One of the great pleasures of having a blog with so many followers is that I get to celebrate when friends have publication successes, sharing their work with a wider audience. Such is the case with Bonnie Adamson's RUTABAGA BOO! I'm thrilled to have her here today to talk about her new book.
e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
The first thing for me is to get the main character down. I usually do that by sketching out a scene. This scene may or may not be in the text, or remain in the finished layout—it’s just a way to explore the way the character interacts. Then I do more detailed sketches of the main character in different poses and start thinking about secondary characters. Next, I typically do “word” thumbnails, scribbling a word or phrase to represent what’s going on in each spread; then more detailed thumbnails, and finally, full-size pencil sketches of spreads for approval. I take the approved sketches into a page template in Photoshop to clean them up before printing and painting.
e: What is your medium?
For this book, I drew in 2B pencil on Bienfang parchment (tracing paper). I like the slight tooth of the tracing paper and the way the line breaks up when scanned. The drawings were done slightly smaller than actual size, scanned at 600 ppi and printed at 100% in waterproof ink on cold press watercolor paper. I use tube watercolors in thin washes. Since I don’t usually saturate the paper, I don’t stretch or prepare the paper other than to tape each spread to heavy chipboard for easier handling. I paint assembly-line style to keep the skin and hair tones as consistent as possible. After the painting is done, I go back in with pencil and re-establish any of the line that has been lost.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
It’s all in the characters’ expressions—not just facial, but body language, too. I like to be able to see a character’s thoughts between beats.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
I didn’t create the concept of this book, but I recognized the feeling right away when the project was presented to me. Family in-jokes using silly words and phrases are a part of creating your own special world for your children. So portraying that relationship was very important to me. And then, halfway through the art process for this book, my mother passed away. The team at Atheneum were extremely gracious, and gave me extra time to pull myself together—but it was tough, working on a book about the emotional ties between a mother and child. I was exhausted when it was done, and avoided revisiting the book during the time it was in production. When I was able to look at it with fresh eyes, I was relieved that the original sense of love and closeness had made it onto the page.
e: Bonnie, I'm so sorry about your mom.
What was your path to publication?
Emma Ledbetter, who was on the faculty of our SCBWI regional conference in 2013, saw my portfolio and thought my style might work for a manuscript she had on her desk. The plan was to provide art samples to go with Sudipta’s nearly wordless proposal in order to present it to the acquisitions committee. So the samples were on spec—but fortunately, acquisitions liked what they saw.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favorite part is problem-solving. I love figuring out how the pieces fit together.
The most challenging part arises from years of being a graphic designer, where a successful project depended in large part on the client being happy. I’ve had to learn how to pay attention to my own voice.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Emotions are front and center in this book, so I hope that’s immediate and obvious. What might not be so obvious is that the main character is never pictured alone on a spread—a deliberate choice to remove any anxiety on the part of the reader. This is a book about feeling safe.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Oh . . . at last count, more than a dozen projects are in various stages of completion. Each one is important to me. I hope they all make it out into the world.
e: So do I! Thanks, Bonnie!
RUTAGABA BOO! is written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and published by Atheneum, March 2017. Read a review at Publishers Weekly.