This is How it Works in Real Life: Working with an Illustrator

Here’s the fun post for the week: developing the art for chapter 1 of Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat, which is what Davina and I were doing earlier this week.

From the top, my original email to Davina with her responses and work. We’d had a series of informal intermittent conversations about Ginger; this is where we did the work.

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Joel: Here’s a composite I slapped together.

What I’m hoping for is a simple line drawing: window, cat outline, Japanese buildings hinted through the window. Simple simple simple, not complicated. I’d love to see a 5-minute sketch to give you feedback before you spend much time on this. Is that possible?

Note regarding the ‘5 minutes’ request: I know how artists are ’cause I are one. Part of my madness is to nudge my collaborators out of their comfort zone, especially when I know the results will suit my needs better.

Ginger in the restaurant window

Davina: Here is my 5-minute sketch of the kitty in a Japanese window. I have to admit, it was reeeally difficult to not spend more than the allotted time on this one. Normally I would have used a straight edge for the lines, and shade in the silhouettes. But this is my simple line drawing. 🙂

Ginger in the restaurant window

Joel: I couldn’t do that in 5 minutes. Wonderful seeing it for real instead of just in my head.

Some adjustments (and if further iterations cost, just let Sue know.)

More perspective on the window. Take us a little farther away, and make it a little longer. I think the lower edge should be horizontal, as if it is at eye level with the rest of the window above. I’m also thinking of how it will sit atop the text for the story, so a flat bottom works best.

Make the skyline a hint, rather than detailed. Barely visible, even less pronounced.

Super-simplify the window. No frame, or the simplest plain frame. Everything spare and bare except Ginger, almost exactly as he is here.

Here’s the ongoing rule: if I ask for something and you disagree, you’re the artist. Tell me what you think before you draw anything because I’d rather you worked on good art than just draw what I want.

Davina: The revisions are not a problem at all. In fact, in gives me a chance to clean it up a little. Here is the revised version.

Ginger in the restaurant window

Joel: Oh, super. Love it.

Now a bit of depth to the window sill, so we can see what Ginger is sitting on? Just the box perspective inside the frame, to show that it’s 4″ deep, from the front wall to the glass on the outside.

I want to thicken up the frame just a bit to make it all clear this is a window.

And the skyline can be a wee bit more present. I like that you push things a bit, making it extra light like this. Choosing between two subtleties is tough. Seeing an extreme helps me decide “more like this” and “less like that.”

Davina: I used a little artistic license to sketch some lines over the skyline to replicate the appearance of glass.

Ginger in the restaurant window

Joel: When I opened that it gave me chills.

Neaten the lines a wee bit and it’s a keeper, just as it is. I’ll probably emphasize the contrast a bit, but this is it. This is what I wanted.

Davina: To further our eerie mind reading exercise, here is the finished sketch of Ginger.

Ginger in the restaurant window

Joel: Spectacular. Marvelous.

I’m going to tilt it slightly because I’ve realized the outer window sill is the horizon line. I’m also going to amp the contrast just a bit.

This goes in the book. Ginger Story #1 has an illustration.


Ginger in the restaurant window

Note on the final image: unless you have an excellent working and friendly relationship with your illustrator, never edit their work. Ask them to do it. Use their skills and expertise, and don’t step on toes. I got away with this because of my friendship with Davina and because she knows that I’m also an artist and I respect her work. Also, I mentioned it before I did it, giving her a chance to object if she wanted to. Respect the artist, please.

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