Aaron Becker's QUEST..
Aaron Becker's debut picture book, JOURNEY, took the kid lit world by storm and won a Caldecott Honor. So we've been anxiously awaiting his second, QUEST, which I have to say, is just as brilliant. They're both wordless, epic stories unlike anything the children's lit world has seen before. I am thrilled to have Aaron here today to tell us more about it...
Q. I’ve heard you used a 3-D program to get the castle and other landscape elements just right in QUEST, but there’s still a ton of atmosphere. How did you take a 3-D model and give it such life?
A. I come from a film background and the 3D training I received was always just a means to an end - in other words, it’s a tool in the belt, but the danger is that things can end up looking computerized as you’ve suggested, just as they do in movies. So I’ve always been very aware of this tendency. By the time I do my watercolors, the information (perspective, lighting, design) I get from the 3D models is really just used like reference, almost like a photograph or scale model might aid an illustrator in their work. It was important to me that anything from the computer world didn’t end up in the final illustrations, so I tend to just work traditionally at that point with ink and watercolor. Occasionally, there’s a light printout of some of the lighting information from the 3D models, but this gets quickly buried underneath layers of paint.
Q. Even though QUEST has no words, the ideas are quite complicated. I love the magic crayons - can you explain the idea behind those a little further?
A. There’s an entire mythology behind QUEST and the universe of the JOURNEY trilogy; I had to work out a large back story and the markers are an important part of it. In the end, you don’t necessarily find out about all of the myths that drive the adventure at hand, but the details are there and they support a sense of a larger world that’s quite important for fueling the imagination of the reader. In the wordless realm, this is especially important. Without details that are open to interpretation, the books would fall flat. All this is to say - yes, there’s more behind the markers, but no I won’t tell you! Like a magician and his tricks, knowing what’s behind it all ruins the fun!
Q. Is it the power of the rainbow, or simply the power of COLOR that holds the magic in the alternate world?
A. What do you think? :)
ME: Oh dangit! Hmmm!
Q. I love the purple bird, a carryover from JOURNEY. Does it have special symbolism to you?
A. I think of the bird as a sort of R2D2 character that knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in this story. She guides the characters to where they need to be to help push their destinies along. In fact, if you look in the books, you’ll notice she’s always looking in the direction of where I want the reader to look. Sometimes she knows more than the girl and boy about what’s around the corner (or chasing them from behind!) Symbolically, the bird is a symbol of the freedom that comes with being unaffected as a child - the wonder that comes with believing in those magical corners of the world that we usually forget as grown ups. But perhaps I’m giving away too much here!
Q. You’ve been an “overnight success” with JOURNEY and now QUEST too, and yet I know there’s no such thing. What was your journey to publication?
A. I went to my first SCBWI conference 15 years ago. In fact, I met my current editor at Candlewick at a retreat in 1999. We reconnected many years later, after I returned to art school to hone my skills and worked in the film industry for nearly a decade. So yes, it was a long road, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I think I needed all that time to figure out how I wanted to tell a story.
(Here's an image still in its 3-D mode...
And in watercolor...)
Q. What is your general method and how long does it take you to create a piece?
A. The most time consuming part of any project for me is getting the story right. The sketches, the constant wrangling, editing, back-stepping - all of the normal trials and tribulations of any writer. By the time I’m ready to do my final artwork, the bulk of my “work” is done. But the paintings do take time. I take my rough sketches and make them tighter, print them out onto watercolor paper very lightly, then do the inking, and then the watercolor. Before any of this, each illustration is planned out extensively on the computer so that all of my compositional and color decisions are already made. At each stage of the process, I like to focus on only one or two things at a time, so with the watercolor, I’m just focusing on pigment and water and not story-telling or design. I’d say these books are taking me about a year and a half from start to finish, with the artwork taking about four and a half months of that.
Q. I know the publicity wheels are keeping you VERY busy, so I appreciate your time and wish you much continued success!!
A. THANK YOU!
Watch the official book trailer at VIMEO:
Candlewick has kindly agreed to send a beautiful, free copy of QUEST to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below:
QUEST. Copyright © 2014 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.