Actually, the title of this post is a bit misleading. This clip doesn’t contain any art from Yitzi and the Giant Menorah. At the same time however it has a lot to do with the book because before I committed myself to doing the art for the book using the technique of watercolour monoprints, I had to practice to see if it would actually work.
So this clip shows one of my practice attempts… I hope you like it. And since I’m posting it on the first night of Hanukkah…Happy Hanukkah!
Did I mention that I wanted to challenge myself in creating the art for this book? Well, I did…and boy did I get what I asked for.
I had taken a course the summer before on how to create watercolour monoprints and I really loved it. So I did a couple of “practice monoprints”, took them downtown and showed them to my editor and then boldly announced that I planned to make all the final illustrations in the book watercolour monoprints.
To make a watercolour monoprint, you begin by painting in watercolour directly on plexiglass (you need to rub sandpaper over the surface of the plexiglass first until the entire surface looks cloudy to prepare it to receive the paint).
Once the glass painting has dried, you carefully lay a wet piece of watercolour paper over the dried painting. This is where the printing press comes in if you have one. But if you are like me and don’t have one, what you do is cover the back of the wet watercolour paper with a sheet of mylar (plastic) and then over top of the mylar you place a sheet of tissue paper and then you rub like crazy over the whole surface with the bowl of a wooden spoon, applying some pressure.
Now comes the exciting (and also terrifying) part…peeling back the watercolour paper to see how things turned out. What should happen is the image forming the watercolour painting will transfer to the watercolour paper in a dazzling way!
What actually happens (at least to me) is that the image mostly transfers but in some parts of the painting the image transfer is not complete.
But I didn’t stress too much when this happened… because most things can be fixed by touching up the monoprint after it dries, by adding details or, in some cases, adding colour to areas where the colour didn’t transfer.
Once I get going doing spot drawings it’s hard to stop me. Overall, I must have done fifteen or twenty spots for Yitzi and the Giant Menorah. But only a handful of them ended up in the book. The others are either still on the walls of my studio or buried in a sketchbook somewhere. But I never view ‘extra drawings’ as wasted time. It’s part of my process to make a lot of drawings and then pick the best ones to go in the book. Also, sometimes the one that goes in the book is one that I could only have drawn after I drew another spot that didn’t make it to the book – if that makes any sense!
Spot drawings are small, careful sketches that I like to include in my picture books to add balance to the full colour illustrations. They can also add another visual element to the storytelling. I have a lot of fun doing these because I enjoy working in charcoal… I often use a piece of compressed charcoal called “conte” to make the spot drawings. Depending on how much pressure you apply you can get many different effects with the same piece of conte. Sometimes I smudge parts of the drawing to create a shadow effect. There is nothing quite like the the joy of getting your fingers all black in the name of art!
I probably spent a whole year doing the rough drawings for Yitzi and the Giant Menorah. Yes, I draw slowly but that wasn’t the only reason it took so long. There is a lot of planning that goes into each rough drawing… you have to make sure the characters look like themselves and that the scene relates to what is happening in the story. I also like to have fun with the scenes by putting something humourous (at least humourous to me)in the background… for example a cat watching a spinning dreidel or a picture on the wall of a man eating a bagel.
For the scenes in Yitzi and the Giant Menorah I wanted to evoke the feeling of a shtetl in wintertime and for that I spent time researching how people dressed in the shtetls of Europe and what the insides of their houses looked like. I have a small collection of reference books filled with photographs that helped me with this part.
There is no such thing as too many thumbnail sketches. Because they are fast, small and don’t require a lot of equipment (only a pencil and paper) there is no excuse for not doing tons of them! Well, maybe not tons but certainly more than two or three. Here is another clip of me doing some more thumbnails.
i always begin the illustrations for a picture book with lots and lots of sketches – called thumbnail sketches. These are quick sketches that help me sort out the very basics of what I want to include in a scene. I’m not concerned at this point with how good the drawing is or whether the characters look like themselves. The key is to get the drawing down quickly and see if it works overall in terms of shapes on the page and whether the point of view is an interesting one… and different from the page before. It makes for a more interesting picture book if the point of view changes from one illustration to the next (i.e. have some close-ups, some far away shots and some at the middle distance)and this all begins with the thumbnail sketches!
In 2013, I had the idea of videotaping the creation of my next picture book. When I shared this idea with PJ Library, they thought it was a great idea. And then they asked the obvious question… where’s your story? Well, I hadn’t given much thought to that part… after all there were a million other things to figure out… like what equipment should I buy to film the process? What editing program should I use? Should I use an external microphone? What about lighting?
But they did have a good point. So I rummaged around in my drawers, looking for a story that might work. I found a story that I had written years before called Rachel and the Silver Menorah. Hmmm, I thought. This could work. So I changed Rachel to Yitzi, cleaned it up a bit and then sent the story to PJ Library. They really liked it…. and so my video diary project now had a story!
Here it is… the finished collage! It’s an open question I suppose when to end a collage. There’s a strong temptation to just keep going, adding more and more and more. But this looks like a good place to end it.
You can see that for this last stage I added some words and phrases. Some of them actually mean something and others I pasted on because I just liked the way they looked.
Now, believe it or not, this collage is tied in to the story in TIME SNATCHERS. You’ll have to take my word on that, since at last count I have the only finished copy of the book in existence (well, maybe there could be a couple of others floating around Putnam’s office).
Anyway, hope you like it. It was actually a lot of fun to do.