In 2009, the Common Core State Standards were launched for public schools across the United States. The goal was to get students to read informational text. With librarians scrambling to order non-fiction, publishers met their demands by producing more non-fiction picture books.
Since publishers have shown an increased interest for informational text, more non-fiction manuscripts have been produced, and some of them are pretty innovative. These manuscripts are generally more sophisticated and targeting an older child, so the artwork in narrative non-fiction picture books has also become more complex and experimental.
After combining three different illustration techniques in the non-fiction, Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, and having favorable results, I wanted to push my illustration style further for the next book.
I looked at a lot of cool non-fiction published in the past five years, and the artists I especially liked were those that pushed the boundaries into photographed 3-D environments.
Yuyi Morales’s Frida resembled a Frida Kalo Barbie doll photographed in 3-D environments.
Melissa Sweet combined her pencil and watercolors with found objects and created a relief artwork that was later photographed in Bullets Over Broadway. She played with the typography and the graphic layout in The Right Word:Roget And His Thesaurus, marrying several hard-to-achieve skills into a seamless book.
Although Carin Berger has not done non-fiction, I had my eye on her cut-out collages she married effortlessly with found objects in the graphic layout of Stardines.
For The Marvelous Thing…, I knew I wanted to come up with my own method of working 3-D that was different from the other artists mentioned above. After I made a diorama for the title page of my book, Atheneum asked me to do most of the book that way.
Although I work in both traditional and digital media, the end result is always digital. This freed me up to do just about anything, as long as the digital photo met the expectations of the publisher. For this project, I optioned to draw everything on a cintique where I could make corrections easily, and print out the characters from my color Canon.
This strange mix of digital art turned to printouts turned to 3-D models turned to digital photos, became the basis for how I worked. Although the drawings give a definite nod to the past, this method could only be created in the digital era, where desktop publishing works seamlessly with digital photos of high quality printouts. Even the semi-gloss sheen of the printer paper for the floor reflecting the shadows of the characters is a reminder that this artwork could only be made today.
I’ll post more about my process for how I created the art the closer we get to the September 13th release date.