Category Archives: Illustration

Illustration work.

The Expeditioners is here!

The spring and summer have flown by and the fall’s nearly over. Which means that it’s time for…

McSweeney’s Season!

S. S. Taylor and I are proud to announce that The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon is hitting stores this week! This is my first time illustrating a novel and I am OH-SO-EXCITED about this fantastic book. What a wonderful team to work with, and I can’t thank Sarah Stewart Taylor enough for bringing me on board!

To get your copy you can order The Expeditioners from McSweeney’s McMullens, from Indiebound, from Amazon, from Barnes and Noble, or from your favorite local bookstore. For more information about signings and appearances coming up in Vermont and New York, please check out my brand new Facebook Page for events or head over to S. S. Taylor’s blog at www.sstaylorbooks.com.


I have one more announcement to make: after much consideration the time has come for me to transition away from Caterpillar Publishing and continue my blog at the domain http://www.katherineroy.com . The content here will stay up for now, but all news about my work and coming book projects will be posted over at my gorgeous new site. Please follow me there, join my email list, and add me to your RSS feed as I get it up and running!

Thank you so much for reading my blog, whether this is your first post or your 100th. Your enthusiasm and support means the world, and I can hardly wait to share with you what’s ahead. See you at the new site!

My Own Personal Shark Week

The EXPEDITIONERS proofs are fresh of the presses and my illustrations for BURIED BENEATH US are in! So what, might you ask, am I up to right now? I’M PACKING FOR MY OWN PERSON SHARK WEEK, YO!!

Tomorrow I am flying out to San Francisco, California to accompany TOPP‘s (Tagging of Pacific Predators) white shark tagging team while they do their work at the Farallon Islands. No, I will not be cage diving, and feeding and petting the wild life is not advised, but I plan to sketch and photograph as much as possible and to interview as many people in the Farallon community as I can. Not to mention, of course, see my first white shark!

While this research trip isn’t mandatory for my book to see print, I’m absolutely certain that this first-hand experience will enrich the content of the project. It’s clear that the final pages are where I have the most rewriting to do, and being out on the water with Farallon scientists will fill out my understanding of these beautiful creatures and their fragile ecosystem.

I’m incredibly grateful to the Farallon community for the welcome enthusiasm and support of my book project! More to come soon! Follow me now on Twitter or Instagram at @KRoyStudio.

Cover Sketches for The Expeditioners

For the last few weeks galley copies of THE EXPEDITIONERS have been out in the world in search of reviews. I imagine the books all huddled together, whispering and giggling through thick mailing envelopes, as they wait to be loved by a child or a blogger or read by someone from Kirkus. The books are just gorgeous (and they’re only galleys!) and Sarah and I couldn’t be more delighted.


In anticipation of a wonderful review from Kirkus coming out today (THANK YOU, KIRKUS!) I thought I’d share a few design sketches for the final hardback book cover. It’s not often that illustrators get to draw tremendously cool double fold-out wrap-around covers—printing costs are too high for most publishers to splurge—but McSweeney’s is all about the book-as-art-object, and McSweeney’s McMullens for kids is no different!

As with any illustration project for me the cover began with concept sketches scribbled in a notebook. It needed to feature both the four main characters and a beautiful southwestern environment, so I started with a two different directions: one in a montage movie poster style and the other focused on a story moment at a waterfall:





After much deliberation with a trusted few we all agreed it would be best to combine the two ideas into one. One 30-second sketch later (see the lower right-hand corner of the black and white sketch above) I had the framework for the final drawing. Combined with editor Brian McMullen’s gorgeously designed logo font it suddenly felt like a real cover!

From there I did a simple sketch for the wrap-around outer cover:


And then digitally drew on top of it to finalize the design:


This last image is very close to what the (front) cover will look like once the subtitle and credits are in place. The book is available for pre-order now from your favorite local bookstore or from Amazon.com. Nine weeks left to release! Whoo-eee!

Bird Attack!

The very first project I assigned my freshman 2D design class at the Art Institute of Boston was a “Bird Attack” in cut-out black paper against a white background, and I must say that they weren’t terribly thrilled with the idea. I could clearly see them thinking “aren’t we in college? what’s with the kindergarten assignment?” But the critique the following week built a foundation for all subsequent discussions. What does a horizontal line do? What does a vertical line symbolize? Which arrangements will create the most tension, depth, and speed? In other words… how can we use seemingly simple shapes to compose our content before we ever start to draw? In the projects that followed I was delighted to see that their ideas took leaps and bounds forward as they started to think about the picture plane in a whole new way. (For a fabulous introduction to this, be sure to pick up Molly Bang’s Picture This.)

Which, oddly enough, directly relates to THE EXPEDITIONERS, because while reading the manuscript I found that Sarah Stewart Taylor had given me just that assignment: to draw giant vultures attacking the four main characters as they travel downstream on a river. If only I’d made the assignment that much more complicated for my students!

I poked through the files of my brain trying to remember our in-class discussions. Diagonals create tension. Sharp shapes are perceived as threatening. I can use the oars and wings to tilt the movement of the composition. I went through countless versions of this drawing, trying not to completely disappoint myself after having forced my students to attempt the same problem. I also imposed upon my husband at least twice to pose as a terrified teenager. It turns out he’s quite good at imagining fictitious birds attacking him while sitting on a storage bench in a 10th floor New York apartment.

I finally came up with a solution I liked to use as the foundation for the final line art for the drawing. As for drawing the actual attacking birds, the turkey vulture proved to be the most helpful reference. Vultures are mostly scavenging birds, and turkey vultures have evolved bald heads and huge, unseparated nostrils as adaptions to stay clean and stay breathing while diving head first into the bloated bellies of dead animals. Turkey vultures also have a six foot wingspan (!!), not quite as large as these birds but certainly a good place to start. I’m quite relieved that facing-off with a vulture is not part of my foreseeable future!

Diamond in the Roughs

The manuscript is in sections all over my studio, covered in notes and brightly colored page markers. A mug of lukewarm coffee is to my right, a silent inkjet printer is to my left, and directly in front of me is my computer, wacom tablet plugged in and ready. I’ve been sitting digitally drawing for days, and haven’t looked back at a single thing I’ve drawn. What am I doing? The Roughs!

The physical illustration process for almost any book begins with the “roughs,” an initial set of rough sketches that go along with the text. For myself I like to get through this stage as fast as I humanly can, because a blank piece of paper (or a blank screen) is one of my biggest fears, a world where every mark can become an instant, ugly scar. Without a break-neck pace I’ll endlessly revise and revisit drawings, resulting in zero progress and crushing self-doubt. It almost doesn’t matter what I draw or how bad it is in the first pass; the point is to get something completely done so that I have a place from which to start editing. In my first pass at the 36 to 40 rough scenes of interior art, how many times did I draw three West children pointing at maps? At least three (yuck!) but from there each scene could only improve. I’m happy to say that by now all of the “map pointing” has hit the cutting room floor.

One of the things that keeps me moving during the Roughs is an even more terrifying shape than a blank white rectangle: a black diagonal line keeping time on The Chart:

This metronome for progress is one of the most useful illustration tools I own. Back in February, when I learned that I would be illustrating Sarah Stewart Taylor’s THE EXPEDITIONERS, I also learned that I’ve only have 12-14 weeks to do the book from start to finish. The drawing experience would be a marathon, with some sprinting and high-jumping thrown in for good measure, and I needed a gun to get me sprinting from the start. The Chart was directly inspired by the ever-talented Alec Longstreth (Basewood), a former teacher from The Center for Cartoon Studies, who uses this tool to track progress on his own work. With an aggressive goal of reaching 40 interior drawings (vertical axis) in the time span of 8 days (horizontal axis), there was absolutely no time to be afraid of the blank page. The rest of my to-do list may have failed, but this angry line kept me on track at a pace of five rough digital drawings a day.

Of course, not everything drawn in the Roughs stage is bad, and sometimes I even hit on something terrific. A stellar composition! A character design that rings true in future drafts! Or even a concept can be relocated to work better earlier or later in the manuscript. The Roughs give me a foundation on which to build the book, and each successive pass gives the structure more definition.

In THE EXPEDITIONERS, one of my favorite drawing moments is when the eldest brother, Zander, discovers a new species of slug. Here’s the full sequence of drawings, from concept sketches to digital rough (above) to the final rough draft before it goes to final art. This reflects about four weeks of worth of change. Note that after the digital rough draft, I abandoned the idea of having the characters posing with the slug in favor of showing the slug alone, as if from the character’s point of view. The result is, I feel, a much stronger and more interesting compositon:

 [DIGITAL ROUGH GOES HERE]

 

I’d like to thank Art Nouveau, the Viennese Secessionists, Japanese postcards, and everyone who’s ever posted photos of cool slugs. More roughs and sketches from other scenes coming soon!

Leap of Faith

There is a moment that happens while working on any big art project that for me is full of electricity and magic. In a film, this moment would fall at the end of Act 1, about 25 minutes in, when the character makes a choice and crosses into the world of Act 2. It’s when Ripley and the Nostromo touch down to investigate the signal in Alien. It’s when John McClane decides to stop the terrorists in Die Hard. It’s when Joel gathers his things to erase Clementine from his memory in Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. (Can you tell that I’m married to someone who loves to talk about story structure in film?)

But in art, in books, when working on a manuscript in life, this transition into Act 2 really does happen (which is why it works in stories at all). And for me the moment looks just like this: a tiny box divided in half full of scribbles that represent a page spread:

To anyone else this might look like the very beginning. After all, my sketchbook is empty, and I’ve made countless trips to the kitchen to avoid doing actual work. But usually months have already passed since the initial project discussions and I’ve been turning over the problems in my head for some time. I’ve met or spoken with the editor or art director at least once or twice, and I’ve done my reading, I’m doing research, and I am beginning to fall in love with the material and the context. Perhaps I’ve even started to doodle some characters. Anything (but not everything!) is in the realm of possibility, and I’m trying not to let my fear of certain failure keep me balled up on the couch.

Now there’s nothing left to do but to “start.” More and more I am learning to recognize (and have faith in) the threshold of Act 2. There is a beat, a breath, a pause… and the world goes absolutely silent. I peer into the abyss ahead, knowing that in six months or one year I’ll have completed the project, even though from where I stand I can’t see how it will happen. I pick up a pen and I take a leap of faith. It will all work out (or it won’t) but there’s not going back to Act 1!

Three hundred pages of S. S. Taylor’s EXPEDITIONERS!

‘Tis Friday the 13th, which means that I finally get to announce the THIRD book (!!) that is on my desk and in my life: this spring and summer I am teaming up with none other than mystery novelist/teacher Sarah Stewart Taylor to illustrate the first in her fabulous chapter book series, THE EXPEDITIONERS! Whooooot!! Book one, THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN’S CANYON, is full of action, suspense, high adventure, and a dab of steampunk futurism, and is exactly what I would have loved to read when I was a kid. I am oh-so-happy that the weeks and months ahead will be filled with time spent in the world of this book. Orphaned children and government agents? Mysterious treasure, terrifying cave birds, and a newly discovered glowing slug? Boy howdy, do I love it!!

Here’s how our publisher describes THE EXPEDITIONERS online: “Explorer of the Realm Alexander West has disappeared and is presumed dead under mysterious circumstances while on an expedition … But not before smuggling half of a strange map to his three intrepid children — Kit, the brain, M. K., the tinkerer, and Zander the brave. Why are so many people trying to steal the half-map? What powerful secrets does it hold? (And where is the other half?) It’s up to Alexander’s children — call them The Expeditioners — to get to the bottom of these questions, and fast. Success could mean fame and wild riches. Failure could be … Well, let’s just say failure is not an option!”

Sarah and I first met at The Center for Cartoon Studies where she teaches writing classes to first and second-year students. While Sarah is a terrific teacher, and her graphic novel on Amelia Earheart is one of my favorites, I never dreamed that I’d soon be at work on her first book project written for children. THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN’S CANYON will be out this November from McSweeney’s McMullens, which means that it will be my first book with a major publisher to hit the shelves of a book store. There is still a vast amount of work to do between now and the final art for both the interior and the cover, but it begins with notes and sketches filling the margins of the 308-page manuscript as my studio wall rapidly fills up with roughs:

With the thirty-six black and white illustrations we’ll need for the book, I’m doing by best to try and both 1) capture each scene and 2) maintain an even pace. In the end it will be a bit of a balancing act, as there are 50+ chapters of 2-10 pages each, but thanks to a terrific 2-day brainstorm with Sarah in my New York apartment and many, many hours of work put in at my drawing table, I think we’ve hit on a good direction from which to take the roughs. The next step is to fully work through all thirty-six drawings to get a clearer sense of what’s working… and what’s not.

The loudest “THANK YOU!” ever shouted is soaring over hills towards the state of Vermont. Sarah, thank you so much for wanting to work on this series with me, it’s been a privilege and an honor to be on your team and build this visual world. I’m already such a huge fan and can hardly wait to read the rest of the books to come!

Last, but not at all least, a programming note is needed for this simultaneous explosion of good news: EXPEDITIONERS, CITIES, and SHARK all at once would not have been possible without my Amazing Agent, who has maintained order in my drawing universe for the last four months straight. Stephen, I think I owe YOU a burger feast. Or, in the very least, a bacon pancake shake. : )

 

Huzzah! Macmillan Book Number Two!

There are so many things I love to draw: Nature. People. Architecture. Ancient civilizations. Llamas.

Did she say llamas??

YES!

With cheers of excitement and at least one bottle of wine, I am delighted to announce my SECOND book deal with Macmillan as the illustrator of BURIED BENEATH US by author/wicked-smart professor/Danny DeVito look-alike Anthony Aveni! From where cities come from and how cities grow, to daily life and the function of religion, this terrific and compelling non-fiction picture book focuses on life in four ancient American cities: the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Incan city of Cuzco, the Mayan city of Copan, and the mound city of Cahokia on the Mississippi.

The book will about 96 pages long and filled with dozens of my black-and-white illustrations, which will both help explain the information and reach a wider audience. The final art is due September 1st, and will be published with Roaring Brook sometime in 2013. A huge thanks and shout out to Deirdre Langeland, my soon-to-be editor for this fabulous book! Huzzah, let’s do it! Ready or not, llamas, here I come!

Over the spring and coming summer I will be up to my ears in research and graphite, which is the BEST kind of way to spend any season. In anticipation of this book I’ve already paid a brief visit to both the Met and the Museum of Natural History here in New York City to do a little preliminary visual research and refamiliarize myself with ancient American art. How I love the simple elegance and design of Incan fabrics, Aztec sculptures, and Mayan vases! Here’s a glimpse of some quick doodles from one of my (oh-so) high-tech sketchbooks. More drawing are sure to come this way soon:

In the meantime I have ONE MORE AWESOME BOOK that I’m already waist deep in the midst of illustrating. That triumphant announcement will be made this Friday; stay tuned for more news from my studio and mountains of roughs, sketches, and process work to come. Whew, what a busy year I have ahead of me!