David Wiesner's ROBOBABY

There are a few people I credit with making me want to get into picture books, who I consider my heroes in the industry. Well, David Wiesner is one of those people. When I saw Tuesday (1991), I was gobsmacked. I fell in love with the story, the art, the format. Picture books are such an unusual and unique art form, and I was hooked. We actually spoke together at Highlights many years ago. So, you can imagine how thrilled I am to have David here today to talk about his latest picture book, Robobaby!
e: Hi David, welcome! Thank you so much for years of wonder and congratulations on your latest book. Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of Robobaby?
Robobaby grew out of the work I did for my app, David Wiesner’s Spot (Only available on an iPad. Now only 99 cents! Search for it with that full title, otherwise you’ll get Eric Hill’s Spot apps).
There was a limit to what could be in the app. There was so much about the robot characters and their lives that I still wanted to explore. I quickly realized that a book was the best place to make that happen (what a shock, right?).

e: Of course! What was your creative process/medium for Robobaby, can you walk us through it?
Each book I do grows out of an idea, most often a visual one. The sources of the ideas are all different and the visual connections and inspirations I bring to that idea are also all different for each book. But the basic process is similar.

Like most, I begin in a sketchbook. My stories grow out of my drawings. I don’t write an outline. I look at what is happening on the page and let the drawings lead me places. I try not self censor - if something seemingly random appears, I welcome it. My subconscious is part of the process.

I then begin to put these drawings into a thumbnail layout to see how they look in book form. I work from the beginning or from the end or from the middles out, rarely from page one to page thirty-two. Alas, this writing/drawing process can take from not-so-long to very-long. I never know how long it will take, but there is that Aha! moment for each book I’ve done when the story falls into place.

More recently I have taken to working at full-size before the story is all there. I like to having more room to draw. These drawings are rough. All the world building and character design happens after there is a story It is tempting to get caught up in that fun stuff, but the story is the hard stuff, and avoidance will get you nowhere!

When the story is basically there, I begin to make a more detailed dummy. The way the pages are designed and laid out are the language of telling stories in picture books. The rhythm from page to page, the mix of single page images, to multi-panel images, to double-page spreads is key. The use of borders and full bleed images play a part. All these elements define the experience of reading the pictures. The story affects how I design and the design affects the telling of the story.

Robobaby went through this process. Here are some of the sketchbook drawings - the first are quick thoughts about scenes:
Then some page ideas:
Then a more complete sequence:
Here are some dummy drawings - as I said, these are very rough, but I don’t need to make them more detailed. I know what is happening:
They start to get a bit more realized:

When the story is pretty much where I want it to be, I work on the character design and world building. The drawings get more precise and detailed:

The story still might shift and change throughout this process, up until I begin to paint. Painting is the last step. It took me just over a year to paint the art for this book. They are done in watercolor. No ink lines.
e: What was your path to publication when you were first starting out and how often do you have new books? David: In my senior year at RISD I was offered a job to create a cover for Cricket Magazine by the great Trina Schart Hyman. Here is a link to the story on my website if you want the whole thing: http://www.davidwiesner.com/work/the-beginning/.

That job led to textbook work from Cricket’s publisher, Open Court Publishing. I also got textbook work from places like Houghton Mifflin. I did some early readers (pre-sep art! Gag - read about it here: http://www.davidwiesner.com/work/be-afraid/ )

I got an agent and began to do lots of book jackets (with seriously mixed results). I did a couple picture books for other authors. But I had a portfolio with images that I really wanted to find stories for. No editor or art director I saw had any. Frankly, they didn’t know how to react to them. A couple examples:

I realized that if I wanted to see those stories I would have to write them myself. I sold my first story three years after I graduated art school. I spent about four years working on it. I would work on my contracted jobs and then go back to “my” book. I had no deadline and I was going to put everything I had into it. The book was Free Fall, and it was the most satisfying thing I had done up to that point. It was also the best thing I had done. Others recognized that too. I knew this was the path I would stay on.
After that I only did one other book for another author (Eve Bunting’s Night of the Gargoyles).
Writing my own stories was what I was meant to do. I am very fortunate to have found an editor and publisher who allow me to do that.

That portfolio piece above eventually became June 29, 1999 (in 1992):
e: What a story! What is the most challenging part of being a creator?
Some stories take time, and a lot of effort, to uncover. I can only keep working, drawing, until the story reveals itself. That can be challenging. Each day I have to sit at my desk and put pencil to paper (it’s not going to happen any other way!). At the end of the day I may be no further along than I was when I started. And yet I have to come back the next day and do it again. And then again. But I have done it before, so I believe that if I keep drawing, a story will eventually develop.
e: With so many Caldecott’s under your belt (no pressure!), how do you come up with the ’next big idea’?
I just follow my ideas where they take me. I’m not looking for a “big idea”, I’m looking for a good story - not an easy thing. And I know when a story of mine is really good or just pretty good. I’m not going to spend two or more years making a book I’m not in love with.
e: One or two years, wow! What are you working on next or what would be your ultimate dream project?
I never talk about a project this early on! As for dream projects, I’ve already been doing them. The story dictates the form. I did the app and I did a graphic novel because that’s what those stories wanted to be. Each time I let the story lead me where it wants to go. That’s the dream isn’t it?
e: Indeed! 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?
Wow. I will have to think about that more.
e: I'll ask again! David, thank you so much for sharing! I wish you much continued success!

No comments: