Oh, I’d storyboarded and thrown together some third-grade quality sketches, but I had yet to meet my own character face-to-face on a page.
Or should I say, face-to-foot?
You see, my main character was a sock. A missing sock, to be specific. And as much as I felt I knew this little sock named Melvin from writing about his exploits, I had never seen his true likeness on any of my pages.
At its best, it’s like seeing the perfect audition and immediately knowing whom you will cast for the lead part. At its worst, it’s like meeting your spouse for the first time on your wedding day and wondering how you are supposed to find them attractive. This worst-case scenario only happens when an author is paired with an illustrator chosen by someone else in the publishing process. But for self-published writers and *some* working with publishers, you will have a say in the illustrations, and this is a vital step in bringing the story to life.
When it came to choosing an illustrator for The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock, I was uncommonly fortunate. After receiving a number of non-committal answers from some artists I knew, I was beginning to wonder if I should take my search to an online platform—when suddenly an old mentor contacted me saying she knew just the person for the job. A young woman by the name of Lauren Fisher. So, I packaged up my manuscript and storyboard, along with the general style description, and sent it off to Lauren. And then I waited.
Some two weeks later, I received an email while binge-watching a BBC program. The email was titled “A new misadventure,” and it was from Lauren the artist. The message immediately arrested my attention (a difficult thing to do whilst I’m engrossed in my BBC programs, I might add) and I opened it to find two of the most thrilling images I had ever seen: concept sketches for Melvin.
In fact, I didn’t just want my friends and family to meet Melvin, I wanted the whole world to. I especially wanted young readers to. Everything about the images: the sock faces, the coloring, the texture—it was all so beyond everything I’d hoped for, and I immediately knew I had found my illustrator.
While I have only experienced the illustrations process once so far, I found two key components in order for the author and illustrator chemistry to work:
What struck me from the beginning was not only how immaculate Lauren’s drawings were, but how much personality she added to each scene using details I had never thought of. For instance, in one picture, the storyboard had an image of Melvin frowning and looking “malcontent.” What I received from Lauren was an illustration of Melvin slumped over inside the dresser drawer, with a dramatic sheen of light shining down on him through the crack of the drawer, while the other socks snored in the background. The best illustrators do not simply transcribe your story from words into pictures—they transport the reader into a whole other world and bring that world to life.
Although the average exchange I had with Lauren involved me extolling her inventions, the rare occasions in which I suggested changes always resulted in fully adapted images. What do I mean by fully adapted? I mean that every time one detail is changed in a picture, the rest of the picture needs to balance out. And as someone who’s not gifted with the visual arts, I couldn’t have told you how to re-balance each illustration and fit the parts together. That was Lauren’s gift. As an illustrator, she knew how to seamlessly weave parts in and rearrange images to portray the story in the most efficient and lively manner—and did she ever! The artist whose pictures flex and grow with the process is the one you need on your team.
As a writer, it is tempting to believe you know your characters completely. But in a children’s book with pictures, that knowledge is shared with the artist who ultimately constructs the illustrations your readers will remember. Because of the magnitude of that role, it is vital that you choose someone who connects with your vision for the story and characters, whose creative skills not only communicate your story, but elaborate on it. Whose skills, in the truest sense, illustrate your story.
Have you ever had someone else’s contribution bring your work to life? Or have you ever had the chance to provide vital creativity to someone else’s work?
For a peek at some of Lauren Fisher’s other work, be sure to check her out on Instagram: @lauren_fisher_artwork.
Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?
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