Illustrating My Book for Create Space, Part I: Flesh on Bones

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When I was in school, many many years ago it was a time of upheaval in the graphic design world.  I am was not a graphic design major, but I was an illustration major and graduated as such.  Many things today are things I wish I had known, or paid more attention to, and many are things not even thought of.  For instance, self-publishing was a dirty word.  It always indicated vainness and would put into your mind a boring old book some relative made that everyone felt they had to buy, but everyone knew would never read.  I have watched that change to positive, independent publishing with a happy heart as I finally made up my mind to quit trying to “court” publishers and agents who had no time for me.  Here is what I learned about the other side- illustrating a book. It is a whole other ballgame, with specs and printers and photoshop, and tears! Here we go!

DoneganHouseFixedDarker
Sterling house- I fell in love with a house I invented!

As an artist I am very visual.  After doing the outline for my book I knew I needed a “real” house to use for my story, only I didn’t want to use an actual one.  So I looked very carefully at all the things I loved about my favorite houses and I put them all together and made this house. There are dormer windows, rooflines, balcony railing and window sashes from my own house (but it wasn’t mine at the time), windows and gables from a house down the street (now sadly ripped out and vinyl-renewed), the three stair windows are from a house in Texas, oval window from our neighbor’s house and the big turret is from another house in town.  This took me a lot of time.  Then the actual drawing- Oh, I labored over that thing for a month (that’s why its so smudged). Finally it was done and Sterling house began to unfold!

Next I did the floor plans.  These were equally important to me as I study architectural history of houses.  As I child I loved big houses in books but always got so frustrated when the authors and illustrators were vague about setting.  It seemed like they had never even been to a big house! I wanted to know everything- exactly where the secret passage was, how to get to the west wing, what did the attic look like, what was below stairs? Burning questions that haunt me still to this day!  When an author took the time to guide me (I said guide, not bore!) through these areas I was delighted!  I came to the realization that it was true- if they had experience with a big house I was let in on the secret.  If they did not, well it was up to me to do the work!  By far, my favorite books were those where some things were left to imagination, but between the author and illustrator you got to experience a new place.

Floor plans would give my readers a visual map of the complexities and hidden places of Sterling House, and make my book a whole lot easier to plan and write.  I spent time researching, reading, pondering ancient floor plans and consulting my outline as I laid out how the builders of Sterling house structured her.  Thankfully I had a lot of prior knowledge from books and time as the director of a historic house to understand how America’s homes used to function. (Then it was all about public/private, best rooms/working rooms, and air flow and control. Today its all about just letting everything be in one mass space.) Disclaimer: I ADORE the doors in my home and SHUTTING rooms off from other rooms! Its quite lovely to close a door on a mess and not see it.  I don’t know how people rest when everything is out in the open!

FirstFloor
The first floor of Sterling house is very typical of the time.  The best rooms are in a hierarchy and at the front, while the working rooms are in the back.  There is no wasted space and lots of doors!
SecondFloor
The second floor is where the family sleeps.  Again, best in front, least in back. I did fib a bit on this one as the master bedroom was usually in the very front of the house.
ThirdFloor
My favorite- the third floor.  I adore these ancient musty spaces.  Often times they are unchanged, showing their true history in a glorious state of delayed decay.  A lot of houses had ballrooms at the top, we think our real house was divided into three big rooms for nurseries and staff.  Sterling house, of course has a ballroom and servants rooms. Most Victorians would not have had a third-floor bath, I don’t know why I put it in!

After the house exterior and interiors were planned, it was time to write a book! When I was writing I would stop and do illustrations.  I continued on my merry way until I started researching publishing.  In that world publishers and agents DO NOT want to see your illustrations (or your manuscript either!) under ANY circumstances! I was so disheartened that I stopped doing the lovely pencil drawings that were depicting this wonderful world I was building all for myself from my imagination. (Negativity kills creativity!) I finished the book and just figured it would have to work out some way.  Maybe I could sneak an illustration into a meeting if my book was going to be published and they would love it and everyone would get a happy ending.  But for years I couldn’t get anything back except my SASE with the form rejection slip.  I had privately wanted to finish the pictures, but I let other people make me feel bad about my work! How could I do that to myself?

Next, I will finish the pictures, experience tech frustrations, freak out over a cover and finally learn a lot about printing pictures that were drawn in graphite.

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