It’s very important that characters in a picture book are consistent throughout. Little Johnny had better look the same on page two as he does on page 22! To make this easier, I begin by creating a series of sketches of each character so that I can refer to these images as I work my way through the final illustrations. In addition to the farm animals in Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo, there are nine people: mom, dad, grandma, and six children!
Illustrating a story requires a vivid imagination. Initially my imagination is sparked by the words. The words build a framework for the illustrations, providing facts (and sometimes mere clues) about who and what is in the story as well as where and when the story takes place. Imagining a “scene” is predicated on the fact that I actually know what something looks like. If the words call for a crowing rooster perched on a fencepost, then I MUST know what a rooster and a fencepost look like! I can “see” these things in my mind’s eye, but some details are a little blurry. For instance… what exactly does this rooster’s comb look like? What about the texture of his legs? What about the tiny feathers on is face, the larger feathers on his neck, and back, and tail? And that fencepost… I imagine a hedge post, weathered by years of exposure to the elements. When my imagination needs a boost I try to locate what I need and photograph it. I also search for images on-line and in books and magazines.
The story I’m currently working on takes place on a farm, so I’ll be collecting reference for cows, chickens, pigs, horses, and yes, roosters! By the way, in this story, water is drawn from a pump in the kitchen, and horses pull the wagon, so I won’t be gathering photos of a tractor, a combine, or a shiny 2010 Chevy pick-up!