How a story goes from idea to shelf at a small press publisher
Last reviewed on 07/11/2022
Part II: Finding the Perfect Artist
In Part I of Making a Picture Book, we looked at story ideas, deciding on a book's physical properties, and creating a framework for your images and text as the book moves along the creation process. In this post, we'll look at how to find the perfect artist for a story. Of course, if you are the writer and the artist, your job is already done.
Finding the Perfect Artist
Somebody should do an analysis of the most popular children's books and see what percentage was done by a writer/artist team and what percentage was done by a single individual. Actually, there's no better time than the present. Let's do a quick analysis.
You get a lot of results when searching for "the most popular children's books of all time." Pages and pages. Interestingly, many hits returned a top 100 list. You would think it'd be a Top 10 list or something. Anyway, looking at the first page of results only and eliminating any lists that might make money from advertising the very books listed, let's go with the Goodreads list. Goodreads, for those that don't know, is the world's "largest site for readers and book recommendations." Not a lot of fluff there. Here's the Top 10:
Where the Wild Things Are
Green Eggs and Ham
The Very Hungary Caterpillar
The Giving Tree
The Cat in the Hat
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Margaret Wise Brown
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Where the Sidewalk Ends
So, there you have it. In this very quick, unscientific analysis, we can safely say and say without condition or hesitation, being the writer and artist on a book gives you an edge over a separate writer/artist team. Tenuous conclusions aside, if you are handling the writing details, matching the story with the correct artist is paramount. You can find an amazing artist, but if the style doesn't work for the story, disaster awaits!
Where to Look for an Artist
If you don't know someone already, turn to the Web. A huge advantage is that you'll be able to see the person's work and portfolio, get an idea of who they are, and determine pretty quickly if they're open to working with you on a project. The disadvantage to having all this data out there is that you have all this data out there. It takes a while to sift through everything. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Also keep in mind the potential legal and contractual issues when working with someone on a project. More than likely, you'll be paying the artist, too. Keep costs in mind as you peruse the sea of artistic talent out there. Importantly, choose a site that has a mechanism for feedback, a workroom, resolution services, and a flexible payment system.
You can also look at sites tailored exclusively to promoting children's illustrators. Many of these sites are contact sites only, meaning they're just a centralized site listing talent; you don't hire anyone or manage a project through the site. Note, too, that some artists are independent while others are represented by third-party agencies.
You can also join specific groups on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. It's an excellent way to talk with like-minded people. Be sure, however, to read the rules of each group before engaging. You don't want to make a bad first impression.
It's More than the Pictures
One thing that is hugely important but often overlooked, is to look beyond the pictures. Of course, artistic and technical talent is a must, but there's more to it than that. Some things to keep in mind:
Is there an insurmountable language barrier?
Are you able to communicate your ideas clearly and also understand the questions and feedback the artist is giving?
Is the person professional?
Are deadlines an issue?
Is the person pleasant and easy to talk to?
That last one may seem inconsequential, and maybe for some it is, but why work on a project that's near and dear to you only to hate the process and be frustrated?
Before signing someone up for a big project that may cost you thousands, it's a good idea to do a smaller project first. You don't want to be in the position of signing a contract or accepting an agreement to find out later the person can't do what was promised or where a lack of communication and attention to detail is going to derail your picture book.
Don't Be in a Rush
As a writer, finding the perfect artist is a process. There'll be starts and stops along the way. And when you do find someone, your project is probably not going to get done in a month. It's going to take time. Don't rush it.
For "Bus Driver! Bus Driver!," the main character, Lilly, is a creative, outgoing young girl. A spirited redhead with a flair for the eccentric, Lilly also struggles with a fear many have had at one time or another -- going to school. As the text tells her story, the artwork also needs to reflect her personality in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The perfect artist was found in Anchi. An excellent illustrator with a playfulness and quirkiness to her style, balanced out by a great sense of color. Perfect for "Bus Driver! Bus Driver!"
Before any of the pages were sketched, the design of Lilly was worked on. And it didn't take long to finalize the precocious redhead.
Then, after a couple of discussions and working off the Affinity Publisher story file created for the book's text and images, a sketch board was created. Now, work begins on finalizing the artwork and adjusting the text as the process moves along.
In the wisdom of '80s Saturday morning cartoons, "knowing is half the battle!" When it comes to creating a picture book, knowing how to find the perfect artist is half the battle! In a few weeks, Part III: Working with Sketches.