into over-decorated pieces of art. It truly speaks both to Rohmann’s art and to his modesty that he would design his pages to give the words so much prominence.

Of course, there’s a lesson here for picture book authors, too—write short! Obviously, Rohmann would be a lot more limited if he had to navigate a lengthy text. And going back to design, look at how the onomatopoetics become part and parcel of the artwork—by playing with fonts and sizes, the words become one with the art. Perhaps that’s the handiwork of a good designer, but I’d like to think the author had something like that in mind at the start!

 

2 Responses to Behind the scenes of a picture book

  1. Aonghus Fallon says:

    Cool illustrations. Over here we sometimes call this a reduction print (“relief” basically just means using a roller) because you use the same plate to create each new layer of colour, cutting more and more of it away as you go along. Invariably, black is the last colour.

  2. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I’m fascinated by the intricacy of the art process. I would have guessed they were simple watercolors.

    I would suspect that the placement of the text — effective, as you say — might have originated with the writer. I know that if I were doing a book of this kind, I would provide the text, but I’d also produce a mock-up of the page layout and type of illustration I think would work. Seems to me the writer dictates how the story is told, no?

    That said, it’s clear this illustrator has great respect for the work of the writer, as well as his own.

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