There’s an excitement that’s hard to explain when a picture book writer sees the illustrations for the first time. I do well to draw the most basic of shapes, and my imagination doesn’t stretch itself in artistic visions. That’s so sad for me to even put in writing. So, thank goodness for visual thinkers and talented artists like Anika A. Wolf, the fabulous illustrator for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS.
I asked Anika a few questions about our shared journey.
1. What was your first thought when you saw the text for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS? Did you immediately have visions of the characters and woods or did you have to think about it for a while?
Oh I definitely had to think about it! I think that’s where illustrating someone else’s story drastically differs from when I write one of my own. When I’m writing my own story, I have vivid ideas in my mind about how I’d illustrate it and what the characters would look like. Receiving a manuscript and coming into the story with a blank slate takes a little more time, for sure. I think I must’ve read through the story at least 10 times before I actually started sketching anything! And then when I did some first character designs for Kuda the bear, because his character is so grumpy I pictured him as being an older curmudgeonly type. Mira Reisberg, our awesome art director/editor, gently pointed out that even though he’s grumpy, he should still be a “kid” (or, cub I guess in Kuda’s case!). There are some children’s books that break the rules, but usually characters in picture books are child-like so that they’re relatable to the young readers.
Even though the characters didn’t come swiftly at first, I connected with the story straight away! I fell in love with the idea of a rock and roll woods and my favourite is Sherry’s use of onomatopoeia. BOOM whappa whappa!
2. What was the greatest challenge illustrating it?
Every part of illustrating a picture book is a challenge! haha Good thing I love challenges though 😉 But for me, some parts came easier than others. Surprisingly, composition was harder for me than I expected, especially since I have a graphic design background (I’m a disgrace to my design roots! haha). And then the hardest by far was going back and forth with Mira on the colour. The scheme I chose had a bit of a grey-ish undertone to it and Mira wanted me to warm it up. The end result now is more saturated than my original, for sure, although it does still resemble my original vision for it.
And in general it’s tough making any changes to final art and the back-and-forth aspect of the collaboration, but it’s a process that I just took one step and a time.
3. How did you decide on the general style and color scheme?
“General style” is something that’s hard to define as an illustrator. It’s similar to when writers refer to their “voice” in their own writing. It’s something that’s developed over time and my illustration very much now has a look about it that has ME written all over it. Some (but they are few) illustrators change their “style” for each picture book they do – and while maybe I will at some point depending on the project, currently the look and feel of how I illustrate is consistent in all my work.
As for colour scheme – I love to look at inspiration for that before deciding on one. Some of my favourite go-to’s is to look at other illustrator’s work online, search for ‘colour scripts’ or ‘schemes’ on Pinterest, and the Adobe Color website – https://color.adobe.com. Pinterest boards and the save to collection feature on Instagram are awesome!
4. How hard has it been to coordinate all of the input to get the illustrations so gorgeous?
Not overly hard since most of the input came directly from Mira. There was the odd time where Callie (the publisher) and Sherry were copied into the conversation and things got a little hairy in terms of getting everyone’s feedback, but in general pretty easy peasy. And Mira made it SO easy on me – every piece of feedback she gave she provided in a YouTube video where she spoke while screen sharing what she was talking about. As a visual person, I greatly appreciated that because I didn’t have to guess at what she was talking about or go back to her about anything if it had just been typed in an email. And I could pause the video at any point to jot down notes.
5. When did you start playing with art? What has your path to this book been like?
Oh this is SO very cliché (all the cool kid illustrators say it haha), but I was drawing as a kid as soon as I could hold a crayon. My parents always joked that if I ever ran out of sketchbooks or scraps of paper in the house that our supply of toilet paper would be in danger haha! That said though, I didn’t realize that being a professional picture book illustrator was even a thing until 2011, when I somehow stumbled across an illustrating for kids books course through the London Art College online. So I’ve been serious about developing my illustration for kids for the past 7 years, but before then was either fine art (in high school), fashion design and illustration (in college), and graphic design (also in college, and I’ve also worked as a graphic designer for 7 years now too).
So you could say that it’s been a long time coming – 7 years is no joke! But I’ve been doing it outside of a day job (one with a terribly long commute for a number of years at that) so I just got in illustration time whenever I could. There’s something to be said about it taking 10,000 hours to get good at something. When I look back at the illustration I did in 2011…wow. I thought it was good then, but now looking at it it’s quite hilarious to me. I’ve come a long way.
6. What do you think about the collaboration that allows a Kentucky writer, a Canadian artist, and a Californian editor/art director to work with a publisher in Texas? Anything about that you’d like to comment on.
Just that it’s so great to be able to collaborate in general across the distance! The internet is so great for that and the distance really isn’t a concern whatsoever. It’s also great to get diverse perspectives and experiences on things and that’s what has made the book as awesome as it is. I also think we all worked super well together, so that helps too! 🙂
7. What’s your favorite illustration and why?
Surprisingly, it’s the last spread where Kuda and Rabbit walk home again through the forest as the sun is setting. It’s surprising to me that it’s my favourite because Kuda’s facial expression in that one was the most controversial amongst the four of us! There were so many rounds of incredibly subtle changes to his expression it got to be a little crazy making haha
I think why I love it though is the mood – it’s such a happy, peaceful moment. And who doesn’t love a gorgeous sun set? It gives me such warm fuzzies.
Thanks to Anika for sharing her experiences so generously! Tune in next week and I’ll answer the questions Anika asked me!
ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is available for pre-order now through Clear Fork Publishing. Releasing October 5! Just click the title!