David: Sure, here’s my process: I start out with a tight pencil drawing on Bristol board. I then scan it and bring it into Photoshop, where I’ll drop in scanned (traditional) textures for the background. I’ll assign them a color using Hue/Saturation (with the “Colorized” box checked). That gives me a good textured base to build on. I set the Layer Blending Mode for the drawing Layer to “Multiply,” and I start blocking in all the major shapes. After everything’s blocked-in, I’ll start rendering with my custom Brushes. By the end, my pencil drawing gets pretty much covered up, but it’s an important step in the process. For this book, I created a bunch of Brushes to render all those feathers. I’ve been bouncing back-and-forth between working traditionally and digitally, and I think I may have finally found the right balance.
David: Oh jeez, how far do you want me to go back? I’ve been writing and submitting stories for years and years, but this is my debut as author. The path for this book was pretty basic: I wrote the story, illustrated it, designed a layout, and added a few color pieces. I made a list of agents from ones I’ve met at conferences, plus a couple who represented acquaintances. One agent responded that he liked the information and presentation in my proposal. He offered to help craft the proposal and sell the book. He had some very insightful, constructive feedback, including changing the title. My original working title was “Birds of Many Colors.”
I revamped the proposal and my agent submitted it to a bunch of publishers. We got some interest, but nothing quite panned out. A couple publishers wanted editorial changes that I didn’t agree with, so we kept going. We eventually found the right publisher. I knew it was a perfect fit when I read the editor’s note expressing interest; she clearly understood exactly what I was going for in the book. The biggest change was in the art: At the publisher’s suggestion, I switched from my original pen-and-ink and watercolor sample illustrations to a digital style and fully painted in the backgrounds. I had originally only painted in light watercolor washes for the skies, but I like the richer backgrounds in the final product. I am happy to report that the book has already received wonderful starred reviews from Kirkus and ALA’s “Booklist.”
David: The main source of inspiration for this book is my love of birds, but the ingredient that made the idea really gel was the concept of inclusion. The book starts out, “All birds have feathers. All birds have wings. All birds have beaks. But birds come in many colors.” I was really drawn to the notion that there was this huge range of diversity among birds, but that they were all alike in so many ways; that, in spite of the different colors of their plumage, they were still part of the same “feathered family.” I immediately thought of using a kiwi as the “guide character” to have an emotional arc throughout the book. As soon as I gathered my kiwi photo reference and starting sketching the little bird, I thought, “yep, this can work.” And, yes, I was using birds as a metaphor for us humans.
David: I think “Heart Art” would have to make the viewer feel something, perhaps a tug on the heartstrings. I illustrate a lot of stories about animals, and I want the observer to feel empathy for the animal characters. I gave Kiwi a little bit of personality, and I made the character pretty small on most of the spreads, except the last one, in which Kiwi finally gets attention and finds a place in the “feathered family” of birds. So, Kiwi feels small and excluded at first, and then a sense of belonging at the end. I hope the viewer experiences those emotions, too.
And, in trying to get the reader to want to continually return to the story, I tried to add lots of detail and texture to the illustrations to make them rich and vibrant, to hold the viewer’s eye. And birds are such great subjects to paint! Another bit of visual magic I tried to conjure up was in making the birds seem alive. Although I wanted to make the birds realistic, I imagined them having thoughts and personalities. I added a few interactions among the birds, like between the giant ostrich and the hummingbird, and I always added a tiny highlight in their eyes—I consider that the “spark” that gives them life.
David: I do a couple mailings a year, plus I’m on social media (Instagram and Twitter), and I have a portfolio website. I also attend a few conferences a year. At least, I used to.
David: My favorite part is spending time doing what I love: drawing and painting. I’m also enjoying being able to develop some of my own ideas. It’s challenging trying to make a living doing this, and everything in the book-making process takes so darned long.
David: I know I mentioned this in my answer about the creation of this story, but, on the surface, this book is about birds. Below the surface, I was exploring the idea of inclusion, which is an important theme for us to contemplate, especially in these times of such divisiveness. We humans, like birds, are so much more alike than we are different.
David: I am very excited to report that I am already under contract to create a follow-up book about fish, so I kinda’ feel like I’m living the dream! And I’m finding out that fish are every bit as interesting as birds!