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Today I want to share with you how I find models for illustrating when a book takes place at a school. I use a real school!
This is the plan, which has worked very well:
1 – Find a teacher and school willing to participate in this project.
Since I have an actual contract from a publisher, this is not difficult.
2 – Permission slips.
The school has the parents sign permission slips, which is necessary even though I will not be publishing the actual photos of their child.
3 – Presentation
The day of the photo shoot I do a Power Point presentation on how picture books are created, showing thumbnails, dummies, sample photo references and the paintings that stemmed from them.
4 – Read the manuscript aloud.
5 – Discuss the story with the class
With the help of the teacher, I lead a discussion of the story so the kids get involved with the theme and characters. In the case of my book, “Say Something,” the first book for which I used a class, for example, we discussed bullying.
6 – Stage the scenes
I next set up each scene in the thumbnails with the appropriate number of children acting out the scene. While I don’t have time in this scenario to set up lighting to perfection, I do keep lighting and consistency of viewpoint and angle in mind when setting up the scenes and taking the photos.
7 – Take additional photos
After each scene is photographed, and in between, during recess, I take many photos of the children playing, talking, interacting, to capture expressions and activity that I might be able to use in the book.
8 – Follow up visits to the class
I make sure to visit the class again a few times during the long process of illustrating the book. Sometimes I show them the photos I took, and leave some prints for them. Other times I show the dummy I developed from the photos and even a painting or two.
9 – Share the final product – the printed book
When the book is published, I come back to show the class and read it to them and we all give ourselves a round of applause. I donate one of the paintings from the book to their school library as a thank you for their participation.
I used this process again for “Keep Your Ear On the Ball,” by Genevieve Petrillo, Tilbury House, about a visually impaired boy who joins a regular class of third graders. For this book I found a school that has visually impaired children mainstreamed in regular classes with a wonderful resource teacher for them. There was even a Braille machine one of the students used, which he demonstrated to the class and which was in the book.
This book involves kickball, so the class divided into two teams and played kickball while I snapped photos. They knew the story and really got into the characters. It worked very well.
My current contract is for “Lailah’s Lunchbox,” by Reem Faruqi, about a Muslim girl who is finally old enough to fast for Ramadan. She is happy and excited, until she realizes that here, in America, her classmates and teacher won’t know anything about Ramadan and why she is not bringing her lunch box to school. She finds an excellent way to resolve her issue of feeling different in a very sweet story.
So, this time I had to find a Muslim girl of the right age who does not wear a headscarf. (She says in the book “They don’t even know I’m Muslim,” which, to me, indicated that she did not wear a scarf.) I found a family who was thrilled to participate. Then I had to contact her teacher to see if she would let her class participate too. It all worked out well, and I am currently painting the illustrations for this book.
I hope this inspires some of you and gives you new ideas for your illustrations.
Lea Lyon is a published children’s book illustrator currently working on her sixth trade picture book. She is the Illustrator Coordinator for the San Francisco-South region of SCBWI, which has opened many doors for her and others. She also leads an annual Illustrator Day conference in San Francisco where as many as 80 illustrators attend and participate. You can learn more about Lea on her website at www.lealyon.com
1/30/2015 10:28:39 am
Thank you, Lea, for sharing your informational steps to getting those illustrations.
1/30/2015 11:37:14 am
Lea, what a wonderful experience for kids! I would imagine you've inspired some to think about being an illustrator. I'm a writer and I find it very interesting to learn about your process. Thanks for sharing this.
1/31/2015 10:10:27 am
Always fascinating to see inside an artist's process. Thanks for sharing!
2/5/2015 10:52:13 am
Thank you for sharing this insightful way of working with a school and all involved. You give a great overview of what needs to be put in place for all of this.
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