Last year I participated for the first time in the Tomie dePaola Award, the annual illustration contest hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
One winner receives a trip to NYC in January to collect their award, and meet the editors, publishers, and other talented artists and illustrators participating in the SCBWI Winter Conference. Besides a summer conference in Los Angeles and an international show in Bologna, Italy – this is one of the world’s biggest events for the children’s publishing industry.
My submission last year is located here.
This year’s assignment was to depict a passage from either The Yearling, Little Women or Tom Sawyer. The only other stipulation was that it must be in black and white.
Knowing some phenomenal artists would be participating, I didn’t feel I stood a good chance at simply out-gunning them by talent alone. I wanted to create a layout that would shift the balance in my favor by being unique. Thus, I came up with text that changes sizes, two incongruent images being used together, and – since this is a fantasy assignment vs. something that will actually be published – disregarding where the gutter would be located in a traditional spread.
Armed with a unique layout, I set about choosing a scene from The Yearling, landing on a passage where the main character, a boy who’d spotted a baby fawn in the woods, comes back the following day to save the tiny orphan. Using charcoal and Conté crayons leftover from college… I drew the background, the two characters, and the little flowers and ferns separately on illustration board with the charcoal and/or pencil. Everything was scanned and brought into Photoshop, where it was tightened up, blended with around 50 different layers of shading and highlights, and adjusted until it matched what I’d aimed for in the thumbnail phase over the past couple weeks. Lastly, the selected text from the story and layout was inserted, and I was done.
At face value, the concept is fairly simple: boy finds deer in the woods. So my hope was to accomplish a few things that would elevate this basic idea. First, I hoped to create visual tension by using old and new media – smudgy, dark charcoal juxtaposed with sharp, digital lines in an avant-garde layout.
Next, I wanted to reveal more of the story than just the passage I chose. Without using thought balloons or comic book panels… I decided to add symbolic tension by using the post-Civil War era rifle silhouette as a framing tool. Hopefully it’s subtle, but unmistakable – providing not only weight to the composition by literally pressing down on the characters… but hinting at the unavoidable end to this still innocent, new friendship.