Posts Tagged illustration process

Interview with Illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler & Giveaway: Ellie May on Presidents’ Day and Ellie May on April Fools’ Day

When my editor sent me cover sketches of Ellie May on Presidents’ Day (Charlesbridge, December 2018) and Ellie May on April Fools’ Day (Charlesbridge, December 2018), I was bursting with happiness. Illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler truly understands the essence of this enthusiastic kid who has been in my head for such a long time.

And yet for months, I couldn’t really share the covers of my chapter books with anyone, but then the covers were shown at ALA, as well as a School Library Journal webcast Behind the Scenes: SLJ in Conversation with Children’s Books Editors. Additionally, the covers were sent to Indiebound.org, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other bookselling sites. So yes, by then the cat was out of the bag. And so today is a big deal because it’s the first time I’m officially showing them off and talking about them.

Even though Ellie May on Presidents’ Day and Ellie May on April Fools’ Day are my tenth and eleventh books, this whole publishing process still amazes and, at times, overwhelms me because there are so many things that need to happen, much of which I have little to do with. And with chapter books–that would be all of those interior illustrations–and plus, the covers.

So now I get to interview illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler about how all of this came together. And you all get to enter for some awesome prizes. More on that later.

Oh, but first you probably will want to know a little bit about the series. It stars the irrepressible Ellie May. When it’s time to celebrate holidays in the classroom, second-grader Ellie May can get a little overzealous, often learning about honesty and patience through trial and error. In Ellie May on Presidents’ Day, the second grader struggles with how to be honest and be a leader (wow, I no idea how timely this topic would be when I first wrote this one). Ellie May on April Fools’ Day ultimately debates how to be funny and not hurt people’s feelings.

Now, without further ado, here’s Jeffrey to tell us about the process of creating the covers, which I think are adorable (but I’m very biased!).

Where did the inspiration for the covers come from?

I have the same experience that I think most readers have. When I read a new story, a little movie plays in my head. When I read the descriptions and dialogue, I imagine how all of the characters might look. I try to imagine every small detail, from the kind of house they live in, to the clothes that they wear.
Ellie is such an exuberant character. She bursts with excitement and enthusiasm. I felt really fortunate that I was asked to illustrate Hillary’s two books, and it came at it came at a serendipitous time for me. I have twin daughters that were in third grade last year (the same age as Ellie May) when I was working on this book. Ellie May’s personality reminds me so much of my daughter Olivia, and her friend Lizzy is like my daughter Isabel.
I used a lot of family photos as inspiration for the poses and facial expressions of those two characters.
I wanted both covers to focus on Ellie May and convey her wide-eyed excitement.

Take us through the process of how you created the covers?

When I am illustrating a book, I try to do the cover last. I always start by reading the story several times. I write lots of notes and do a bunch of doodles. Then I do a character sheet, where I draw every character. It’s really important that the characters look the same through out the whole book. Sketching a book takes a couple of weeks, and I always find that I am refining and adding new details to the characters as I go. That’s why I like to save the cover for last, because by then I have really worked out all of the characters individual mannerisms.

Did you start with pencil sketches or work on the computer?

I do most of my work the old fashion way, with pencils and paint. I sketch everything on paper, and the final art for the covers are painted. I do some additional work to the art in the computer, though. After I scan in the finished paintings, I do some retouching in Photoshop. I lightened up the background behind Ellie May on both covers in the computer, so she would be the focus of the cover.

Did you have hurdles or challenges?

I knew right away that the cover President’s Day should be Ellie May saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The biggest challenge was her pose. I did four or five different poses that ranged from her standing very seriously at attention, to some goofy poses. I think the end result is a good mix of respect for the flag and the excitement in Ellie May.
I worried more about the April Fool’s Day cover because pranks can be a dicey subject. I think Hillary did a great job in the story of having Ellie May think through some jokes and why some might not be a good idea to actually do to someone. The cover hints at one of Ellie May’s joke ideas without revealing too much. She does give someone a stinky gift, but it has a surprising result.

Any aha moments?

I had tons of moments working on these two books. I love reading a funny passage in a book and trying to think of a way that I can add to that joke with a funny image. Some of my favorite illustrations in the books are when Ellie May is researching little known facts about presidents or birds. I got to draw Abraham Lincoln covered in cats, and a cardinal taking a bath in a tub full of ants.

What medium did you use?

The cover art is done in acrylic paint on paper. The black and white art inside the book is also painted with a brush. I love painting fine lines with a liner brush. I like the look if it better than using pens or markers. All of the art has had some touchups that I do in the computer.

What do you hope the covers communicates?

I hope Ellie May’s pose and facial expression communicate that she is enthusiastic, fun, a little mischievous, but also well meaning.

How many drafts did you do before you settled on what you wanted?

For book covers, I always try to present a bunch of different options. I showed about five or six different ideas for each book. I doodled about 20 ideas that I didn’t show because they weren’t quite right.

For the Presidents’ Day book, I did a sketch that ended up being the title page for the book. It was Ellie May dressed in Revolutionary War era clothing, holding the flag. I also sketched a cover that was a grid of presidential portraits with Ellie’s portrait in the middle.

For April Fools’ Day I sketched out several different April Fool’s jokes from the book. I also thought that it might be a fun and goofy image to have Ellie hanging upside down from the monkey bars, because she does that in both books.

In what ways is the final version different from your original concept for the cover?

The final versions were much more focused directly on Ellie May. Her face is the most important thing, and I hope that it will convey somethings about her personality, and get people curious to see what she’s all about.

How important is a cover to a book’s success?

It can definitely be important. I know I’ve picked up lots of books because they had intriguing covers. In the end, there needs to be a great story inside, and there is. It would be wonderful if my cover could help draw young readers in, to check out Ellie May’s adventures.

Anything new you learned from working on the Ellie May series?

I did learn a bunch of interesting facts about the presidents as well as the history April Fool’s Day. Two of my favorite facts were that in France, “jokers tape a fish to unsuspecting peoples backs on April Fool’s Day” and that George Washington’s false teeth were made from “gold, lead, hippo, cow and donkey teeth.”

Anything else you would like to share?
I want to thank Hillary for writing these excellent stories, and also for interviewing me about illustrating her books. I hope you will have as much fun reading them as I did illustrating them.

Oh, and here’s the giveaway part! It’s–drumroll. One high-quality print of an Ellie May illustration signed by Jeffrey Ebbeler AND signed paperback copies of Ellie May on Presidents’ Day and Ellie May on April Fools’ Day (these will be mailed in December) AND PDFs of both books.

How to register to win? Lots of ways. 1) Make a comment here. 2) Follow me on Twitter @hillaryhomzie. 3) Tweet about this and tag me on Twitter @hillaryhomzie 4) retweet my Twitter post about this post. If you do all four things, you will increase your odds of winning but you only need to do one thing in order to get registered. Good luck everyone!

Jeffrey Ebbeler has been creating award-winning art for children for over 15 years. He has illustrated more than forty picture books, including Melvin the Mouth, Captain’s Log: Snowbound and he is both the author and illustrator of George the Hero Hound. Jeffrey has worked as an art director and has done paper engineering for pop-up books. He and his wife, Eileen, both attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati. They have twin daughters, Olivia and Isabel.
www.jeffillustration.com

Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, Dec 18, 2018), as well as the forthcoming Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

Meet the Illustrator: Lauren A. Mills

laurenmillsToday we’re lucky to have a behind-the-scenes peek at the work of award-winning author/ illustrator, Lauren A. Mills. Many people know Lauren as a picture book author and illustrator, but Little, Brown just released her first illustrated middle grade novel, Minna’s Patchwork Coat.

Interestingly enough, the idea came from one of her picture books, The Rag Coat. For those unfamiliar with this heart-tugging story, Minna can’t go to school because she has no coat. The town mothers pitch in to quilt her a coat made of rags. When classmates bully and tease her, Minna stands up to them and shows them how they are all connected through her quilted coat.minnacover@72small.

Lauren has agreed to share her process of writing and illustrating the book, which was inspired by the song “Coat of Many Colors,” sung by Emmylou Harris and written by Dolly Parton.

To begin the illustrations, Lauren made preliminary drawings in her sketchbook. “I sketched very small at first (thumbnails sketches which are about 1” by 2”), so I could think and draw ideas quickly. The best designs turn out this way. I then enlarged them on a printer and sent those into Little, Brown for their comments and approval. The two editors, Deirdre Jones and Andrea Spooner, along with the art directors gave me much feedback.”

Thumbnails2
ThumbnailSketches
Not all sketches an illustrator turns in are accepted for the final book. Lauren shared this sketch of Minna with an angry man, which the editors rejected because “they thought the scene looked too scary for children.”

BlueRidge_sm

BlueRidgereference

Lauren hiking the Blue Ridge

Once the layouts were approved, Lauren gathered reference materials. She says, “I took over 100 photos and did many thumbnails sketches, but only 50 final drawings ended up in the book. The photographs were taken in Massachusetts, where I live, and in Virginia, where I teach in the summer, and at the West Virginia Coal Mine Exhibition. The school I used as a model for the Rabbit Ridge School is the Nash Hill School, built in 1786 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.” She even hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains to get pictures of the setting.

OldSchoolHouse

Old Schoolhouse

“My process is to sketch out the thumbnails, then gather the reference to look at, and then I draw from my original thumbnail sketches and the photos, a combination of both.” Here’s Lauren hard at work at her drawing board wearing a scarf she felted. To get herself in the right mood to sketch,  Lauren “listened to lots of bluegrass music and wore clothing similar to what would have been worn during this time period.”

AtTheDrawingBoard

“At times I didn’t have the reference for a certain scene and went only from my sketch. Other reference, besides photographs, included actual items, such as the antique crazy quilt that hangs in our home, dolls, and the vintage-looking clothes.”

Crazy Quilt

Crazy Quilt

Minna&Mama

vintage-look clothes

Vintage-look clothes

Nora&Minna

“The dolls were my daughter’s dolls. She was in college, and it was difficult to wrangle Belini Bear away from her, but he behaved very well during the model session.”

ModelsPosingDrawingFromModelsPosing

Lauren even drew layouts and elevations of the cabin interior and exterior.

LogCabinInteriorDesAnd as a sculptor and dollmaker, she created a lifelike doll of Minna.

Minna doll Lauren made

Minna doll Lauren made

She was lucky enough to find children who looked like the characters she’d envisioned for the book. “Alexandra, the model for Minna, and her actual father posed for Minna and her father. He happened to be a musician and provided a genuine handmade Appalachian banjo for me. Lester, a key character and musician in the story, is also from a musical background.”

MinnaTitleMinna&Papa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other models included adult friends, school children and even live animals – goats, lambs, chickens, sheep. It’s not surprising that goats made their way into the book: Lauren used to raise goats. Once she even helped to deliver one!

MoreModelsPosing

MinnaLesterGoats2

Minna, Lester, and goats

Here’s a quick overview of Lauren taking a sketch from preliminary layout to finished artwork. The illustrations were done in graphite pencil on Arches paper.

Line to Transfer

Line to Transfer

Step 2

Step 2

Step 5

Step 6

RabbitAlthough the interior illustrations are in black and white, Lauren painted watercolors of a rabbit and a mockingbird for the book’s jacket flap and back cover. Both of these animals have a special significance in the story, with Rabbit becoming Minna’s “totem.”Mockingbird

To create tMinnaWoodshe cover, Lauren began with an underdrawing. She printed it out, glued it to a board, and covered it with matte medium. Then she painted on top of it with oils, allowing some of the pencil to show through on the trees.

MinnaPortraitIsn’t the final artwork (below) gorgeous?

 

 

 

To see more of Lauren’s beautiful artwork, you can visit her website. Teachers and librarians can click on these links to find out about Lauren’s presentations and educational resources, including a core curriculum guide for Minna’s Patchwork Coat.

Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your wonderful process with us!

About Author/Illustrator Lauren A. Mills

Lauren A. Mills is the award-winning author and illustrator of The Rag Coat and The Goblin Baby, and she has retold and illustrated Thumbelina, Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins, and The Book of Little Folk. She is also the author of Fairy Wings, Fia and the Imp, and The Dog Prince, all of which she co-illustrated with her husband, Dennis Nolan. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the country, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her stories have been performed by storytellers and actors across the country and on the radio, and The Rag Coat was performed as a ballet by the University of Utah. Mills is a visiting associate professor of drawing in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She invites you to visit her website.

About the Blog Author

Laurie J. Edwards is also an author and illustrator, who was lucky enough to have Lauren Mills as her drawing professor in the Hollins University MFA program in Children’s Writing and Illustrating. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 articles in magazines and educational databases as well as twenty books in print or forthcoming. Read more about Laurie J. Edwards and her books and art at her blog and website, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.