There are generally three types of projects that we may need to find illustrators for. The first and probably most obvious is for a picture book text. The second is for a novel cover—oftentimes a cover is photographic, and we tend to use stock photos a lot, but sometimes we really do want the perfect illustrator to capture just the mood and image we want. And the third project that we’d commission an illustrator for are interior illustrations for a novel. Generally, this is for middle grade chapter headers, or chapter books where the illustrations are more integrated, but it’s becoming more common to also have illustrations in young adult fiction, such as in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
As I was preparing for this talk, I was realizing that calling it “Matchmaking” perhaps wasn’t the most accurate analogy. There’s matchmaking involved—you’re trying to match the text with the perfect illustrator, and hope it results in a loving marriage of picture and word. However, how I really feel when I’m trying to find an illustrator for a project is more like a casting agent trying to find the perfect actor for a movie role.
At Little, Brown, picture book art is generally driven initiated by the editor, or in other words, the editor is the casting agent, while for cover and interior illustrations it’s the designer that’s the casting agent, although in both cases the editor and designer will work together to make the decision.
Generally, the editor and designer will come up with a list of possibilities individually, and then meet to compare lists, and then come up with a master list which will then be approved by the publisher. At this point, I would also ask the author if he or she had any suggestions for illustrators, or had a vision for what style they envisioned. It's very rare for an author to have actual consultation or approval over an illustrator choice, however, but of course we want the author to be happy with the illustrator we ended up going with.
Now, I’ll be talking about two picture books and three novels today and the process we went through in order to find the perfect illustrator. I think this examples will help you understand the process of how this all works.
The first picture books I’ll be discussing is Jerry Spinelli’s I CAN BE ANYTHING! (This is a tentative title—as of this past week, it had been called WHAT SHALL I BE?)
Jerry’s picture book is a simple poem outlining all the fun things one can be in the world. And what I love is that it isn’t really a book about jobs, it’s more of a whimsical look at the things you can do. Here's a sampling:
When I grow up,
what shall I be?
Of all my many many jobs,
which one will be the best for me?
paper plane folder
puppy dog holder
tin can kicker
mixing bowl licker
Because Jerry Spinelli is a well-known author, we didn’t feel that the illustrator would also need to be a “big name.” I suppose this is like when you have a movie with a big star like Tom Hanks, you may not necessarily need another star of his caliber in the movie to drive the audience into the theaters—instead, you can have a little more freedom in casting that up-and-comer or B-list star, like Ellen Page or Jason Bateman.
But because the text was so simple and straight-forward, but also imaginative, we felt that we needed someone very creative who could bring another layer to the book—therefore, we didn’t want a complete newcomer. I guess you could say that we wanted a character actor—someone whose skills are proven. Like William H. Macy or Philip Seymour Hoffman before they became big stars.
Like casting, picturing an illustrator style is like trying to envision a certain actor in a role. Sometimes the matches seem fairly obvious, like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire or Kate Winslett in a Jane Austen movie, but sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch at first, like Adam Sandler in a drama or Charlize Theron in Monster.
Anyway, I won't go more into specifics, but I will give a sneak peak of the final art for this book--we ended up choosing illustrator Jimmy Liao, whose books from Taiwan we've adapted for the U.S. children's market: Sound of Colors and The Blue Stone.
Here are a few spreads:
The book will be published at the beginning of 2010.
So, to summarize, when we’re thinking about possible illustrators for a project, there are several things we consider. What is our budget? How well known is the author? Do we want to pair a famous author with an up-and-coming artist? Or a newer author with an established artist? What tone and style lend itself to the story? How long would we have to wait for the illustrator to have room on his or her schedule? Have we worked with the illustrator before, and do we want to work with him or her again?
I asked another editor at Little, Brown what she considers when trying to pick an illustrator, and this was what she said:
I consider where the illustrator is in her career. Is the artist a seasoned pro or someone new who we could build on our list? I evaluate whether the artists’ technique will have broad commercial appeal or if it will be better suited for the library market. And, I consider how accessible the artwork is for our target audience of kids between the ages of three and six. Lastly, I evaluate what the artist can bring to the story—humor, emotion, warmth, and so on.
In terms of the places we look for illustrators, I think all editors and designers have their own personal art file, some more organized than others. Mine is simply a folder where I throw the postcards and tear sheets that I like. Others might have their organized by style or age group. Many of us tack up postcards of our favorite images. There are also reference books such as PICTUREBOOK and WORKBOOK—these are huge, thick books where an artist would pay a certain amount per page to be included. I’ve also used the brochure from the Original Art Show that the Society of Illustrators in NY produces every year.
And then, of course, there’s the internet. Everyone I spoke to mentioned checking out both artist rep sites, as well as blogs. One of our editors really loves searching through www.etsy.com, both to shop, and to find talent. Our Senior Art Director loves the illustrator blog Drawger. And a lot of people said that they love just following links—they might find the blog or website of one artist they like, go to their links section, and just keep exploring, going from one artist to another, bookmarking sites that they like along the way.
For novel covers, many of the designers look at websites for editorial artists as well, because they tend to be able to do jobs very quickly, while a picture book artist may be completely booked up with book projects.
So, what should an aspiring illustrator do? I think the #1 thing you can do is to make great art! If you’re interested in picture book illustration, make sure that you have children and/or animals in your portfolio. It’s also a good idea to include two or three pieces that feature the same characters, so an editor and designer can see that you’re able to maintain characters throughout a book. Another editor mentioned that she always looks to see if the artist can capture emotion.
One designer recommended having at least a few pieces that are stylized in a unique way, even if that technique is not representative of the bulk of your work, because if there’s a style that’s uniquely yours, it’s bound to garner attention, and then people will also see your other work.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, postcards are a great investment, because they’re relatively cheap to produce. Send them both to editors and designers, because we do both use them, and if we like your art, we’ll both look at your website and keep your art on file—you never know when it might turn into something.
And speaking of websites, if you’re an illustrator, you HAVE to have a website. If you don’t have the budget to build one, then just use one of the free blogging services like blogger and start posting illustration samples. Start linking to other artists and authors and have them link to you.
And that concludes my very first talk with Powerpoint. I will leave you with this quote from Emile Zola who said, “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” So work hard and keep on, and I hope to someday play matchmaker with your art.