Candace Ryan’s EWE AND AYE, the story of a sheep and lemur who are empowered to great heights by their cooperation, with illustrations by Stephanie Ruble, to Kevin Lewis at Hyperion Children’s, for publication in Winter 2014, by Rubin Pfeffer of East-West Agency on behalf of author and Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary on behalf of illustrator (World).How did I get to illustrate my first picture book? Well, this news has been a long time in coming. The first time I thought about illustrating a picture book, I was in grade school! We saw a film about a man who created the art for a picture book. I don’t remember the title of the book, though I wish I did. I do remember that it was a book about ocean life. After watching the film, we had to write a poem and create art to go with it. I still have both. Here’s the picture I did (even then my characters had personalities, and I loved the crayon resist art technique):
The next time I seriously thought about illustrating picture books was in college. One of my professors (Hope Cook – Thanks Hope!) gave us an assignment to think up an idea for a children’s book and then complete a few illustrations. The only problem at the time was that I couldn’t think of any ideas for children’s books! (Note: I don’t have that problem now. In fact it’s the opposite. I have tons of ideas for children’s books, probably because I’ve been brainstorming ideas since that assignment in college!) So what did I do for my assignment? I created a series of prints based on a concert. I used The Who as my models, and made them into cows! Unfortunately, those prints are either in storage or at my parent’s house, so I can’t show them. However, I can show you a test print that I made before doing The Who prints. The plates were all two inches square and were similar to this cow here:
I was still learning how to etch the metal plates and draw the image backwards, but I like how it turned out. Several years later, I got serious about illustrating picture books. I wrote an original story and retold a few classics, all with cow characters. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I made a couple of book dummies and sent them to a publisher. Here’s the scary thing. There was no finished art in my dummies. It was all rough sketches filled in with colored pencil. They’re cringe worthy! The publisher was very nice and said they liked my writing. They didn’t say anything about my art. Back then I was hurt. How could they not like my art and know I was an artist? Now I understand why: I didn’t show them that I was an artist. How were they supposed to know? You want to see some of the scary art, don’t you?
One of the books I submitted was called, JANET’S SECRET ADMIRER. Here’s a spread from the book dummy:
I clearly didn’t know about leaving room for the gutter, and because it will never see the light of day I will reveal the spoiler to the story: it was all a dream! Still, the publisher complimented my writing, which is probably why I kept writing, so that’s a big positive from that experience.
A few years after that, I happened to connect to a children’s book publisher, and after I told them about the story I was working on, they offered me the opportunity to submit it. The story featured a cow (of course), and a pig and a little girl. This time I didn’t make a dummy. Nope. I did something even worse. I typed out a cover letter and sent five stories with ideas for four more! Then I drew pictures on all the pages (including the cover letter), with a ballpoint pen and colored pencil. (I can’t believe I’m admitting this. Yikes!) Here’s a sample:
You can see that the text of the story cuts into the art, which is just so wrong! The publisher wrote a personal note and was complimentary, though I didn’t know it at the time, because I didn’t know anything about publishing (obviously). I just thought it was a rejection. A year or so after that, I read a few books on how to write, illustrate, and submit children’s books (the right way). I found out about and joined the SCBWI, started attending conferences and workshops, getting portfolio reviews, and building a real illustration portfolio.
The final part of this story happened last November (many years after the scary submissions shown above). I had a portfolio review with Kevin Lewis, a picture book author, and also my wonderful new editor at Disney-Hyperion. He liked my art and took my picture book dummy back to the office with him (it didn’t star a cow, but there were cows in it, along with chickens, sheep, and other farm animals). That dummy convinced my editor and the publisher to give me a chance to do samples for the picture book, EWE AND AYE by Candace Ryan. I really liked the story and was able to imagine the characters right away. They liked the results, my excellent agent, Barry Goldblatt, helped to make the deal, and the book will be out in Winter of 2014! Hooray! I’m really excited to be illustrating this book, and I can’t wait to share art when it’s ready. Until I can share art from the book, here’s a sheep image from my portfolio (just imagine this is EWE from the book, before she meets AYE):