[This is the second post about the creation of Ellen and the Winter Wolves. You can read part I here.]
After finishing the text for Ellen and the Winter Wolves, I thought I would simply crank out twelve to fourteen illustrations and be done. (I thought twelve to fourteen would be the perfect number because that seemed manageable with my schedule.) So I sat down and broke the text up, attempting to make the breaks at natural transition points. I ended up with fourteen pages.
A problem quickly became apparent to me, however. As I sat on the floor reading the pages aloud, I realized if I was reading this to a kid, each page would take way too long to get through. They would be bored. This story is somewhat text-heavy (at the time it was around 3,400 words) and so fourteen illustrations weren’t going to be nearly enough.
So I edited it down a bit (3,200 words, woohoo!) and decided to add more illustrations. As I was talking it over with my dad he suggested making them “really elaborate and detailed.” Thanks, dad, that’s just what I need – more work. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. Details would keep people engaged, especially kids who were listening to the story.
I then had to re-break the text into smaller, illustratable chunks and ended up with twenty pages. Over the next couple days I did lots of sketches until I felt like I had good imagery for each page.
I was finally ready to begin painting.
I decided the illustrations would be small – 10″x8.” There are two reasons for this: 1) I would be able to finish smaller paintings quicker, and 2) I would be able to scan the images at home. I need digital images for the printer, and scanning is less work than photographing them. So I got some pre-primed 10″x8″ panels, painted them all black, and began.
I soon realized this was going to take a while. I discovered I’m too impatient with my sketches, too eager to get to the “real work.” Let me show you what I mean by taking you through the first image (now titled Ellen and her Mother) that appears in the book.
Here’s a picture from early on. I’ve sketched everything in and have begun to lay down color. Ellen is staring out the window.
A few hours later I’ve filled in more color and have begun to work the details of the snow outside the window. At this point I step back and think, “This window is really too big. And I do need her mother here to better align with the text.”
So I paint out half the window and Ellen (who isn’t very good anyway), bring the curtains in, and add her mom. Then I put Ellen in again. Eventually I finish. I’m happy with it, but was discouraged about the process, because it took far too long.
I realized this is because my approach to illustration has been the same as my approach to painting. One of the things I love about painting is the discovery of what the painting is about as I paint it. I’ll ask, “What if I added this?” and I’ll put in a detail here or there or add an element, and in so doing change the whole course of the painting. I rarely do elaborate sketches for my paintings, preferring instead to jump in and figure it out as I go. I can’t do that with illustrations. There has to be a fidelity to the text, which means there has to be really careful forethought and planning.
This is the process I’m in the middle of right now — figuring out how to illustrate instead of paint. I’m currently doing about three illustrations a week and am planning to be done with the imagery by the end of August.
Here’s the first page of text along with the finished illustration.
Once upon a time in a far off land there was a little girl whose name was Ellen. She lived with her parents in a small town by the sea. Every spring Ellen would eagerly watch for her father’s ship, for he was a trader and would often spend the winter far to the south, and he would return with the warming weather.
But one spring his ship did not come, and neither did any other ships. It was mid-May and the harbor was still thick with ice, and winter storms raged up and down the coast. Winter’s icy grip, it was whispered, was strengthening instead of weakening, and no one knew what was to be done.
Ellen’s mother was worried. Oh, she didn’t say it outright, but Ellen knew. She could see it in how her mother looked out the window at the empty bay, or how she sighed whenever she put more wood on the fire. Her worry was as plain to Ellen as the moon in the sky.
Like what you see? Keep an eye out for my next post about the final stages of putting the book together. And if you’d like to own of a copy of the picture book when it’s finished I’ll have some information on the mid-September launch of the Ellen and the Winter Wolves Kickstarter campaign!
Stories have kindled Jamin Still’s imagination since he was small. As a child he drew and painted and dreamed, and the power of those things in his life never diminished. He went on to study painting in college and now he paints and writes for a living. Jamin works and lives in a little stone house with his wife and three young children in Wichita, Kansas.