THE JAGUAR STONES by Jon and Pamela Craik Voelkel - Guest Post

Jon Voelkel explains how an obsession with Maya glyphs inspired him to illustrate the Jaguar Stones books

      Growing up, all the books I loved had illustrations in them. I can remember poring over the maps in The Hobbit, tracing Bilbo's journey. I can still picture, clear as day, the illustration from Robinson Crusoe where the castaway spies the footprint in the sand; that one bare footprint, so loaded with mystery and possibility. And I sure would have struggled to imagine marshwiggles, fauns and other fantastic creatures without the illustrations in my Narnia books.
      Fast forward thirty years, and I was writing my own book. Or at least I was attempting to write down my kids' favorite bedtime story (an action-packed yarn based on my childhood in Latin America) and my wife, Pamela, an advertising copywriter, was attempting to turn it into a book. The setting for my story was some cool pyramids in the jungle. We began to research the people who'd built those pyramids - and that was when our obsession with the Maya began.
      There's so much misinformation on the internet that I signed up for a course at Harvard to learn how to read and write Maya glyphs. That opened a window into the Maya mind. One of the first things I learned was that the Maya used the same glyph for "scribe" and "artist", because Maya writing is art and Maya art is embedded with words. The artists like to tell you what things are made of, what they feel like and smell like, if they’re good or evil. There are swirly scrolls to indicate speech, breath and other, ahem, gaseous emissions. You can't help but smile. Everything bubbles with life and personality; not just plants and animals, but places, buildings, rocks - even time.
      As our first Jaguar Stones book, MIDDLEWORLD, took shape, we talked a lot about how to convey this amazing, vibrant, and essentially alien world.
      Even Maya architecture is a challenge. If pushed, some kids can visualize Chichen Itza. But most imagine an Egyptian pyramid. They're amazed to hear that every Maya pyramid is different: temples, palaces, observatories, offices - all wildly painted and ornamented. More thrilling still, these pyramids were alive to the Maya and crackling with ancestral mojo.
      So you can see why the Jaguar Stones books had to be illustrated. You can't describe this stuff succinctly in words. Kids needed to see on the page what we were seeing in our heads, so they wouldn't get hung up on trying to imagine the weirdness of it all. And since we couldn't find an illustrator who could capture this vibe, I stepped up to the plate.
      Of course, so much Maya art was destroyed in the conquest that we don't have a record of everything. So for THE LOST CITY, I've even gone a step further and created a spread of Maya monsters based on folktales.
      And before you ask, no I did not go to art school. I've been an inveterate doodler all my life, but I actually went to business school. So I had to invent my own techniques, based on trial and error. Pamela helps and is never short of ideas for illustrations: "A howler monkey riding a tapir!", "A Death Lord wearing a necklace of human eyeballs that's exploding because he's so angry!") I'm proud to say that we have never NOT included a picture because we couldn't find a way to make it happen.
      When I'm trying to mimic a Maya artist, I use modern versions of the tools they would have used. First I draw in pen and ink, then I scan the drawing, and add texture and shading with watercolor-like washes in Photoshop.
      For the full-page illustrations, I use a photo-realistic style. I start by taking dozens of photographs and collage them together on the computer. I then draw and paint on top of them to meld them into one seamless whole.
      It's been part of our mission to share our research with our readers, and draw them into the Maya universe. Our hope is that they not only enjoy a thrilling adventure, but also experience a glimpse into an ancient world that is more incredible, more advanced and more extraordinary than anything any of us could ever invent.

Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia, all the while dreaming of a boring life in suburbia. Eventually, having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the jungle, he rolled up his hammock and decamped to Europe. Meanwhile, growing up in a sedate seaside town in northern England, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of travel and adventure. The pair met in London, where they both worked in advertising. They went on to help found an award-winning agency, for which Jon was named one of the fifty most creative minds in Britain by the Financial Times. The authors' first book in the Jaguar Stones series, Middleworld, was an Al Roker Book Club pick. The Voelkels now live in Vermont with their three children. You can visit them online at

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Sharon Pinky Pollack - Q&A and Giveaway
Tricia Springstub - Guest Post and Giveaway
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Erin Prefontaine - Guest Post and Giveaway
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Elizabeth O. Dulemba - Guest Post
Friday, February 13, 2015
Heidi Grange - Review, Guest Post and Giveaway
Katie Barlow - Guest Post and Giveaway
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Pamela Thompson
Monday, February 16, 2015
Holly Schindler - Guest post and giveaway
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Charlotte Taylor

No comments: