Barbara McClintock on THE FIVE FORMS

Sometimes I come across a book that stops me in my tracks. Such was the case with Barbara McClintock's THE FIVE FORMS. It's mysterious, fun, spiritual, kick-butt, and multi-cultural all at the same time. Happily, Barbara is here to tell us more about it...

e: I love how this story came to you - can you tell us a bit about the journey from your son and through you?
My son Larson has been practicing martial arts since he was 13. He and I share an interest in doing sports that aren’t team activities. I walk, run, & do yoga. Even as a child, I’d choose riding my bike or my horse by myself to playing baseball. Martial arts are collaborative; you spar with a partner, train with teachers and in the company of other students, and compete as a team group at events. But it is an activity that you can easily do on your own.

Here's Larson sharing books of ancient Chinese calligraphy with Barbara.
I’m very interested in the imaginative aspect of martial arts. There’s a mystical narrative to the practice of kung fu, tai chi, hapkido, karate, and other forms of wushu, or martial arts. Many of the series of physical movements that make up the various forms in martial arts are based on the movements of animals, with the idea of releasing the power of the animals that the forms represent. There are many different animals represented in forms - tiger, monkey, eagle, mantis, bear, and others - as well as the ones I chose to depict in my story. There are also many combinations of animals that make up a series of forms. I chose leopard instead of tiger, because leopard is not as powerful as tiger, and leopard worked better in the power line up of animals in my book.
I loved playacting characters from stories when I was little. It was easy to imagine how I would have become the animals represented in wushu forms if I’d been exposed to martial arts as a child.
But what if things got out of control? What if the power of the animal forms wasn’t just strength, or grace, or endurance? What if the animals became - just animals - acting like a typical cat, or over-sized bird. or fast moving snake? And what if putting them in the same room would result in the crazy chaos that would happen with three overly-active kids who’s had a bit too much chocolate ice-cream? Much like the jumping on the bed, wild pillow fights that could erupt when my then 8 year old son had friends over?
      Martial arts is not just about fighting. It’s also very much to do with learning to control the forceful, or external, power of various fighting forms. In martial arts, the internal, controlling forms are deeply revered and taught, and are felt to be as important as the external expressions. The calligraphy on the title pages of THE FIVE FORMS is found on ancient bronzes. The calligraphy names the animal it appears next to. The calligraphy next to the cloud image is the written term for ‘origin' or 'source’ - in this case, bringing the girl back to her original state, or the way things were before she began. In Qigong, there are movements or forms, breathing and meditative practices used to calm, clear, empty, and make still. It’s very spiritual, and is about taking control of chaos. I wanted the little girl to take control of her situation, through an internal form of martial arts. In the last form, she is doing what is called a ‘tree hugging’ pose, that centers and returns energy to a calm state. In many martial arts styles, there’s a closing group of movements to bring energy back to the way it was before the practice began.
I thought about Max in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as I worked on THE FIVE FORMS. Max travels into a land of beasts, which he ultimately takes control of. My little girl does that through the power of Qigong and martial arts!
      The story of THE FIVE FORMS was also inspired by the story of THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, with a pinch of THE CAT IN THE HAT thrown in for good measure.

e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through it?
The story determines what drawing style and technique I’ll use for the art. Many of my books have been set in the late 19th and early 20th century. I’ve turned to illustrators and artists from the time period of the narrative to establish the illustration style. For ADELE & SIMON, I looked closely at the work of Daumier, Delacroix, Gustave Dore, and of course, my hero Grandville. CINDERELLA found it’s artistic inspiration in the drawings of Watteau and Fragonard. Art for TWELVE KINDS OF ICE was inspired by the engravings of Rockwell Kent. The art in my early books was drawn in pen and ink and watercolor, with the idea that the art should look like engravings you might find in old books.
THE FIVE FORMS, with it’s roots in East Asian martial arts forms, lead me to explore Japanese and Chinese brush painting and prints. My experiments with brush and ink drawing led to disastrous results. I discovered brush tip markers, and found my medium. I can press down on the marker tip and get a thick, chunky line, lift up and get a line that’s ethereal and delicate. All without dripping ink everywhere. I wanted to use bold colors, much like the Japanese prints I was studying, and much like the colors I favored back in my childhood comic book/Top Cat cartoon days.

The cat's name is Viola.
I want to give big credit to Simon Boughton, my editor on THE FIVE FORMS. He encouraged me to use a chunky, broad line in creating the art, and was enormously helpful working with me to simplify the pacing and flow of the book. More about him in a following question!

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?
I believe ‘HEART ART’ happens when the charm, playfulness, whimsy, and mischievousness of the author/illustrator’s personality comes through their work, straight to the reader.

e: In the book you mention that you worked closely with your son to get the details right. Did any funny stories come about as a result?
My son Larson and I just got off the phone, trying to recall the funny parts of our working together. Our talking about martial arts forms, and martial arts in general inevitable turned into long talks about life, cats, family, cats, food, cats, Eastern philosophy, cats, future plans, cats, and… you get the idea.
     We both like cats.
I think he’s really been supportive of, and bemused by, my attempts to actually do the martial arts forms he’s shown me. I have terrible recall of sequential physical movements - I’d have made a really bad dancer. He just smiles, and moves on. He’s quite Zen in that way.

e: What was THE FIVE FORMS' path to publication?
  After my beloved editor Frances Foster had a stroke, and was no longer able to work, Simon Boughton stepped in as my new editor at FSG. Simon came to my home to visit me, and spent the day in my studio, looking at drawings and scraps of doodles taped to my walls, talking about books that inspire me, stories about my family, and ideas for potential books. Simon saw creative abilities in me that were different than those Frances saw. He recognized the energy of those very early stories and inspirations from my childhood, and helped me work whatever creativity is - magic? - to get those inspired thoughts and memories out onto paper.
      While we were in the studio, Simon thought of my doing a book about martial arts and a little girl. In the days that followed his visit, I began writing a story line, initially in long hand. As I wrote, I doodled characters and settings… the first story was very long, very heavy, all too epic. I had an appointment to meet Simon and my agent, Jennie Dunham, for lunch in NYC. As I rode the train from New Haven, Ct to Grand Central station, I drew out the dummy and story for THE FIVE FORMS. Trains and airplanes are the best places to work on the initial phase of a book!
Simon liked the rough sketches and idea. I went home and began making a tight dummy and writing out the text. I’d scan and send the dummy sketches to Simon. Then I’d get a call from Simon… he’d just been cutting up my printed out dummy and taping it together in a new sequence, and wanted to talk through it with me. Now, ten years ago this would have totally freaked me out. But - and this goes to the last question, sorry to jump around - after a long time in my career, I have been so ready to try new approaches to my work. I was curious to see where things would go, and trusted Simon’s instincts. He is a master at understanding the elegance and vitality of simplicity in pacing and structure of picture books. And that trust was well placed - I’m extremely happy with the way THE FIVE FOMS turned out.
      Having a good editor is everything in making a book. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have great editors - Dianne Hess at Scholastic is a genius and a joy to work with. Deirdre Jones at LittleBrown is absolutely super. Every editor sees and draws out a different aspect of who you are as a writer/illustrator.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator, and with THE FIVE FORMS in particular?
Trusting your intuition. Going with your gut. Not allowing fear into the studio. Writing and creating art is all about risk taking, creating accidents and resolving them. Because THE FIVE FORMS was done in an entirely new style for me, I had to put aside all those little nagging thoughts - would people like this? Was it any good? It was a bit like being in free-fall - it was fun for me, but I can be plagued by self doubt, and had to really keep those feelings at bay.
I didn’t go to art school, and I don’t have a set of rules and structure to fall back on that formal training allows. My process is intuitive. I work from the memory of artwork I’ve seen and admire, and try to incorporate hundreds of little pieces of the art I like into my work.
My partner David Johnson is a wonderful illustrator in his own right. He acts as my ‘second set of eyes’. I call him into the studio to ask his opinion about a color, or if he thinks what I’m doing makes sense, if the pacing of the images flows well, if the character I’m drawing actually looks like a crane. He is a very wise man, and usually just says “It all looks great! Keep going!“
Otherwise I’d probably kick him out of the studio. Maybe all I really want is a little moral support?
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious? (I love the book - when she finds it, and when she puts it back!)
Books are powerful things! The information they hold can be terrifying, comforting, amusing, instructive, challenging - but always irresistible. And - in the case of the little girl in THE FIVE FORMS - books can be put away when you’ve had enough, although they will forever change you, even when returned from wherever they came from.
And… GIRL POWER! There are so many books about boys getting into—and out of—trouble. Boys who are full of over the top energy. But not as many picture books about energetic, acting out of bounds girls. The PIPPY LONGSTOCKINGS are few and far between. I was a real tom boy growing up. The books I identified with when I was little primarily featured boys. So—here’s a girl who I hope all children who are full of bumptious energy and curiosity can relate to.

e: This book seems to represent a journey that could potentially change how you approach the rest of your work. As such, what are you working on next or what would be your dream project? 
My next project is about a little girl and her sports car. Full disclosure - I have an Audi TT, and have driven it over 70,000 miles in 5 years. So—yea, it’s biographical, with an 8 year old me as the protagonist.
      Again, the artwork will be done with a thick, spontaneous brush line. Bold, Bright. Simple. Contemporary. A little girl. Lots of power.
Recently, I’ve become interested in going back to stories and images that I loved as a child. I was a huge Top Cat fan, and of cartoons in general. I want to write simple stories, and use drawing materials that I would have gravitated to when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old.
My future dream project is more than one book. It’s making many books, all of them pieces of a pathway exploring what it is to be a child, a writer, an illustrator, a person living in a world with a lot of change and drama that doesn’t necessarily make sense. That’s a life-long journey, and one that will be filled with new approaches to narrate in text and art what I witness along the way. Strap yourselves in! Major road trip ahead!

e: Great—I can't wait to see and read more!

About Barbara: Barbara's books have won 5 New York Times Best Books awards, a New York Times Notable Book citation, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor award, and numerous other awards, recommended/best book lists, and starred reviews. Go to to learn more.

Last Gatherings...

I graduated in May. The MFAs graduated this August. And many of my University of Edinburgh College of Art friends are scattering to the winds. But before we split up, we've been getting together again and again to say goodbye and enjoy every last bit of camaraderie that we can. Two gatherings in particular stand out. The first was at Akva, a Scandinavian restaurant in Fountainbridge. It was such a lovely night, Stan and I decided to walk there. We took my old path down lovely Rose Street.
It was still in the thick of Fringe, so musicians were stationed every 100 yards or so - I'm not exaggerating.
A lovely gathering of friends awaited us.
It was so good to see everybody, I didn't even think to take pictures. This one was taken after we'd already left - PAH! (Anybody know who's behind the camera?)
     Two of our friends, Boris and his wife Vicky, came to stay with us for a few days as they need to return to Taiwan for a month to renew their VISAs. Happily, Boris and LiangLiang were successful in their bid for an entrepreneurial VISA and will spend the next two years in Edinburgh working to make their Children's Literature magazine a success!
     It seemed like the perfect opportunity for our MFA group to gather one last time.
Indeed, it will be the last time for most. Antti and Karin are off to Helsinki soon to start their new life together. (They are sitting on either side of me.) Boris and Vicky are off to Taiwan. Nadee is off to Thailand for good. I hope we can visit her someday. LiangLiang will be back after a month in Thailand. And (not pictured) Catherine is off to Chile soon - I hope we can visit her too. Truly, I have friends all over this tiny marble now. Thank goodness for Facebook, we can stay in touch. Although, it will never be the same.
     It was a strange feeling walking home from Akva. We'd had such a good time hanging out with everybody. The castle was bathed in blue and Rose Street was so quiet on the way home.
In fact, that's what it feels like I'm entering, a time of quiet. I'll miss everybody so much! Happily, Pilar (on the left up top) is now Artist in Residence at Edinburgh and is promising to arrange a regular salon for those of us still remaining. I'll look forward to that! And will share, of course...

Coloring Page Tuesday - Knitting with Wool

     My friend Karen Coats loves to knit. She makes amazing things with yarn. So this is the card I drew for her this summer at Hollins. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

A Gathering at Wayside

I recently had the honor of attending a yearly children's fantasy writers luncheon at Jane Yolen's "Wayside" - her home in St. Andrews. I caught the train from Edinburgh with Annemarie Allan, whose latest book, Charlie's Promise is absolutely wonderful. We talked about Pictish lore and feuding mythological figures all the way up - so fun! Author Lisa Tuttle met us at the train station. It was such a gorgeous day and the view of rolling fields into St. Andrews was stunning. I've shared Jane's home with you before, but it was on a cloudy day. This time, sunshine flooded in through the two-story curved windows - a lovely spot to catch a picture of author of Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein with her newest title, The Pearl Thief.
I'd been wanting to read it, so I was thrilled when we swapped - a copy of my A Bird on Water Street for the audio version of The Pearl Thief, which I can listen to while I'm painting Crow Not Crow, the book I'm doing with Jane and her son, Adam Stemple.
     Jane's lovely kitchen (with the gorgeous stained glass window) was overwhelmed with food and hands to help as a result of everybody bringing 'a little something' for the party. Here are Mark A. Smith (winner of the Kelpies Prize for his book Slugboy Saves the World), Jane, Debby Harris and Elizabeth W.
Then it was my turn to jump into the shot.
     I felt like I was in a movie as we all gathered in Jane's dining room to partake of the feast. Truly, history, or at least wonderful memories are made from moments like these. Jane asked us all, "What is the book you have always wanted to write, but never will, and why?" Well, that set us off on all sorts of interesting tangents! Including a debate about the merits of English vs. American flour when making biscuits. (You can imagine the meandering conversations that got us there!)
     Afterwards, we wandered into the garden to enjoy the surprisingly warm for Scotland sunshine. Here is author of the new For My Sins, Alex Nye, Lisa, Mark, Annemarie, and Bob Harris.
Debby (Deborah Turner) and Bob (Robert J.) Harris are husband and wife. Debby is a writer, editor and teacher. Bob has written several books with Jane, and many on his own including new ones you'll want to keep an eye out for. Debby took lots of pictures and I'm hoping to share those with you soon.
     We talked industry, shared our books, talked about new titles we're reading, our ongoing projects, and writing challenges. I made several new friends, all smart as tacks and absolutely delightful. You can never get bored around fascinating and fascinated writers as they gather and share the best stories! All said, this Wayside gathering was a treat beyond measure for this lucky writer/illustrator. Do click on their names to learn more about everybody and their wonderful books!

VIDEO: Susan Murphy Watercolor Demo

Want to learn a TON about watercolors, how they work and neat ways to use them? Watch this awesome demo by artist Susan Murphy.

Wikipedian - Women in Red!

Today is Women's Equality Day - a great time to announce that I am a Wikipedian!
     The University of Edinburgh hosts a group active in Wikipedia's "Women in Red" project. The mission of the group is to create biography pages for notable women in history. Why? Because out of all the biographies on Wikipedia, only 16% of them are women! The group is called "Women in Red" because in the Wikipedia world, if a writer feels there should be a page to link to a particular reference, and there isn't one, the writer will highlight that particular reference in red.
     But it can be a challenge to create these biographies, because women have been so horribly underrepresented in the past, it can be difficult to find published primary sources on them. So, our fair leader, Ewan McAndrew spends the weeks between each meeting gathering books, articles, and links on scads of women to our Edinburgh Women in Red page to make our jobs easier when we come together each month to actually write the posts. (Yes, this is his job!) He's also an expert at Wikipedia, so I'm learning my way around the not-terribly-intuitive platform from him in the hopes that I might start a "Women in Red" group at Hollins University someday. (The undergraduate program is for girls only, so it makes sense!)
     Not only am I doing a good thing by putting women back into history, I'm learning about some fascinating stories! My first post was for Ethel Elizabeth Froud (pictured), a British trade unionist and feminist. And my second was for Lady Finella - an assasin from the 10th century. What a story!
     The nice thing is, Wikipedia is collaborative. So now that these women have pages, others will go in and add information, prune and edit as necessary, making the pages more vibrant as information grows and gaps are able to be filled. I really feel like I'm doing something remarkable for posterity. Very cool!
     There are "Women in Red" groups all over the world, so if this sounds like a groovy project to you, see if there's one in your area where you can donate some time - just a few hours each month. Or maybe create one of your own! Happy Wikipedia-ing!

Photo of Ethel Elizabeth Froud, fair use copyright.

Dianne de Las Casas - RIP

I have to share sad news. Children's book author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas recently passed away in a house fire.
Dianne and I met many years back at author/illustrator Katie Davis' home. I was visiting New York for a portfolio show at the Society of Illustrators (or some such). Dianne also came to visit and we actually shared a (big) bed in Katie's attic guest room - mostly talking all night and trying to change the world - something Dianne took very seriously. First with her books. She had quite a few that she shared in her numerous school visits and her newsletter that had an enormous subscriber list.
And also through her passions. She was the creator of Picture Book Month (November), for which I proudly did the calendar every year.
But Dianne's pride and joy was her daughter, known as Kid Chef Eliana. Dianne had been spending most of her recent time helping to establish her 17-year-old daughter on this fun and creative path. My heart is broken for Eliana, they were so close.
Dianne was a vibrant, alive person - a force for good in this world - and I will miss her and all the good works she was doing. Friends have set up a Go-Fund-Me site in her name. If you'd like to help, money raised will pay for funeral expenses and anything left over will go to FirstBook - another force for good. Or you could just go buy some of Dianne's lovely books.
     Dianne's passing is a tragic loss to our children's book community, as a creator, as a proponent of children's literature, as a mother, and as a friend. Rest in peace, dear friend.

From The Metro New Orleans News: "A 'magnetic personality': Author, storyteller killed in Harvey house fire

From Shelf Awareness: Obituary Note: Dianne Casas

From Teaching Authors: When Great Trees Fall

Linda Ragsdale's Peace Dragon, ALPHABETTER and HOW I DID IT

Linda Ragsdale is a survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, a peace-seeker, and all around inspiring person. She has long supported me on my creative journey, and I am thrilled to be able to return the favor as she celebrates the release of two new picturebooks - ALPHABETTER and HOW I DID IT. I asked her some questions about them and about The Peace Dragon project...

e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
My creative process is living fully and listening to those whispers that tug on my heart, make me giggle or remember a feeling long past. They come at anytime, so I’ve learned how to voice command text while driving, type notes while walking (though I don’t walk and chew gum!) and at night, a sketch book lies at the ready, a mechanical pencil nestled in the binding.
     First drafts come about in all forms. Sometimes it starts as lists from the whispers, the beginning or ending of the story and sometimes it’s the synopsis or the full story. If a story doesn’t gel right away, I know to wait. Some chance event will deliver the answer.
      When all the ingredients come together, then its draft, draft, draft. Rewrite. Wait. Rewrite. Wait. Share and rewrite. My joy is that this can be done anywhere. And you have to take advantage of those anywheres! One of my faves is sitting outside my door with the turtles and wildlife. Turtles can teach you a lot!

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?
Though I’m not a traditional illustrator for books, I do art for my non-profit and presentations. Heart Art reaches into the memories and moments of the viewer and the artist. It’s hearing that whisper we’ve heard once upon our lives, found within the loving hands of the artists chosen colors, lines, and textures. It’s the golden thread reconnecting us to a secret giggle, oooo, ahhh, or tears, and gently tied to our hearts.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of these stories?
I wrote the manuscript for How I Did It over a decade ago, at a time I felt I had totally made a mess of everything. I truly felt like the scribble! As I kept writing the story, I found resilience by seeing the beauty in the twists and turns happening in my life. It’s wild to me how pertinent the message was then and now. Facing the later challenges of living through both a terrorist attack and stage three breast cancer, I was able to look beyond the event, physical challenges to the gifts. Oddly enough, I use this book to work with cancer patients to keep looking for the gifts within every experience. Find the treasure, dump the trash! It proves the point that picture books play a purpose far deeper than some people know, but PB people know. They’re written for everyone!

e: What was your path to publication and The Peace Dragon project? 
I have one of those really non-traditional paths! Surviving the attack, I started my non-profit The Peace Dragon. My mission expanded from teaching children how to own the artistry of their lives through the arts, to using the arts with children and adults to connect with the their peaceful and fiery side and transform their fire into light! Through my speaking engagements, I found my way to Tennessee Tech University, working on joint peace projects and grants with Professor Ada Haynes. On one of her flights home from a trip, she couldn’t sit next to her husband, and found herself next to a publisher from Flowerpot Press. Thank goodness they’re both talkers! She shared my story, and my stories, and set up a meeting. I pitched my stories in person and I had a contract when I left. My joy is that it’s a small publisher, and because the nature of the projects, I get to work with the editors on the visuals, as they’re key for expanding the peace messages.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The infinite possibilities are exciting and most challenging. Each idea can lead to a thousand different conclusions. So when and where do you stop? Deadlines can provide that answer, but not necessarily stop the wondering and wandering!

e: Is there something in particular about these stories you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
To try everything, at least twice. The story is a roller coaster emotional romp that changes the ideas of success, failure and the try. I see too many kids stop trying after a single attempt. In teaching peace, resilience and resourcefulness offer infinite possibilities after one path closes. And if we don’t keep trying things, we can miss so much! I didn’t like ketchup as a kid, but I do now as an adult. Try now, try later, because we know, grow and change as we live. During school visits, I have everyone try a yoga pose standing on one leg. Kids are surprised when they can do it with their non-dominant leg!

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Right now I’m finishing the revisions for the Peace Dragon’s debut story for the fall of 2018. *The characters are a memorial to my two friends killed by my side that night in Mumbai, and marks the ten-year anniversary. Books offer a safe passageway to understanding and this book addresses the fears facing our children and the world right now, and provides a path to finding peace together, all through the story of a little boy and his dragon friend. It subtly introduces the ideas of establishing a compassionate View, Voice and Choice to set peace as the default response to any life event. It’s friendship, fire and introduces Omani the Dragon!
      My dream project is turning the Peace Dragon’s story into a musical. We have two soundtracks and I’m so psyched to stage the play as something never experienced in live theaters. The project is a collaboration of all arts and senses, and I’m hoping it will be an all out “whole-hearted” experience!

Linda's History note: Elizabeth and I were both presenters at the Southern Festival of Books when I did the first storytelling version on the children’s stage! Also, outside of the eight hundred word count, the characters in The Peace Dragon’s Tale are named after my two friends; Sherwyn, after my friend Alan Scherr, and Omani, are the jumbled letters of Naomi and the our favorite chant, Om Mane Padme Hum, one we were singing hours before we were shot.

About Linda Ragsdale: Author, illustrator and international speaker/teacher Linda Ragsdale shares how the powerful skills of View, Voice and Choice can lead people through the more challenging parts of their lives with a peaceful and productive outcome. As a survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, her physically devastating wound validates her message of empathy and compassion over retaliation or resentment. Her work in peace education has led her around the world, empowering over 30,000 students to see and speak with a new voice, and an expanded capability of choice. These same tenets of peace offered her a safe journey through breast cancer, finding treasures within the moments of darkness. Whether the terrorist comes from outside or within, Ragsdale believes peace offers a balanced journey through every challenging event. Learn more at The Peace Dragon.

Crow Not Crow - Color Scripts

I've been teaching my students at Hollins about Color Scripts. They're something animators use in Hollywood - planning out the way the color/palette of light (or atmosphere) changes over the course of time in a film. Well, picture books move through time too, so they also need Color Scripts. Here is a Color Script for Crow Not Crow, the picture book by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple that I'm illustrating for Cornell Lab Publishing Group. Here's how my first one looks. It's a little rainbowy at this stage. Much of that will be eradicated in the rendering.
     I'm doing these partly to relay the passage of time, but also to help me figure out the color of my background washes. It also a good opportunity to test out different papers and noodle out how I want to render my layouts. For instance, these are tests with a yellow background and a scarlet background.
I don't know if you can see the issues, but I can. The scarlet didn't pull out enough, making the house very pink. That could be fixed as I layer watercolors, fixative, and varnishes (which then require a varnish/watercolor mix as straight watercolor won't stick to varnish). The sky is a mix of watercolor with varnish, which is why it stands out better. But it seems like an uphill battle in which I'd lose a lot of my original line drawing. Hm.
     The method is inspired by Bernie Fuchs, and demonstrated by Mary Jane Begin this summer at Hollins. I saw a work-in-progress image by Bernie online, and it looked like he blocked in various color washes in his backgrounds, rather than doing one color wash. So, I'm trying that. Everything I'm doing is by hand - no digital! I'm loving it, but I'm also learning, so I'm getting all of my mistakes out of the way at this stage. Here's an experiment on a burnt umber wash. Hm. I'm not getting the light that I want.
Looking at my Color Script above, I can see that I'm going through three or four basic stages, from an Antwerp, to a Yellow Ochre, to Cadmium Red, to Ultramarine. Keeping in mind that warm light creates cool shadows and visa versa. So, I'm trying another Color Script, using those colors as washes, saving some of the white paper where I want serious light to shine through. (This time on Arches 140lbs paper vs the Fabriano 140 I used for the first one, and the 4-ply Bristol I used on this burnt umber one.)
Truly, this is all experimentation at this stage, but I'm having fun. My goal is to not have many/any decisions left to make when I get to the big finals. It will be interesting to see how fast this goes as I'm thinking about doing them production-line style - washes first and then slowly building them up from there. It will help to keep them consistent.
     I have to admit, I love what's starting to happen here, even if they aren't quite working yet. You should see them in person! Jane did while she was in town for the book festival and she loves them, thank goodness! This will be the first time I've done a picture book where I have actual original art to show when it's all done - wow!
Update: Dangit, the Arches 140lb hot press really is superior to the Fabriano...and about twice the price. UGH!