Illuminations from the Illustrator

Go to the Movies!

By Hazel Buys

Illustration is a visual experience. This may seem painfully obvious; but illustration is that, and also, much more. A successful illustrator is a successful movie-maker, but in reverse.

Huh? When I approach an illustration assignment for a book, I begin with the first of many read-throughs. But I am not just reading, I am seeing. I let the words on the page build an outline and I release my imagination to fill in the colors and details. The outline moves and flows in my mind’s eye, from the beginning to the end of the story. This is an iterative process, building the essentials over many readings. As I repeat this process, reading and “seeing” the movie I am creating, I begin to make sketches on a story board. The outline that was moving and flowing becomes fixed as individual frames take shape, “stills” resolving backwards from my moving images. I fill in, erase, add new images and make changes until the illustrations speak for the story without repeating it, add to the story without changing its essence and/or expand on the story without taking it beyond what I think the author intended.

Then I put down the text and repeat the process, but this time I am “seeing” the story only, without the written words. By now I know the story so well that I can determine which images are fitting in harmoniously and which ones are not. This is also the time for embellishing, adding visual bells and whistles, because, by now, I am able to determine when extra touches are appropriate and will add to the story, and when they will be a distraction.

When the drawings are finished, more work remains: adding shading and color as required by the style and complexity of the final images. But if I imagined my moving pictures well, the book’s illustrations will carry the life and animation I visualized onto the still pages of the book.
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