Archive for March 19th, 2010
I love this post. My friend Bonnie is not only smart and helpful, she’s funny,too. She co-host two chats on twitter. She co-host with Greg Pincus for #kidlitchat on Tuesdays and is also the co-host of #kidlitart on Thursdays with Wendy Martin.
By Bonnie Adamson
When Peg asked me to guest blog about the unique perspective of a writer/illustrator, I immediately thought of hats. I often talk about wearing my writer hat or my illustrator hat–or my designer hat, since I spent a huge chunk of my professional career as a graphic designer.
I tried to picture myself in these hats, working on a story I wanted to write and illustrate. Were the hats perched one on top of the other? Which one did I put on first?
I realized I had stumbled upon a truth about how I work: I don’t wear more than one hat at a time. With me, it’s first one, then the other.
At this point, I was going to move on to a dance metaphor, but that implies a creative process that is much too elegant and refined.
The truth is, two (or three) areas of my brain are constantly bickering like whiny kids on a long car trip with no onboard DVD player. Squabbling siblings! At last, an analogy I could get behind.
Most of my story ideas come first in the form of words: titles, phrases, rhymes or alliterations, some sort of word play. I should stop here and clarify, because I’ve been known to say that my story ideas start with a drawing, usually a tiny pencil sketch. What happens is that the word-association falls flat and plays dead if I can’t develop some sort of image from it.
So the initial conversation goes something like this:
Writer-brain: Crocodile’s Song!
Illustrator-brain: Cool! Green, bumpy thing holding a microphone.
Writer-brain [let’s call her Gwendolyn]: The other animals—
Illustrator-brain [she likes to be called Pookie]: Wait—OTHER animals? Hard-to-draw animals, like, um, zebras?
Gwendolyn: Zebras! What fun. Let’s go research African wildlife.
Pookie: Hold on: is this a jungle or American Idol? I thought the crocodile was SINGING–ooh, I know! He’s in a tuxedo on the deck of a ship—
Gwendolyn: Don’t be ridiculous. This is a bedtime story about sleepy animals.
Pookie: Hmmph. Sounds boring. Unless . . . we could put all the animals in polka-dot jammies—
Gwendolyn: That would be highly inaccurate.
Pookie: Says you.
At which point the different areas of my brain begin insulting one another, and I go make myself a cup of tea while I consider a different career.
The above conversation is a fairly accurate account of the internal arguments over one idea (titled, oddly enough, “Crocodile’s Song”), which after ten years (!) is still trailing around after me, generating file-folders full of revisions and refusing to earn its keep. Gwendolyn and Pookie have never been able to agree on images to match the words, or words to match the images—which also explains why there are lots of crocodiles and sleepy jungle animals who live in my portfolio and will never find another home.
Occasionally, an idea comes along that both Gwendolyn and Pookie can get excited about. This doesn’t mean that I will end up submitting text and art as a package, but it does mean that I have workable images in my head that help me structure the story: sometimes the images are static, reflecting maybe a particular expression on a character’s face; sometimes they’re more like movies. But once the images are there, I can begin filling in text to support them.
Gwendolyn and Pookie are now feeling pretty smug.
Gwendolyn: Oh, this is the loveliest STORY!
Pookie: Yeah, with DRAGONS, and . . . and STUFF!!
But we haven’t gotten to Grandma’s house yet. (You’ll note how the car-trip metaphor has been cleverly re-introduced.) Cecilia, the bored teenaged older sister (aka designer-brain), has unplugged herself from her iPod.
Cecilia: You two have only 14 spreads max, you know—have you even THOUGHT of thumbnails?
Gwendolyn [pointing at Pookie]: SHE said we didn’t need thumbnails!
Pookie [pointing at Gwendolyn]: Did not! SHE said she had an outline!
Cecilia: Pipe down. I can see I’m going to have to make a dummy.
Gwendolyn & Pookie: Hey! Who are you calling a DUMMY?!?
Full disclosure: Bonnie writes mid-grade novels, chapter books and the occasional picture book. She illustrates other people’s picture books. She has YET to submit a manuscript that she both wrote and illustrated. You can see at least one singing crocodile on her web site: