Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Where Text and Pictures Meet

The Writer
In the very old days a picture book was 50% text with 50% art, often with one page being story and the other side being art. These days there is a greater emphasis on shorter text, with art taking up more of the page in full double-page side-by-side spreads. Here the images have to do more of the
“showing” and writers have to work harder to tell their stories in fewer words. This means letting go of description as much as possible and communicating only essential information to the illustrator of what can or needs to be shown in images rather than words. Because the illustrator is an expert in their field, the writer has to keep their notes to a minimum to give the illustrator maximum freedom, hence the minimum description and minimum notes.

At the same time, there are things that might be essential to the story such as, showing that the dog is hiding behind the couch before the page turn when we see the dog pouncing on the cat. To let the editor and illustrator know and have the manuscript make sense, you either write in italics Illo note: Dog hiding behind couch or [Illo note: Dog hiding behind the couch].

The Illustrator
An illustrator’s job is to add value with a further aesthetic element and take the words on a magic carpet ride illustrating both what is and what isn’t there in the text. Often the illustrator will add layers by situating the story in an unexpected place. Places bring up all sorts of visual culture associations. Imagine a story set in a beach town or the illustrator takes the same story and places it in a hi-rise NY building or an old hippie home. Imagine that unbeknownst to the author, the illustrator turns all the human characters into animal characters, making them hilarious in the process and helping to turn the story into what became a best selling series as Ashley Wolff did with the Miss Bindergarten series written by Joseph Slate. And then there’s all the historical information not included in the text that Yuyi Morales independently wove into Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull.

Both the illustration and writing styles (or “voice”) impact the emotional resonance of a book. Sometimes nonfiction biography is paired with playful childlike illustration like Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s A Splash of Red: The Life and Times of Horace Pippin. Jessie Hartland’s deadpan text combined with her fabulously naïve looking illustrations make for a wonderful read in Bon Appétit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child

Todd Parr and Lucy Cousins books combine straightforward simple language with incredibly delightful childlike illustrations where each elevates the other into the realm of pure pleasure, while more traditional artists like Paul Zelinsky and David Weisner do the same thing on a much more sophisticated level often with soulful or surreal stories. And then there are the cultural references that some diverse artists include in their style for specific books like Maya Gonzalez, Rafael Lopez, and David Diaz’s sometimes do, such as Maya’s inclusion of Mayan or Aztec symbols referencing history.

The place where picture book text and art meet is rich terrain. It is a place of mutual respect and transformation, where each brings something that adds up to being greater than the sum of its individual parts. To find out even more about this subject, I’ll be co-leading a free webinar for both writers and illustrators on the related topic of 2nd Visual Stories
 this Friday October 17th at 5PM PDT.

Mira Reisberg is the Director and founding instructor of the Children's Book Academy. She has been involved in the children's book industry since early 1988 as an illustrator, writer, editor, and art director as well as working as a kid lit university professor. Over the years she has taught many now successful children's book writers and illustrators. Starting November 3rd, she will be co-teaching the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books with Chronicle Books' Design Director and Art Director extraordinaire for fearful beginning artists, multi-published illustrators, and adventurous writers. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insightful post, Mira. It's a good reminder for me to leave room for the illustrator in my manuscripts...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.