I’m sorry I stopped posting consistent updates. I’m much more employed than I had anticipated when I started this. Here are a few samples.
Art that I worked on for the game Songpop. The genre is Corazones Rotos- or Latin heartbreak music.
It has been way too long since I’ve posted an update on the book! I’m sorry to anyone who’s been keeping up with these. I’ve been super busy with an internship that took all my time away. I still don’t have time to do a full, in-depth process post, but I hope you’ll appreciate a few just-for-fun Lalo drawings that will never being sent to the publisher.
I’m sharing this banana peel variation because it got rejected. I thought it was hilarious, but the higher-ups say all our game assets have to be “bright” and “happy”. Gotta get my mind out of the garbage.
Thumbnailing the book
For me, this was the longest, most thought-intensive part of the entire process. I’d like to repeat at this point that I don’t know if this is really the way all book illustrators do it, but it was the most logical step for me. Basically this was the stage where I thumbnail all the page spreads out together, to decide how the entire book is going to look.
Sometimes publishers require you to be responsible for deciding the layout of the text as well as the illustrations. That allows you to decide for yourself the best way of telling the story with pictures, letting the words actually enhance the illustrations. In my case, they sent me a document that had already divided up the text onto the page numbers. It presents a different sort of challenge because I had to taylor my illustrations to fit the predetermined pace of the book. There are only a few lines per spread, but I am responsible for deciding which parts of each page are the most important to illustrate. Once challenge for me was to avoid the urge to “comic” the book, meaning not every single line uttered by every single character needed to be drawn.
So the first thing I did was read and re-read the story. Decide what kind of story I’m trying to tell. Is it silly? Serious? Heartfelt? Scary? To me, it seemed heartfelt, but since I personally can’t stand taking anything too seriously, I decided to have some silly elements thrown in for the kids. So there will be little sight-gags worked into the illustrations, without (hopefully) detracting from the tenderness of the book.
Here’s an example of how many versions of I went through for the first page before I nailed down the best way for it to look. On this page, his grandmother is calling him in the house while he plays with some neighborhood kids.
You can see I made little notes as I drew the thumbnails. I was just reminding myself things like the time of day- if it is almost dinner time, make it look like it is later in the afternoon. The shadows are long, and be aware of which direction is west.
One thing to always keep in mind as you’re designing a kid’s book is to illustrate with the page-turn, so the illustrations should always be leading you from left to right. It makes the whole experience flow better. So I have the grandmother on the left, and the kids on the right, as that is the order they are mentioned in the text. That last little thumbnail marked with a 3 was basically what I went with. She is standing on the front porch, the kids are in the distance, but also in her line of sight, and the bannister leads you into and across the page, inviting you to move further into the book.
Above is the general thumbnail I settled on. The page before it is publishing info, but I thought it might be nice to have a little background for it.
Other things I had to remember were to always keep important parts of the work within the “sweet spot” of the page. That is, within the part of the template that will not get cut off by the printer, and is not too close to the gutter. And I had to make sure to allow for enough space for them to place the text.
I’m not sure what else there is to say about this process. I won’t show all of the thumbnails I drew, but if they become relevant later, you’ll see a bit more. I think from this point I’ll start addressing specific challenges on certain pages I had to illustrate, including the process of designing the cover.
I hope you enjoyed this, and maybe it was helpful to you. If you want to see all the posts from the beginning, they are all in the process tab. And if you have any questions, or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future post, please let me know!
The story takes place in Houston, Texas, at Lalo’s grandparents’ house. The first thing I did was begin researching some reference photos. To my non-surprise, suburban Houston looks very much like any other part of the country. So I tried to find out if there was anything specific I could keep in mind, at the very least so you wouldn’t confuse the location with, say, New England or Kansas. When I searched for Houston houses it reminded me a lot of the houses I’d seen while at school in Southern California. Someone who once took a train across the country observed to me that, as you go further west, everything just gets redder and flatter. So since the houses look largely the same, as I scoured through Google images, I instead paid attention to the plants and bushes in front yards, and made sure to include some of the ferns and spiky, warm-climate plants. I don’t know what they are called, but I do know they couldn’t be mistaken for being located in certain other parts of the country. (Picture borrowed from Houston Garden Girl)
The inside of the house was the fun part for me. It had to feel like a grandparent’s house, but reflect the aesthetic of a hispanic family who lives in America. But, the story never mentions which country Lalo’s family is from, because it is supposed to apply to a broad range of cultures. Still, I realized that trying to encompass the entirety of Central and South America in one design aesthetic was not only impossible, it would be unfair to most of the cultures to lump them all together as one mushy, arroz-con-pollo-scented kitchen.
So I decided to instead go with the latin heritage most common in Texas- Mexican. Well, I’m still trying to be vague with it, so it’s Mexican-inspired. Mexican-fusion. It’s like Asian fusion, but without the soy sauce. Anyway, the decor needed to feel typical, but not stereotypical (so no decorating it with pinatas and sombreros!).
Mm you can almost smell the paella.
In film-making, when one is planning out the feeling of the movie, they make something called a color script, which is basically a plan for what colors will dominate each part of the movie to best enhance the storytelling. In animation, they have something called shape language, so that you associate certain shapes and motifs as good and others as bad.
For my miniaturized interpretation of that approach, I decided that the inside of the house would be yellow, and other warm, earthy tones, with turquoise accents.
Pallette for the kitchen something kinda like this…
Also, everything in Lalo’s life is round shapes or horizontal lines. The horizontal lines are for stability, the roundness because, well, you don’t want any sharp corners around a 5 year old. So Lalo and his abuelos are all very curvy, circular, pudgy, gooey, delicious.. mmm pudding. What? Oh yeah. It’s my way of making his grandparent’s house feel as safe and welcoming as possible.
Cropped lines can even be comforting when your abuelos give you the cold shoulder. You little ingrate.
Later on in the story when Lalo has a nightmare, I will use purples, some severe diagonals and pointy triangular shapes. The more stark the contrast, the better.
The dream sequence is where everything gets weird, and I get to unleash my true self on one page spread.
You’re gonna have a change of heart when you wake up, kid.
In summary, things like color and shape choices can go a long way in controlling the feel of a storybook, especially ones geared towards the wee young’ens.
Hope you enjoyed hearing about my approach. More updates to come!
Also, I dedicated a tab especially for the Lalo blogs, if you want to see them all in one place. I call it, The Process.
Before you ask, no, I didn’t write this book. It is an English translated version of a book written by Julia Mercedes Castilla. It is very popular in Latin American countries and this will be it’s first U.S. release.
As I mentioned in my last post, the story is about a little boy living in the United States named Lalo Ramos. He is embarrassed about his name and tells other people to call him by more “ordinary”-sounding names, like “Bobby”. In the story, he is very excited about going to the circus with his abuelos (grandparents), but they are only interested in taking their grandson Lalo, not “Bobby”. When he learns how personal a family name can be, he discovers that his name makes him part of who he is.
A note about how I work and why:
I studied traditional animation and visual storytelling alongside illustration, because to me, the only difference between these two art forms is that one can move. Or at least, that was how I felt about it when I entered art school. (Of course, this reflects only one specific view on what illustration is. The other end of the illustration spectrum is Graphic Design, although I have learned that what defines illustration can be nearly anything. But that’s a discussion for a different post.)
Point being that animation logic always influences my thought process in illustrations.
On to the drawings!
So, I read the manuscript, and decided that I would approach this project the only way that makes sense to me- as if it were a film. The first thing I did was what came easiest to me- designing Lalo.
I sketched a lot of ideas.
For a while I was really liking the shaggy-haired look. I also played around with eye-shapes.
Eventually I decided that in order to keep the book from feeling dated in the future that I should go with a more simple hairstyle. (Kids don’t want to feel like their book was written 20 years ago. I remember growing up I had some books that were published in the 60 and 70s and oh god, those boys wearing short-shorts and bell-bottoms.. Never again!)
So, classic combed hair seemed to make sense.
And big ears. I dunno why, I just decided right away that he’d have big ears.
Additionally, as much as I enjoyed drawing his eyes, I decided that the less realistic this kid looks, the better. This book is supposed to speak to kids who feel self conscious or excluded because of their racial, ethnic or cultural differences. So the less personal his face looks, the easier it is to mentally put yourself in his shoes. Some children’s books push the simplified style very far with a flat, almost cut-out look, but I like my characters to retain a bit of that squishy, animated character feel.
I’m jumping around in the character design timeline here- meaning, I had to keep leaving it and coming back to it for a while before I settled on something I liked, so this process is not nearly as streamlined as it looks in a blog post.
I also made myself a guideline for how to draw his nose and other body parts just as a rough guide to remind myself later, as I am going to be drawing Lalo over and over again.
Remember I’m only thinking like an animator, not working like one. So I didn’t make a whole cleaned up character turn around pose sheet. But below you’ll see the overall look I settled on for Lalo.
In that last picture he’s sitting in his grandfather Papo’s shoulder. More on the other characters later.
Hope you enjoyed seeing me develop the look of the main character. I’ll be regularly updating throughout the course of this book, so check back soon for more!