This post features the process involved in creating the elaborate illustrations I completed during 2014 for my soon to be released next children’s picture book, my 22nd picture book and counting…
The non-fiction picture book is entitled, The Fantastic Ferris Wheel and will be published this October 2015 by Macmillan/Christy Ottaviano Books. Written by Betsy Harvey Kraft -it’s the captivating real life story about American engineer George Washington Ferris and his iconic invention, the Ferris Wheel …which was created for the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair, held in Chicago.
I started the photo research and the sketch stage for this Ferris Wheel picture book way back in September 2013, which then took nearly four months to finalize. Once all the final sketches were approved by the publisher in December 2013, on January 2nd, 2014 I began the long process of creating all the final illustrations, completing them all by the end of May 2014.
Including the research and sketch stage, and completing the cover art too, the total time it took me to complete all the art for this picture book was approximately a little over nine months…. (but it took a full year from when I first commenced with the sketch stage until when I actually handed in the final cover art because there was a delay in getting the cover art concept sketch approved.)
During the all-consuming process of creating the artwork for this book, I did also manage to remind myself, on a fairly regular basis, to take photos of my illustration process. But please excuse the quality of the photos, as they were done hurriedly and without bothering to set up proper lighting, but they will give you a decent enough peek at how I created the illustrations. Plus, I put together this blog posting rather hurriedly as well, so if any of my descriptions regarding the process are vague and you have a question or two, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Salerno -May 2015
Let me first start out by putting the cart in front of the horse, and show you the step-by-step process involved in creating just one of the finished illustrations from the picture book… then after this section will explain how I first obtained the project, and also show the preliminary stages involved before even reaching this “finished” stage shown here…
All my scene elements (characters, backgrounds, buildings, the Ferris Wheel… everything) are all painted/drawn separately, using pastel, gouache, colored pencils, crayon, inks, etc…Then all these components are scanned into Photoshop, then composed, adjusted and redrawn using various Photoshop tools and added digital color on a multitude of separate layers. Once everything is just the way I want it… I then test print all the illustrations on my studio large format printer as a color check….subsequently making further adjustments to all the illustrations many times until it is absolutely final. The image’s multitude of layers are then flattened and the file is presented to the art director/designer at the publisher.
The process you see below is an extreme simplification of the steps involved. The illustration in progress as a Photoshop file, has about 30 separate layers, and involves probably more than a 100 stages…but for purposes of brevity I condensed everything into the 12 steps seen here.
|(1) This is a pastel and colored pencil background that I scanned into photoshop.|
|(3) Here I have added in my ink drawing of the big Ferris Wheel in a half-construction state, and also positioned it within the composition.|
|(4) Here I have added in my ink drawing of the massive scaffolding alongside the wheel.|
|(5) Here I have added in my gouache textured cloud shapes and used various eraser tools in Photoshop to make them precisely the shape I wanted.|
|(5) Here I have added in my ink and crayon drawings of the crowd of people watching the construction of the wheel.|
|(6) Here I have embellished areas of the background and the wheel with color, plus added shadowing to the clouds.|
|(7) Here I have added a white undertone base to the figures in the foreground.|
|(8) Here I have begun adding color to the characters in their faces….|
|(9) Here I have added a color texture to the foreground characters, which I had created with gouache.|
|(10) Here I have added more finalized color to the characters in the foreground.|
|(11 Many minor adjustments occurred at the stage which are too subtle to see in this small view…|
|(12) Here I have added touches of steam emanating from the workshop buildings near the base of the wheel.|
WHY I WAS INITIALLY OFFERED THIS “FERRIS WHEEL” PICTURE BOOK PROJECT
In 2012 a previous picture book I had illustrated entitled, Brothers at Bat (written by Audrey Vernick) was a popular and critical success, making the New York Times Review of Books Notable Picture Book short list for that year, and winning other publishing awards. For me, this particular picture book was different than the previous other 20 picture books I had illustrated up to that point, because it was a non-fiction story. And so my illustrations for Brothers at Bat were not the usual stylized, whimsical approach I had taken with all my other picture books, but rather these illustrations were purposely more realistic, out of necessity to capture the look and feel of the era the story takes place in. (click here to see previous post about Brothers at Bat)
ABOVE -drawing a character for the picture book, Brothers at Bat
(2012), using black gouache (brush) combined with black crayon.
ABOVE -detail of illustration from the picture book, Brothers at Bat
(2012), the crayon & gouache drawing with added digital color…
My illustrations for Brothers at Bat had apparently caught the discerning eye of publisher and editor Christy Ottaviano (of Christy Ottaviano Books/ Henry Holt & Company, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Group) which led her to believe that I would be a great match to illustrate the non-fiction story currently sitting in her lap, “The Fantastic Ferris Wheel” -this story, written by Betsy Harvey Kraft, is about young George Washington Ferris, the American engineer and inventor of the first giant observation wheel, constructed for the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago… which was a huge hit with the public and became known simply as “The Ferris Wheel.”
So, in the summer of 2013 Christy sent the manuscript over for to me to read, to decide whether I would take on the book project or not. Note: When I first got the story manuscript, the working title of the book was “Make Big Plans” -then it was altered to “George’s Fantastic Wheel” …then finally changed again to “The Fantastic Ferris Wheel”)
To be honest, I knew I could certainly create terrific illustrations for this project, however I was a bit daunted at first to even consider taking on such a project because as I initially read the manuscript, I could instantly envision quite clearly what these illustrations needed to be… that they would have to be filled with visually correct and convincing depictions of the construction of this very real iron and steel, steam powered observation wheel and having to depict it from many different angles. Plus, it would entail having to depict scenes with hundreds of people in period fashion, including the elaborate decorative architectural buildings in “White City” -the name of the complex of elaborate buildings built specifically for the WorId’s Fair of 1893. And all these various factors means a project requiring a huge time commitment to create such intense illustrations… far more than time than for any other picture book I had ever illustrated up to this point…
Some illustrators are really into machines and buildings and how things work or are constructed. In fact, some illustrators base their entire careers on the niche of specializing in illustrating these kind of images… I am not one of these kinds of illustrators! But this does not mean I’m incapable of creating drawings of such mechanical subject matter! However, I really had to think hard if this was the kind of project I wanted to tackle…
I knew that the publisher’s offered advance fee for creating the illustrations simply would not line up sufficiently with my estimated time needed to complete the project. Which is usually the case with publishing projects anyway -but this gulf between the offered advance fee and my time would be far more pronounced with this Ferris Wheel project.
ABOVE & BELOW -manuscript from The Fantastic Ferris Wheel
-you can see that I immediately begin making shorthand sketch
doodles as I first read the story, and also begin planning where
I might break the text for page turns.
Despite knowing this strained “fee vs time” scenario, I accepted the project… My first foray into non-fiction picture books (Brothers at Bat) has been such a hit, that I wanted to bring my talents to another non-fiction title. Plus, I had such a very good vibe from publisher Christy Ottaviano that I sensed I absolutely should not pass up the opportunity to work with her. She exuded a confidence that the book was going to turn out very special in my hands, and her enthusiasm spilled over onto me. I said yes to the project and was more than determined to do a great job.
Meanwhile though, on the inside, I am indeed still praying that the royalties earned down the road (if the book sells well) will retro-actively compensate me for my efforts to the point that I will feel sufficiently paid for my efforts when all is said and done). Publishers are gamblers, betting that their literary products will indeed sell well and be profitable for all parties involved. So the illustrator gets pulled into this same gamble mindset to a degree, therefore hedging that royalties received at the back end will compensate for whatever the advance fee may have lacked. So my fingers are crossed, but I predict The Fantastic Ferris Wheel will be well received by industry critics, institutions, and the public.
Like I said, essentially I got offered this project because of my previous non-fiction picture book Brothers at Bat, a baseball book with period illustrations depicting baseball players from the 1930’s and ’40’s. So when publisher Christy Ottaviano first contacted me about the Ferris Wheel book project, I immediately sent her a bunch of my samples of existing “period” illustrations I already had done… just to put her mind at ease that I would definitely be able to handle creating images which evoked 1890’s America.
Here is one of the samples of my illustrations I sent her… a flapper era woman of the 1920’s that I had previously created. And it also functioned as an example for Christy as to how I would also approach the technique of doing the illustrations for the Ferris Wheel book: my line art and painting textures scanned into Photoshop, where I then compose the various elements and also add digital coloring. (click here to see an earlier post showing my process steps behind making this flapper era woman image)
ABOVE -example of one of my “period” illustrations, which was
shown to the editor of the Ferris Wheel book, to explain my
OVERVIEW OF ILLUSTRATION PROCESS FOR THE FERRIS WHEEL BOOK PROJECT
step 1) reading the manuscript while making side notes on instinctive gut ideas regarding visual approaches to the illustrations, the text breaks, page turns, etc…
step 2) making rough small scale storyboard sketches (about 3″x5″) for the entire story, including blocking-in very rough placement of the text in relationship to the art… while also simultaneously doing photo research to support the images you have planned in the storyboard sketch stage.
step 3) creating more refined, larger scale sketches based on the rough storyboard panels, including better determining the accurate relationship of the art image relative to the text placement.
step 4) scanning the large scale sketches into Photoshop, dropping them into the correct layout format size that the printed book will be. Changing, modifying, refining the elements within the sketch to arrive at the final scene composition… including a layer containing the final intended text placement. These revised “large sketches” become the “official final sketches” which are then used in my formal sketch presentation to the publisher.
step 5) once the “final sketches” are presented to the publisher and approved, the next stage is creating the final illustrations based on the final sketches. I draw and paint separately all the various visual elements for each illustration, even all the background washes and textures, and then scan all these elements into Photoshop. Once in Photoshop, I compile and compose each of the final illustrations in a multitude of layers using all the scanned elements and then also add additional digital color to complete the final look of the illustrations.
ABOVE 5 images
The photo research stage (in this case a LOT of it) is not only to support the images I am already creating during the storyboard stage, but specifically to get into the “1893” frame of mind…. to get a visual feeling for this era in American history, not long after the end of the Civil War. It was the dawn of a new century when major new inventions were popping up like crazy, such as the automobile and electricity which were both in their infancy. It was an era when iron & steel machines billowing steam and coal smoke helped build the bridges, railroads, and buildings all across the country, along with horses and men doing back-breaking manual labor. I scoured through about 3,000 relevant period vintage photos to narrow it down to about 150 photos that I used as general reference, of which just a few photos were actually used as a direct reference for some of the final illustrations I created.
Below are a few of the period research photos which I used as reference:
ABOVE -the Horticulture building at the 1893 World’s Fair
ABOVE -the Arts & Science building at the 1893 World’s Fair
ABOVE -the Observation Wheel (Ferris Wheel) at the
1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Note: each car held 60 people,
and there were 36 cars on the wheel!
ABOVE -the Observation Wheel (Ferris Wheel) at the 1893
World’s Fair in Chicago
ABOVE -a view from inside a car on the Ferris Wheel at the 1893
World’s Fair in Chicago. These “views from the wheel” were a terrific
reference for me.
ABOVE -May 1st (Opening Day) at the 1893 World’s Fair
in Chicago… so much for the event planner’s crowd control abilities in that era!
SAMPLES OF ROUGH STORYBOARD PANELS & CORRESPONDING LARGE SKETCH
My initial rough “storyboard” panels are quite small, only 3″x5″ format sketches (executed with pencil, crayon, ink, and gouache) thus enabling me to quickly compose all my art images, including coordination of the rough text placement too, to see how they all will flow next to each other, through the page turns, etc…
This small storyboard stage is like a brief, raw, dress rehearsal where things are quickly tried, rejected, revamped from a different angle, etc… Once I have the entire storyboard resolved for the whole story from beginning to end, then I can start on the next stage of full-sized sketches based on these storyboard panels, which in this case were 12″x19″.
In this particular book project’s case, the final picture book would require exactly 18 double-page spreads of art, within which the text must also reside too, so a huge part of conceiving of and composing the art images is also simultaneously designing the space for the text placement within or around the art images. So, I created 18 small scale storyboard panels like these four shown here, representing my intentions for illustrating the entire book. This way I can lay them all out on my desk and at a glance “see” the flow of the whole book. And because these sketch panels are so small, I can therefore make complete image changes or modifications relatively quickly.
The whole function of the storyboard stage is to conceive of the visual approach for the entire book relatively quickly without getting fussy or bogged down in any detail or quality of the execution… just putting down the core visual thrust of each illustration. These rough storyboard sketches are for my eyes only… so this notion frees me up to make many missteps, mistakes, etc… and it is because of going through this “error filled” process of making inevitable wrong choices within the earliest sketch stage that allows me to then eventually arrive at all the correct choices.
SAMPLE OF A LARGE SKETCH IN PROGRESS
Once all the small scale storyboard sketches are completed, I then advance to the next stage of doing the corresponding, more refined larger sketches. (also created with pencil, crayon, ink, and gouache) These larger sketches begin to better depict what the final art will actually look like, both in the more mature realization of the characters and other elements within the composition, but I must also more accurately determine where the corresponding story text will be specifically placed on each page relative to these art images.
ABOVE – a view of the full completed final illustration (approx. 19″ x 12″)
depicting a scene of numerous workers on the wheel during its
construction in spring of 1893.
Once I had completed all 18 of the full-size final sketches, I then made high-resolution full sized prints of them on my large format Epson printer in my studio to use in my formal presentation in person to editor Christy Ottaviano at her offices in the Flatiron Building at 23rd Street & Fifth Avenue here in NYC, just a short walk from my studio on East 9th Street in Manhattan.
(top) -my original ink and gouache drawing of young George sitting
in the grass, drawn on Arches 260lb hot press paper. It is scanned
into Photoshop where I then create the final illustration scene.
(middle) -this is a detail from the final completed illustration
wherein I have combined the drawing of the boy along with the
other elements of the scene: the grist mill, windmill, bicycle, etc…
including various painted background textures, water textures, etc…
all to create the final illustration.
(bottom) -this is a detail from the final completed illustration
of the big-wheeled bicycle… a style bicycle that the young George
inevitably saw as a boy.
ABOVE -the final sketch stage which depicts George Ferris as a
young engineer, his mind filled with mechanics, and wheels, and
ambition… the objects on the right side are inventions displayed at
the 1893 World’s Fair Exhibition Hall.
ABOVE -detail view of portrait illustration of George Ferris.
ABOVE 3 images
(top 2) images shown me inking the final characters in the final illustration.
(bottom) image is the final completed illustration.
|ABOVE -detail of the final illustration|
ABOVE -extreme close-up view of the final illustration. All these
peripheral characters within the book, their poses and their faces,
I simply create from my imagination. I don’t need any reference to
create the characters –but I did indeed use general reference of men’s
and women’s clothing and accessory items from the late 1890’s to
dress my characters! I have always been able to draw the human
figure with ease, which comes not only from having studied anatomy
and having spent many hours drawing from models… but just as
importantly I have image recall, and I can close my eyes and envision
how I need to draw the shape or angle of any part of the anatomy
or facial expression relatively correctly, to make my drawing of the
human form look “right.”
The Ferris Wheel of 1893 was the tallest structure at the Fair (264 feet tall). It was the height equivalent of about a 26 story building. (At the time, the tallest building in the world was only 302 feet tall, about 30 stories tall, which also happened to be located in Chicago too) So, unless a person had stood on the roof of that 302 foot tall building in Chicago, when they rode the Ferris Wheel in the summer of 1893 they were brought up to a height higher than they had ever been before! In other words, probably 99.9% of all the Ferris Wheel riders had never before experienced being at such dizzying heights! Some riders actually broke down in fear during the ride.
ABOVE – is an example of one of my completed illustrations…
depicting a point in the storyline where George Ferris is explaining
to some other engineers what his vision for the massive
observation wheel will be: 264 feet tall, as tall as a 26 story
building, 36 observation cars -each car holding 60 people
(2,160 riders in total).
Creating the illustrations for this book and thus having to use reference photos of the Ferris Wheel that were taken in 1893… meant that ALL of the research photos I located were taken from a vantage point looking UPWARD at the wheel, because there was no building around at a higher vantage point where a photographer could shoot from. And this was fine if I wanted to create only illustrations of the wheel from an upward angle too, in which case the reference photos I had would serve me well. (example: the illustration shown above which depicts the wheel seen at an upward angle was created by referring to a specific reference photo from 1893.)
ABOVE 3 images
ABOVE -a preliminary sketch study of one of the observation cars
ABOVE -detail view of one of the rough preliminary
ABOVE -detail of inking an illustration which depicts some
(bottom) -detail of the drawing. Once the drawing is completed it
gets scanned into Photoshop along with painted background textures,
and other drawn elements of the illustration wherein all the elements
get compiled and composed, and digital color added.
ABOVE 3 images
(top) -this is the final large sketch which was presented to the editor…
it is created with ink and crayon, with added digital color. You can see
the story text dropped into place to make sure I am allowing sufficient
space for the designer.
(middle) -this is the final ink drawing based on the sketch above it,
which shows a semi-bird’s eye view of the fair grounds from above,
where the Ferris Wheel was situated along the lake. I had photo
reference, but as usual the references never were the correct angle
at all, so so essentially I had to imagine the buildings in my head and
then draw them in the perspective I wanted depicted.
(bottom) -detail of the above drawing with me adding some
additional details in pen… This drawing was then scanned
into Photoshop, along with a separate drawing of the Ferris Wheel,
as well as background textures created with gouache and pastel.
All these elements are then composed in layers, with added digital
color to create the final illustration
ABOVE -the completed illustration showing the Ferris Wheel at night,
with all the lights reflected in the lake.
ABOVE -detail view of the completed illustration. You can see
the textured background that I layered the ink drawing of the
buildings on top of… It is impressive to see the full 12″ x 20″
image printed on watercolor paper! It’s striking. These photos
don’t do it justice!
ABOVE 4 images
(top) -this is the final large sketch which was presented to the editor…
it is created with ink and crayon, with added digital color. It depicts a
scene later in the book when a huge summer storm suddenly rolls in
from the lake and hits the fairgrounds with devastating damage… and
everyone is concerned about the riders on the Ferris Wheel… which
was built so solidly that the severe winds not only didn’t damage the
giant wheel at all, in fact it performed without a hitch even during the storm!
(2 middle images) -a detail view of a portion of the final sketch on
my light box underneath a sheet of quality paper, upon which I am
then executing the final crayon drawing of the man wearing a top
hat… The other images is also a crayon drawing of a man with
his hat flying off in the wind. These final drawings, along with many
others that comprise the full scene, will be scanned into Photoshop,
as well as background textures, where they will all be layered into
the final composition with added digital color to create the completed
(bottom) -this is a detail view of a portion of the final completed
Whew! I think by now, you understand the full flavor of the picture book, without me having to show any more images… plus I do not want to give away the entire collection of illustrations here in this preview blog post!
And you can see that even though the images are filled with buildings, and mechanical wheels, I created the illustrations with the living human characters as the emotional center of the images, the heart of the images. The mechanical elements, buildings, and the starring role Ferris Wheel never come off as visually stiff or dry… no small artistic feat on my part!
The story concludes talking about with the present day mega-tall observations wheels, that were all inspired by the very first Ferris Wheel in 1893 by George Ferris, such as the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer. The final illustration spread in the picture book depicts the London Eye seen against the back drop of Big Ben and the London skyline… and there is a flip-up vertical gatefold to the spread, so the illustration soars at double height, making for a dramatic visual conclusion to the book! I am not going to show the final illustration here, nor even the full sketch of this particular spread, but posted below are few teaser views of me working on sections of the London Eye in blue ink, and the sepia ink drawing the the Big Ben Tower.
Look for The Fantastic Ferris Wheel in October of 2015!
(published by Christy Ottaviano Books/ Henry Holt & Company, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Group)
See full post here: Steven Salerno Blog2015-05-20.