Welcome to the first installment of my children's book process series, where I break down my process for creating each image and what I was thinking throughout. I'll go in order of how the images appear in the book, rather than when I finished each image as 1) I don't remember the order they were finished and 2) they were all done concurrently.
So, today I'm taking on January.
January was a particularly tough image. It was the first one I started, but I didn't really finish until 4-6 illustrations later. Here is the accompanying text for the image.
In January, I love you more than the mountains love the snow and more than snowflakes like to dance in the wind.
The text takes the same format for each month, going by "In [MONTH] I love you more than [_________]"
I approached every month differently but opted to be more literal and specific for the most part. Here, with the text, there were many elements I could play with - the stars, the mountains, the snow, and the action of dancing. It felt cute and idyllic.
And that's what I struggled with.
I see why my work is children's book material but it's not what I consider 'traditional' children's book illustrations (whatever that means). It's not very cute, overly simple, bright, or have any qualities I think of when I think of children's books. Of course, I know I'm oversimpifying and generalizing children's books but it was something I was very aware of.
For that reason, I didn't want to have an overly bright image with jolly, big-eyed, grinning stars. Funnily enough, I think this was more a subconscious thought more than anything as my initial sketch and subsequent sketches felt a little harsh, even to me. You can see what I mean with my original sketches.
Quick aside: The way I worked with Ashley, the writer, was to put together a quick rough sketch for all the months. This was the document I had sent her.
From there, Ashley chose her image preference and I would take her choice of sketch and take it to a rough draft, where I would send it for feedback.
Here's a zoomed-in look at my January sketches below.
You can see what I mean when I say I opted for a harsher look with the other two sketches on the right. Ashley chose the one on the left and that turned into this rough sketch -
My uncertainty about the illustrations 'look' and feel' were true of this 'children's book' as a whole and it was part of the reason why it took me a while to finish the image.
So I worked on several other images instead and came back to January and thought - "oh, this works with all the other images." I think it took me some time to see how the images have an underlying visual look and how January leans more against the 'fluffiness' (for lack of a better word) that I wanted to avoid.
Overall, I really like the illustration because it's a good introduction into what one can expect from the book as a whole. Here are some of the elements that are examples of what the rest of the book contains. (Here's the image again for reference.)
The irregular clouds.
The rugged and angular mountains.
The muted, nearly overcast sky.
But the sharp, yet wispy stars even have some whimsy and cute moments to them. The little guy on the left stuck in the snow is my favorite.
Ultimately, it strikes a balance between silliness/whimsy (in the best of ways) and a sense of seriousness, but not in an overly tense way.
I'm sure I'm doing a poor job of communicating what I'm trying to do (or say) here but essentially, I wanted to set the tone right for the book and the decisions I made for this image and the rest of the book mattered most because this was the first image in the book.
This image took a lot more 'thought' than the others, because I knew it came first but also because the inspiration behind it offered a lot and I decided to take a literal approach with it.
As you'll see with the others, I took a lot more freedom and strayed away from literal representations. Those were often the most rewarding but that's a story for another time.
Thanks for reading!