Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

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The Beach

The Beach

In 2006, I was traveling around New Zealand when I came across a beach along the road on the East side of the South Island. I forget its exact location. Even though a storm was approaching, two children were playing in the water.  Upon closer examination, it looked like they were throwing box traps onto small creatures on the beach. Perhaps they were catching crabs?

Although I did a little tweaking of the colour levels in photoshop to bring out the contrast, and enhanced the sharpness, the scene is largely as it appeared that day.

A little D&D soup anyone?

D&D cookbook

A fantasy spin on tomato basil soup

Good grief! I pulled my Wacom tablet out for the first time in an eternity. The last time I’d used it was for texturing some 3D models so very long ago. The last time I’ve used it for any sort of illustration was even longer.

It felt good to let the stylus flow a bit. I guess I should find the time to keep this up, since this reminded me that drawing is lots of fun, and is a great way to blow steam off from a long day churning through reams of paperwork.

Maybe I’ll revisit this chap some time to see how I can tweak the concept to make it more interesting.

Finding inspiration for my illustrated book – It’s a process

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

When I set out to write my book, I had in mind a short picture book for kids to flip through and enjoy a fantasy encyclopedia of sorts. It was to have a dual purpose by providing sufficiently detailed illustrations to allow adults to flip through the pages and enjoy a rich visual story, perhaps drawing them back to time when life was simpler and they could take the time to let their minds wander through their imaginations.

My first step was to collate the various notes I’ve scribbled on notepads, notebooks, napkins, recorded in word processors, and other indescribable media over the years to pry out some useful ideas. A healthy dose of goofy imagery courtesy of the doodles I generate so that I can keep my ephemeral attention focused during long meetings helped crystallize a concept in my mind. I then mashed all of these together into a rough outline hitting the key characters I wanted to talk about in the story.

I had started collating some of my notes in a Word file many years ago, but had since migrated my computer to an Apple system. I’d never obtained Word for the Mac, since I had been using Apple’s “Pages” software for my shorter work projects. It’s a nice program, but does not handle large texts with numerous illustrations very well. At least, the version I bought back in 2007 with my computer does not like them at all. It isn’t very good at organizing information, either. I therefore searched the internet for a resource that would help me bring order to the chaos of my notes and help me visualize my story’s structure. I happened upon “Scrivener” a short while ago, and I must say that I am thankful for the way in which it allows me to coerce my information from a shapeless mass into a structured, if nascent, text.

I then built little blurbs for each of these characters and generated an art brief that I would be able to provide an illustrator to share my vision and inspire his or her work. These came together in the form of a project work description that I placed on Freelancer. I was surprised by the level of interest that the diverse community of artists that resides there showed for my project. In particular, a few artists rose above the crowd and became active participants in my writing efforts by coaching me through the Freelancer process and their perspectives on the nature of the work I was asking. In particular, Kenneth “Canifu”, and JJ Zhang were extremely helpful. I am humbled by their talent and their generous sharing of information. In the end, I settled with Art Corod because of the original vision he proposed and his inexhaustible enthusiasm. I may discuss my Freelancer experience and lessons learned in a later post.

After a short process of nailing down the visual style and going over specific project requirements, we set off on our grand adventure. The great thing about writing this book is that I am keeping my child in mind as the primary reader. Even though he probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for several more years, I show him Art’s preliminary work and ask him which he prefers. As it turns out, a toddler can be pretty opinionated. This particular one appears to have a certain sense of aesthetics which is useful to the book’s art direction as well.

Somewhere along the way, my wife looked at the text I’d put together so far and asked: “Is that it?”

I could have immediately felt crestfallen, but instead sought her insight. She correctly pointed out that a young reader in the range I was designing this book for would be seeking more than fifteen to twenty pages of a fantasy hinterland’s wilderness observer’s guide. They would be seeking a story. At about the same time we were having this discussion, my illustrator sent me a wonderful landscape. You can see a small crop of the image at the top of this post

Although the image was unfinished, the amount of detail was astounding. Within its lines, a wealth of potential adventures played out. A light bulb lit so brightly in my mind that my brain is still sunburned. I was going to use the illustrations that Art was providing me as the inspiration for each of the book’s chapters. Just as I had provided the visual artist with just enough of an impulse to generate these rich images, the illustrations were going to serve as the catalyst for my stories.

Our collaboration has now become even closer, as both writer and illustrator rely on each other to develop the next story thread. As I receive an image, I quickly hammer out the corresponding chapter and feed it back to Art so that he can see where the story is going. This helps him come up with new ideas with which to populate his images, which in turn inspire the details to subsequent chapters. The main plot line will be unlikely to change much, but the detail that makes a story live and breathe will get richer with each passing illustration.

I am looking forward to the next image!

On managing information flow in the social age

Although I’ve been using the internet to answer deep questions since before it ran on a graphic user interface, I’m only a recent adopter of social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on Facebook for what the young ‘uns would consider “like, forever dude” or whatever the appropriate contemporary expression would be. I’ve even had my Twitter account for a while. However, other than sharing pokes and funny cat images, I haven’t done much in the way of exploring the potential that is represented in all the world’s punctual information flow which is now available at my fingertips.

Now that I’ve had some first hand experience with the challenges involved with getting one’s word out there (WARNING SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY FATHER’S BOOK THE GENIUS CRUCIBLE: http://www.amazon.ca/The-Genius-Crucible-ebook/dp/B00AQ8WKQ8), and have spent some time reading the advice of other authors, I am becoming aware of social media’s power to vehicle messages of importance. The general consensus is that time judiciously spent on the likes of Twitter and Facebook are an investment that will pay off in terms of exposure. In the case of The Genius Crucible, we came at it late in the game. The Twitter profile is growing, and has some great discussions with fascinating people, but I remain unconvinced of its effect on the book itself.

I’ve therefore rolled these lessons into my latest outing, my personal profile, so that I may experiment and see what really does make social media tick. I’ve come across profiles that claim to have attracted dozens to hundreds of followers by the end of their first week by selecting and aggressively pursuing a niche. Strangely, many of these niches involve “get rich fast and easy” printed in ginormous letters across the screen, or spend their effort debating the latest pet fur style for random Hollywood celebrity X. I’ve always had a wide range of interests, and there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I will ever get into celebrity gossip, so I forge my own path at the potential cost of millions of adulating fans and followers. Oh well.

Before I carry on too much further and lose my train of thought, I believe it is appropriate to share this wonderful and yet creepy site I’ve just stumbled across: http://www.gowhunk.com/cnut/ . If you ever wonder whether anyone can hear what you shout across the digital ether, this is proof if I’ve ever seen it. It’s certainly a variation on a Twitter search, but presented in a much more manageable manner, especially if the default search query is changed manually in the browser address bar. Used for good, this can be invaluable. Used for ill, as semi-humourously suggested by the title, I believe it can lead to significant negative consequences. However, enough on that, back to the whole point of this entry.

So what is my main lesson so far? Manage information overload! I’ve found that it can become incredibly time consuming to follow up on conversations, manage blog entries, finding new and noteworthy things to Tweet or blog about. Even with the extremely limited following I have so far, I can easily get sucked into rabbit holes that keep me from doing the essential thing that all of this activity is about in the first place: writing.

I wish I had a solution to offer so far. It would be easy to advise you, dear reader, that you should only spend a certain amount of well-defined time per day working the social networks while dedicating the rest to working the story. However, in a world where everyone considers information that is hours old as ancient, there is a steady pressure to keep a watchful eye on current events. Current events as in seconds old. The days when a news bulletin could talk only about what happened in the day, or Heaven forbid a weekly recap appear to be rapidly receding into the distance. Again, I must be ancient. With the constant torrent of social information carving its way through the digital realm, it is true that an invaluable pearl could be missed if it is not caught as it falls from someone’s enlightened mind, buried in the flow of re-tweeted goat screams, hilarious as they may be.

What also boggles my mind are those with profiles who are following not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of people. I cannot imagine how they pick anything out of the flow. By the time their eyes have settled on a message, there could have been another hundred come in. By the time they are done reading it, who knows? How do they do it? Do they have a team of ghost tweeters there to keep the image up?

All of this to say that I welcome your comments with ideas as how to best manage these powerful tools. As I get more insight, I will expand the article to serve as a resource to all.

In the meantime, back to writing a picture book for kids!