Let's walk through my illustration process using one of my favorite scenes of Mo on the mountain. Before I had the story fully fleshed out in storyboard format, I had already toyed with this particular image. Something seems so loveably goofy about an awkward, enormous iguana resting on a mountain range with his tongue out, and I imagined this scene to get a few laughs from kids!
Back then, I had fallen into a temporary obsession with the serigraphs of Eyvind Earle, whose dreamy landscapes are composed of bold and often rigid blocks of color that emphasize the contrast between shadow and light. My first attempt to compose this mountain scene was completed quickly and digitally from a sketch out of my sketchbook - you'll note that this was early on, and Mo's appearance had yet to be defined/refined:
I see this as the midpoint of the action of the story - the first moment of rest in which Mo has the chance to reflect on his G R O W I N G predicament (whether he chooses to do something about it or not . . .). Because this is a moment of significance, I link Mo's body and posture on the mountain back to his posture on Page 1 of the story, when he is lying idly on his warming rock. A little mimicry and foreshadowing go a long way . . .
Throughout the story, I utilize a mixture of atmospheric (aerial) perspective and linear perspective. Think of linear perspective as the way in which all things appear to recede into space, like looking at a box that "angles" away into the distance. By contrast, atmospheric perspective is a simpler way to convey a sense of distance and depth, because objects in the background are rendered with less detail and often a "haze" or lightness. Imagine a child's puppet theater where there is a foreground (the stage border and curtains), a middle ground (the puppet), and a background (stereotypically, a painted scene of Venice or some similar, idyllic Italian town). My drawn environments are for the most part rendered this way, with objects layering on each other.
I chose this method because it is the most similar to the compositional tendencies of children. I'm sure we all know a kid (maybe even YOU) who once drew a beach scene with a line of sand in the foreground, squiggly lines of waves in the middle ground, and setting sun on the background horizon. It's a classic!
STEP ONE | To begin, I draw the 'middle ground' - Mo on the largest mountain. I work on 9" x 12" sheets of Strathmore, so the entire image cannot be captured on just one sheet.
STEP TWO | Many graphic artists who work with hand drawings use a light box to hand trace over images. My mother was a journalism teacher in her past life, and I remember playing with her classroom light box as a kid, back in the day when it took a minute for the fluorescent bulb to flicker to life. These tools are more sleek now (click to see what I mean), but I still prefer to use my window on a sunny day!
STEP THREE | There is nothing to literally trace in this case, but I underlay the mid-ground image of Mo to roughly size and locate the mountains that will become the foreground. Because these will be composed digitally, it doesn't matter how they are drawn on the page. Notice that there is an overarching strategy for the texture of these mountains, of linear, sketchy lines. Mo is gigantic by now, so his body should be crisply-textured, while the mountains (much smaller than him by comparison) can be "looser". Compare this to the more detailed and realistic stone texture of the mountain in the earlier train scene, when Mo and the mountain are much closer in size.
STEP FOUR | Each drawing component is scanned into the computer at high resolution (300 dpi is recommended for any print material, especially if it is your first children's book!).
STEP FIVE | In my photo editing software (I use Adobe Photoshop), I carefully place Mo and the mountain on the 2-page spread, so that no critical information falls within the gutter (NOTE: the gutter is the centermost inch of width that is essentially lost forever once the book is folded and bound). Likewise, I don't want to lose anything in the bleed zone, which is the border that ultimately gets cut off in the binding process. As with building buildings, there is a margin for error in the binding process, so the bleed zone allows the machinery to be less precise than a rocket ship, yet still generally accurate.
STEP SIX | Remember how fun it was to kill 3 or 4 hours in a coloring book as a kid? This step is nearly as fun as that, with a bit more emphasis placed on "staying in the lines'.
STEP SEVEN | Now the fun begins, as the random mountain peaks are copied from the original drawing paper and placed in their best location on the digital layout. Remember about the gutter and bleed zones, which will not be visible in the final book!
STEP EIGHT | Just as the colors were layered with brown on the bottom and mint green on the top, the mountain scapes' colors are layered so that the lightest brown tones are on the 'bottom', and the darkest (and thus nearest) are on 'top'. After that, "streaks" are added to imply dark, jagged shadows (shout out to Eyvind Earle!!).
STEP NINE | At this point in the story, Mo has grown incrementally (and exponentially) compared to his surroundings. At this midpoint, I considered the sequence of his growth very carefully. Resting on this mountain, Mo has grown larger than an entire forest, yet he is not yet large enough to swallow the Sahara Desert. He is still a few pages shy of having a head at 30,000 ft elevation (high enough to swallow an airplane). This may seem like analysis that is far too scientific for a picture book! However, tracking Mo's growth was helpful to creating a logical flow from his journey's beginning to end.
To reinforce the enormity of his size, I decided to add ice caps to all of the mountains. As a cold-blooded lizard, he likely won't be able to rest for too long up there.
STEP TEN | Of course, no illustration would be complete without those little details that do NOT make the final cut - in this case, a blimp for scale! This little dirigible remained in the illustration for several iterations until my reviewers were kind enough to tell me that "because it is funny" is NOT a good enough reason to stick an arbitrary blimp in the background.
And there you have it, folks!
The final, cropped image - straight from my computer to your hardcover book! Ok, maybe not straight there. . .