Ever wondered what it’s like working with an illustrator on a picture book?
Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege of working with Veronica Rooke on my debut picture book, My Silly Mum. While some authors have little to do with the illustrations once the publishers take over, I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to collaborate with Veronica from start to finish.
With picture books, all the elements must complement each other. Combined, all these elements tell the story. Neither has more importance. From the start, Veronica made it clear she welcomed my input, and that was good for me, because I had lots of ideas (she may have regretted that welcome at some point).
First up was creating the cover, which involved getting the right look for the characters. I felt that Veronica’s first sketch of the mum was too ‘goofy’. While I didn’t mind the mum looking a little scatty, I didn’t want her to look stupid. Mums can be silly, but sometimes, and that’s the point of the story, sometimes it’s on purpose. I also asked for the mum to at least have at least a b-cup chest (how Veronica knew I used to be flat chested was beyond me) and to look a bit like a cross between my mother and I (the curly hair she had at one point and my glasses).
Next Veronica created a draft storyboard and we bounced ideas off each other about the layout and ideas. It was wonderful watching the illustrations take shape over the next few weeks.
At one point I asked Veronica to come up with a different font. I wanted something a bit more playful and sent a few examples her way. She came up with a couple and we decided on a hand-drawn font with colourful word balloons where direct speech is used.
Emails continued back and forth over the next few weeks, with minor word and colour changes, until finally, we were both happy. We also collaborated on promo posts for social media, as well as some worksheets to complement the book.
The finished result is terrific. It’s funny, vibrant and silly in a good way. Early feedback has been positive. My test readers loved the story (the little guy in the photo was looking for the cat) and a teacher friend has given it a big thumbs up and invited me to read it to 75 children!
I can’t wait to share My Silly Mum with you all. The book will be officially launched on May 8 (Mother’s Day in Australia) at the Rockingham Book Fair. It will be available online, initially from Serenity Press, and in bookstores shortly after.
I’m hoping to work with Veronica again in the near future. She’s been a delight, a laugh, and has taught me a lot in the process.
So, that’s my side of the story, but what does Veronica have to say about the process?
Veronica: I’ve loved creating the illustrations for My Sillly Mum. Getting the right look to characters is important. Monique felt that my first sketch of Mum was too ‘goofy’. Mum needed to be silly, yet loveable.
Monique: What’s more important – words or pictures?
Veronica: I feel that the illustrations must weave around the words and one works with the other. This took several attempts too until we found an unusual mix of fun text and word balloons. The human characters had to match the text, but I had complete freedom with Tiddles the cat and the mouse. They turned into a great tools for humour.
Monique: What draws you to children’s book illustrations?
Veronica: I love the idea of merging text with art. It’s facinating that a story is created from just an idea and can be made into a book that a reader can get lost in. It might be a world that mirrors ours or be a new one with it’s own rules.
Monique: Are the text and illustrations equally important?
Veronica: Yes, but by its nature, art can easily overpower the text. The story dictates the look of the illustrations. One story might be soft, so needs that type of art. While another would need bright, colourful illustrations if the story had a heavy subject or was fast-paced. My Silly Mum needed a soft look that gently enhanced the humour in the text.
Monique: Who’s your favourite character?
Veronica: I looooved Tiddles the cat! The girl and mum had to be linked to Monique’s text, but Tiddles was free and could add another layer to that humour.
Monique: What’s your illustration process like?
Veronica: See examples above. I start with a 1st draft just to get characters in the right place on the page. Then the rough fills in their details and the colour is the final stage.
What about you? Have you worked with an illustrator on a book before? What’s your experience been like?