As a writer who cannot illustrate, I am always intrigued by the process of adding visuals to text. Artist Katherine Blackmore took some time to talk about her new book, upcoming projects, and the craft of illustration:
ENGLE: How long have you been illustrating picture books?
BLACKMORE: Picture books? just over a year, but I have been a professional illustrator for 20 years. I’ve been an artist my whole life!
ENGLE: What is the most challenging aspect of this job?
BLACKMORE: Tight deadlines and bad posture. For any kind of production artist there is a struggle, a desire to find balance between quality and quantity – and all the while trying not to hunch.
ENGLE: You have a new picture book release this month. Could you tell me more about the project and how you came to illustrate it?
BLACKMORE: The manuscript for “A Kiss on the Keppie” came to me via my agent at KidShannon. The story and style struck me as very sweet – and I got immediate visuals on the first read. Written by Leslea Newman, it is the story of a little boy getting lots of kisses from his family throughout his day. I have to admit that I needed to acquaint myself with some Yiddish before I took the job. The definition I found for keppie was “darling, little head” – and then it made sense for how often this little boy was getting smooched – he is so loved! So, I said yes and signed with Marshall Cavendish/Amazon Publishing for the project.
ENGLE: I know as a writer, my rough draft and polished draft are very different, and there are many other drafts between them. Take me through a picture book draft from an artist’s perspective, from rough sketch to polished book.
BLACKMORE: How a project turns out is almost always different than when you first began – as it probably should be – and hopefully, it’s better than anything you could have foreseen. I definitely like to go with the flow of the creative process, but this is also a collaborative business, and I like to get input from the other designers on the project – after a certain point. When I begin, my drawings are so quick and gestural that sometimes even I can’t tell what’s going on. I thumbnail everything, but it’s for my eyes only. (Thumbnails are quick, rough sketches.) On one page I layout the whole book in very small squares – to give myself a visual timeline of the story. Also, this gets me thinking about the big picture: to design a sense of flow from page to page and spread to spread. For this book, I started by making notes on where the characters would be: bedroom, kitchen, outside etc., and then proceeded to do quick gestures, drawn in pen – to get out all my ideas for each scene. Some ideas are awful, some are great, but I get them all down in basic shapes to better judge the best way to stage a scene for the reader. And then: my favorite part – working out poses: figuring out the what and the how of the characters is just fun! After searching out poses, and still working small, I will draw my favorites for each spread – and still in basic shapes. This version I show to 1 or 2 other illustrators to get their immediate reaction to the unity and overall design – it is so inspiring to learn from others’ expertise. I then work to scale, drawing the characters closer to model (final design), making sure they are as consistent as possible throughout and getting a dummy ready to show the Art Director. There’s usually lots of back and forth at this point; after the AD’s feedback, I nail things down: finalizing designs and adding in details – trying to remember to leave some things out to give me a chance for spontaneity within the final art. Once all the drawings are approved, I move on to final art: transferring the drawings to watercolor paper. Painting and final pencil drawings are completed and (fingers crossed) approved with minimal changes. Then depending on the Publisher, I will ship off the artwork for printing or I scan in the final art and deliver digital files. Then, it’s out of my hands and the rest of the magic of publishing happens!
ENGLE: What are you currently working on and when can I expect to see the next picture book?
BLACKMORE: Right now I am finishing up a story book called “Betsy’s Day at the Game” written by Gregory Bancroft, published by Scarletta Kids (April 9, 2013). And I just started a picture book project with B & H Publishing Group. That one is under wraps for right now.
ENGLE: Finally, if you could be a Muppet which would you be and why?
BLACKMORE: Janice, “fer sure” She’s so groovy! and I love music especially guitar – and she makes it look so easy : )
Please take some time to get to know more about Katherine Blackmore’s work at the following sites: