December 30th, 2016
Back to Yesterday
This is Carl Angel with another Blogonaut post. In my last entry, I had said I would be discussing the process of creating the illustrations for The Girl who Saved Yesterday. My first step was receiving the manuscript and using words and scribbles together just to make sure you come out of your enchanted forest of ideas with as little of your gold turning into ash as possible. After reading the manuscript numerous times, I tend to explore the composition from various angles. This may lend to a more cinematic aesthetic, but for me it helps me inhabit the world of the book, and to surround myself and to see it in my head in three dimensions. How does one scene follow another organically while expanding on the text? Every element should have a place of significance, and there is a constant relationship between what is prominent in the image and what is surrounding it. Sometimes, the design of the characters themselves can present a challenge in the composition.
With Yesterday, for instance, I had the trees and the character of Silence, the book's heroine, in numerous scenes together, which required a sense of scale in the scene as well as intimacy, so it was interesting to see what I could come up with for the design of the trees as characters without obvious comparisons to Brian Froud and his work on The Lord of the Rings.
At first the idea was to have the trees have no features at all, and to let the enormous size of the trees and the shapes of their branches dictate their ancient character, but in trying to accommodate for that and for the scale in comparison to Silence to have any kind of effect, I found myself composing the scenes in such a way that they were “wide shots,” therefore lacking any intimacy, and this wasn’t the quality I wanted for these trees with names like Wonderboom and Thundercloud, that had raised Silence and loved her as their own. I had to give them an intimate human quality that was yet cosmic and mythic in nature, and found that by basing their faces on the inspired form of African masks. By doing that, they still retained a mysterious quality rooted in culture, yet with human characteristics so I was able to compose the scenes in a more intimate manner, by having the scale of their faces be the contrast to Silence’s size rather than their entire form. It was such a simple, obvious idea, but for some reason it eluded me for the first round of sketches, and it affected all my spreads afterwards, because that would decide how Silence was going to be featured in the other spreads. Having the basic idea of what the trees were going to look like was what finally enabled me to go forward with a sequence of images that I felt would complement Julius Lester’s words. I’m surprised how long I had to circle the wagons just to arrive at such an obvious solution.
It does help to have wonderful collaborators, of course. With Creston Books, Simon Stahl was my art director and provided great advice that steered me in the right direction. Having spent a lot of time art directing other illustrators myself, it’s invaluable to have another artist in that role who understands the visual vocabulary. In terms of the relationship between the collaborators, I sometimes see it as similar to a musical collaboration — I look at the writer as the vocalist, the illustrator as the featured soloist, the designer/art director as the rhythm section, and the editor as the music producer, making sure all the elements are working together in relationship to each other.
Of course, It still doesn’t solve how frustrating the process can be when the search for new ideas seems to lead nowhere, but it helps to have friends on that journey. It hasn’t changed for me since even before I started in this business. I still fumble around and look at other narrative mediums for inspiration and then go back to scribbling just to see what sticks. By this point I would think I had developed a sure method of idea generation, but it’s still the same, humbling process of giving myself over to whatever’s available and trying to see the potential that can come of it. It’s like when you go to sleep, dream of an idea, wake up early to write it down, go back to sleep thinking you’re a genius , then wake up later and read it again only to find your subconscious seems even dumber than your waking mind…!
The other end of this, I guess, is that it just makes the end result sweeter when after all your efforts you’ve finally put together a great sequence of images that do justice to the story, and that you’ve created something that you can truly be proud of.
Carl Angel is a visual artist who enjoys creating and participating in narrative and storytelling in various forms—be it commercial illustration, children’s books, or book design. He grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii before attending California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University. Angel is the illustrator of numerous books, including Lakas and the Manilatown Fish, Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee, and, most recently, The Girl Who Saved Yesterday. He lives with his wife and son in Burbank, California. http://www.carlangel.com/
You can also follow Carl on Facebook, twitter, and instagram.
12/30/2016 08:41:40 pm
Great article - I especially love that you too have to start over each time, groveling around for that inspirational idea of image, and how to grow it. Thank you for your insights.
1/9/2017 04:35:32 am
Thank you, Virginia! My pleasure.
12/30/2016 11:02:12 pm
Thanks for sharing your behind the scenes journey. I find it fascinating!
1/9/2017 04:36:39 am
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