Hi again. During the month of April and May 2017 I have some of my art in a display case at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont. The theme is how I wrote my book Did Tiger Take the Rain?. Here are some of the things I talk about.
Reading to my daughter long ago from books illustrated by the likes of John Bauer, she and I shared a sense of how text and image interplayed. The wonder of how a child thinks through illustrated books and the belief that I could go there with my art and love of reading background pulled me away from my academic career in anthropology. Bmic career in anthropology, but it was not before the 1990s that I was able to consume as much as I could of the interface between art and writing as in classic texts illustrated by the likes of N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, John Tenniel, and Charles Robinson. I set out in pursuit to fine tune my own skills in figurative art and watercolor, the foundation of my approach based on the classic masters. It was not until 2011 that I was able to make a trip to Nepal to experience what I used to create my book.
How do you go from an idea, a trip, 1000 photos of children, villages, story tellers, and people working, to create a story?
Since I wanted to be both a writer and illustrator, I needed to be able to both write and draw. The secret: practice and study and practice. Like this:
Practice, practice, study, practice.
Don’t give up.
Boil down what you heard and saw to find a combination of ideas and images that can begin to coalesce into a train of events that make up a story line. For example, during my visit to Nepal, Tharu story tellers told tales that included a tiger, monkeys and jackals. People talked about when the river flooded or dried up, of how the forest had been cut back over many years. One person, Bhadai Tharu, was attacked by a tiger. His face was deeply scarred. But he went on to become one of the best know conservationists in the Bardia Reserve area. His message is that it is not the tiger’s fault. As we cut the forest, we enter the tiger’s domain. We need to protect and replenish the forest.
A story begins to take form. Follow the leads and work, for example, on building up a visual setting with strong characters. Some of this you learn from visiting the site. Other you conjure up in your own mind. For example, the magic of a children’s book allows for talking monkeys. Hidden in the tiger book is also the role played by Jackal, like his cousin Coyote, the proverbial trickster of Native American tradition. He will help you cross the threshold to another world – and help kids fly. Also, for example, Usha, like other Nepali kids, does not do things alone. She needed Anjali. With these two, I was able to let them be the main characters who set out to solve a problem through their own communication and meeting with the other characters in the setting around their village and in the neighboring forest.
How do you develop the story? What were Usha and Anjali supposed to be doing? What problem did they set out to solve? What is the “plot”? Why should I write this book?
Deforestation leading to climate change is the theme.
With the given characters and setting, what is the lived experience that a child could relate to around this theme and still provide both scientific and social knowledge for children as well as incentive for them to get engaged and learn and do more?
Why did it stop raining? Where did the rain go when it was supposed to be there? How will the five main characters living in and around a jungle in Nepal figure that out?
The rain stopped. Tiger wandered away from her home in the forest, crossed the river and approached the village. Something was not right. Did Tiger take the Rain? If not, where did it go?
Let’s find a way to get the question answered. How do you do that? You sit around in cafes, walk streets in a daze, poke at your dinner with a fork, forget to shave, have Usha and her pals follow you around bugging you to move ahead. You get feedback from others. Don’t give up.
Once you and your characters have come up with what appears to be a logical sequence of conversations and movement around some kind of believable plot, you begin to visualize this in the format of a children’s picture book. That means you need to find a way to combine text with illustration and you need to find optimality in word choice, text length, and coordination with illustrations. That means simplify. It means “show, don’t tell,” to create a story.
Start plotting all of these images and words out in the picture book format of about 32 pages. Make a story board. The one below is a small version of such a thing and is only one of many iterations.
I edited the story board to optimize the final images and to double check that the book as a whole seems well balanced, the images show variety, they follow (if not complement) the story – and to be sure that the children are dressed the same through the story, Anjali has one blue and one yellow hairband and has anklets, both girls have bracelets, and so on. You edit text, refine illustrations, refine the story board, and in time you arrive at something you think is ready.
For me, in the end, I needed to find a method to go from sketch to trial to new illustration. Here is my final image for pages 22 and 23. It started as a drawing to the exact size for the final watercolor. The drawing was traced over to watercolor paper, and finished. The final watercolor was reproduced digitally for publication.