Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mermaid Traci Van Wagoner plus a Prize!

Ever since I was a little girl I loved mermaids. I am so glad to have Traci Van Wagoner, a real live mermaid, on my blog today! I don't think anyone but a mermaid could create such beautiful mermaid illustrations. Even if you don't believe that Traci is a mermaid I hope you will enjoy her illustration process.

Want to win a copy of "The Mermaid's Gift"? Scroll down and see how you can win this fabulous book!
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The Making of The Mermaid’s Gift, My Illustration Process
Traci Van Wagoner

Thanks to Dani Duck for inviting me to participate in this event. I love picture books and am so thrilled I am able contribute to the children’s book world. I hope in sharing my process, I help in some way to inspire you with your dummy books this month.


After illustrating eight picture books and creating five dummies for my own manuscripts, each a bit of an experiment, I’m happy to say that I finally feel like I have a pretty good system worked out. With this post I’ll share my process from first read through to final illustrations for The Mermaid’s Gift written by Claudia Cangilla McAdams and published by Pelican Publishing.




Quick read through — This quick read through opens my mind to the world of the story. I then let my imagination explore the possibilities without any limitations to specific pages or scenes. The process from first contact to contract takes a long time, so this story had a long time to percolate.

Reference researchPinterest is a ton of fun for this. I set up folders for each project and collect images for reference and inspiration. In this case, colorful Burano, Italy (look it up on Google. If you’re feeling blue, this place will perk you right up); lace, lots and lots of lace research; historical photos of Burano and the lace museum there. I even used Google Earth to walk around the island to get a feel for the setting and layout of the city.

Character sketches — I work out clothes, hair styles, facial features, culture, and age. I sketch the main characters from a variety of angles, different facial expressions, keeping mind the need to keep the main characters consistent throughout. Which brings me to a issue with this story. Gianni, the main character, lost his hat halfway through the story. I bounced this back and forth with my husband and finally decided he needed to have another hat when he got back home.

Text Dummy — I print out the manuscript and break it up into 16 sections. I fold 9 sheets of legal or ledger paper in half and staple them in the middle with a special stapler I bought years ago for this purpose. I cut up the text and tape each section in its spread roughly where I think it might go, telling the story with the text — one chunk for the entire spread, or broken up with some on the left and some on the right. Since Mermaid is a retelling and set in the 1800s, I decided to go with a classic feel, keeping the text in blocks, but incorporating them into the illustrations. I played around with borders and copy blocks, but dropped that in the final sketch stage.

Brainstorm Scenes — blue sky thinking with my husband bouncing around ideas about the overall look, world, setting, perspectives, angles, POV, lighting. Playing with the best way to illustrate each scene adding to the story in unique ways. For this book I really wanted drama, which I achieved with lighting, angles, and unique perspectives.

“I love your boldness in composing the pages. Many illustrators are timid about the interplay between form and function, and your work is like a breath of fresh air.” ~ Johanna Rotondo-McCord, Promotion Department | Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.
More reference research — this stage is pretty much ongoing and so much easier now days. I remember the days of having to go up to the reference library on 42nd street to get reference. For this project, I did a lot of lace research — patterns, tutorials, various types of lace, designs, styles, materials, etc. I think that all paid off.



Thumbnails —With sketchbook and ballpoint pen, I roughly block out the scenes I have bubbling in my imagination after the brainstorming session. With this project, I established a sort of zig-zag pattern through the spreads, leading the eye through the story with a variety of spots, full spreads and text placement that would keep the eye moving how I wanted.

Sketch Dummy — Sketch and explore scenes building on initial rough thumbnails. My ink sketches are rough at this stage. I scan those, clean them up a bit and print at as close to actual size as I can. With marker paper and several good ol’ #2 pencils, I created the final sketches. Marker paper is see-through without needing a light box, but not as smeary as tracing paper. I scanned those sketches and put them together back in their spreads. I cleaned them up, made pngs which I made into a pdf and emailed it to the AD. He came back to me with only a few revisions.



Value and Color Thumbnails — I make a contact sheet in Photoshop of the sketches on an 11x17 page. I added a layer with my paper in a gray tone, creating an overall stormy feel; a second layer for value, establishing mood; and a third layer for color studies. I created a limited palette, keeping in mind the stormy feel of the story and moving to a light and happy mood in the end.

“You have perfectly captured the moods of the various scenes, giving the story "life" in your depictions of the throwing of the fishing net, the ferociousness of the storm at sea, the mermaid's creation of the lace, and so on.” ~ Claudia Cangilla McAdam


Final Painting Begins — I paint in Photoshop with my own brushes, textured papers, and color palettes, plus a ton of layers. I could do a whole-nother post about the ups and downs of finishing a full book. There were days I thought I was brilliant, and days when I felt like a total fraud with no right to get to draw and paint for a living. Every book has this stage no matter how much I’ve learned and grown and figured out what I’m doing.



Finish the Dang Thing Already — And then comes the finishing. This may be the hardest of all stages for me. I have a resistance to finishing things. I don’t know why. That’s just the crazy way I am. One night my husband told me to sit and finish one at a time. I had the final highlights and finishing touches and fixes and whatnots to do. When I finished one I’d shout it out. I was reward with a DING-DING-DING and a compliment of some encouraging sort. Then it was back to the next one.



I finally finished them and sent them off to the AD. The end result: A love fest with my art, and an offer for another book. Cody and Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition written by Gary Metivier. Follow me on my Facebook page (link: https://www.facebook.com/TraciVanWagonerIllustrator ) for updates.

Thanks for reading my long ramble. I hope something here helps with your dummy book adventure this month. Good luck and don’t forget to have fun!

Traci Van Wagoner
Live, laugh, and learn!

You can see more of my work on my website: www.tracivanwagoner.com

Other places you can find me online:
Children’s Illustrator: http://www.childrensillustrators.com/TraciVanWagoner
Blog: Celebrate the Little Things : http://tracivanwagoner.blogspot.com/
Tumblr: TraciVW Creations: http://tracivwcreations.tumblr.com/
Twitter: @tracvanwagoner

The Mermaid’s Gift is available here: 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of the Mermaid's Gift! You have to have a completed dummy to win this prize. 

17 comments:

  1. Great post, Traci. Thanks for sharing your process. Your work is stunning.

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    1. Thanks so much, Alison. I really enjoyed illustrating this book, and I'm happy to be able to share some things I've learned.

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  2. Truly lovely artwork. Thanks so much for sharing your process.

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    1. Thank you cellini. I hope you found something helpful here.

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  3. Thanks for a look behind the scenes! :)

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    1. You're very welcome, Doreen. I hope you found it helpful.

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  4. Great inspiration! I love the idea of just thinking about the book and especially collecting reference research. Thanks for sharing your process!

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad I could provide some inspiration.

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  5. So, water foam is transformed into lace? The illustrations are simply magical. I was concerned about having the main character appear too close to the center, but I see in your examples, how this could work. Thanks for letting us have a glimpse into your world.

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    1. You're welcome, Sussu. Yes, that's some magical foam. You do always need to consider the gutter. You don't want important information to get lost.

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  6. This is such a beautifully illustrated story. I've seen so many good stories (especially fairy stories) become bland because the illustrations are so dull. These pictures are so lovely that they make the story so much more magical! I'm glad that we got to see a glimpse into your process.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dani. That makes me very happy to hear. I really love to play with the format of children's books, add dimension, and bring a story to life with my illustrations. Thank you so much for your kinds words and for inviting me to participate.

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  7. This is such a beautifully illustrated story. I've seen so many good stories (especially fairy stories) become bland because the illustrations are so dull. These pictures are so lovely that they make the story so much more magical! I'm glad that we got to see a glimpse into your process.

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  8. What a treat to view the artwork as it progressed. Thank you.

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  9. Love these full spreads and the way you do them. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. I love it! Love to see the process!

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  11. It's such a treat learning about the 'behind-the-scenes' of creating a picture book's artwork! The lace looks remarkable, Traci.

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