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Fun, yes. Easy? No.

May 25, 2018

sherwin shortcut 300w

I’ve discovered what many artist/writers already know: creating your own illustrated storybook is definitely not easy.  Among other things, there is the insecurity of wondering if the work is good enough, and the doubt as to whether anyone will buy the book when it’s finished.  Combine that with creating characters and their environment while writing interesting text and you’ve got quite a job going.   I’ve come to the conclusion that, like most artistic endeavors, a project like this has to be, first and foremost, a labor of love, a hackneyed phrase to be sure, but nonetheless true.  Like playing jazz or the blues… or reciting poetry out loud… or working on a hot rod.  First, you have to simply love the doing of it.

farm 2 modified

And, like all of those other endeavors, you have to be prepared to reject and re-do. You have to be brutal in deciding what works and what doesn’t, what stays and what goes.  For example, the image above was the second attempt to illustrate a part of the story that has been developing for Sherwin The Snail for well over two years.  This morning, as part of the paring down process, the farm image was edited out of the book. The book had too many pages for an illustrated children’s book, and the farm was weak visually compared to the other images.

Sherwin was born as a sort of spot cartoon from a character that first showed up in another book (which got set aside as Sherwin moved to the front).  The snail had personality from the start, but was always portrayed in one-shot sketches. When the idea for a book began to grow, there were two directions to go: first was a collection of these one-off spot cartoons; and second, as an actual story with a beginning, middle and end.  The humor of the first would have been aimed at adults and the story in the second would be aimed at children.  I’ve opted for the children’s book.  I like the idea of people buying it for their children and grandchildren.

Even as I continue to edit out images and text, the story begs for new illustrations that portray things better and text that (hopefully) makes the story more meaningful.  I’ve finally settled on some format and composition things, so it’s getting closer.

I can’t honestly say this is hard work, but it isn’t easy, either. The artwork emerges from my mind and makes its way onto the page easily enough.  I’ve created a lot of storybook and whimsical art over the years, much of it set in a forest and all from my imagination.  And with two and a half unpublished novels on the shelf, writing has always been an enjoyable pursuit.  But combining the two into a coherent package that flows and holds a reader’s attention while meeting certain criteria is a challenge.  It will be self-published, but it still needs to stay within a few industry guidelines.  Making it all up is one thing.  Making it work is another.

I think I’m in the home stretch.  I just don’t know yet how far it is to the finish line.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob Anglin permalink
    May 29, 2018 12:18 am

    You go, Ralph:

    I am a retired architect, and always enjoyed painting, though my dysgraphia/poor dexterity always left my paintings falling way short of my nuanced aesthetic sensibilities. A number of years ago, a story idea presented itself to me, and after failing to shop the idea around to my writer friends, one told me that I have to write my own “damned” book. Aside from the afrontary of calling it a “damned” book, I worried that I knew NOTHING about the craft of writing.

    Initially, I was doing what I now call “trying to drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake”. I gave up in utter despair. Recently, I have been taking classes in creative writing, and am gradually getting better at writing (it is very similar to leveling up as a painter, by doing it often, and getting in more mileage).

    I am finally getting excited about my historical fiction project, and discovering that words never fail me,while my poor hand-dexterity often fails me in my paintings. While I LOVE both activities, I sense my tales may have a higher potential arc of trajectory.

    I will keep painting gouache plein air works when i travel, but the fiction project(s) are already becoming more promising. By the way… No… I will NOT attempt illustrating my fiction. In fact, I plan for no illustration, and fret about cover design if I ever get to the point of publishing. That will be a nice problem to have. I wish you luck. Rob

    • May 30, 2018 5:57 pm

      Hi Rob,
      I love hearing from people pursuing creative projects. I am always amazed at how many irons James Gurney has in the fire at one time. I’ve committed (to myself) that I won’t start anything else until I finish this book. I hit a milestone today. I’ve finally got all the text written and while the illustrations are not completely finished, I think they are all at least in the preliminary drawing stage. My biggest fan and toughest critic (my wife) read the first draft in page layout form, with the illustrations. She gave it high marks. With that milestone under my belt, I’ll finish the illustrations and then let my 8 year old grandson read the book. If he okays it, the next step is to get a draft copy printed and let my kindergarten teacher daughter-in-law read it. This thing has been in the works for way too long. I’m ready to get it done.
      Nice to hear from you!
      All the best, Ralph

      • Rob Anglin permalink
        May 30, 2018 7:09 pm


        I know about such projects taking too long.

        I started my career with two years as a Site Planner. The Master Plan for the mile-square R& D campus was semi-fulfilling our vision by the time I retired as an architect at the same place over 3 decades later. That is too-long of a fruition period for most creative ventures. My architectural designs had much shorter gestation periods…3 to 8-years down to as short as a few weeks, so my gratification of seeing it go from concept to execution was more satisfying, though still in a similar time-realm as these literary pursuits.

        I nearly gave-up writing from my tendency to be overly self critical in early efforts. My wife (artist Carolyn Lord) is a reader, yet very restrained in giving me any useful feedback in my writing… so I am “on my own” and seeking feedback from fellow writers in my classes.

        Market testing your boardbook with your grandson and kindergarten-teacher daughter is the right plan, and having a wife who will offer critiques and praise (as Carolyn does offer in my painting efforts) really helps.

        Do you know John Weiss? He is a painter/cartoonist/blogger who often writes for FASO… AND is a retired ex Police Chief. He is the only other writer/artist I have encountered, though there must be others out there. John and I have cultivated a bit of an online friendship, and we give each other encouragement. I have followed his blogs, and we finally met last year at the Plein Air Convention in San Diego. It turned out that we knew friends in-common through Rotary (he used to live 30-miles from us) and was in the same Rotary District in which I used to be prominently active at District-level. No more Rotary for me… but more writing and painting (yay).

        Keep going at writing and painting. I’ll keep an eye peeled for your reports here on your blog.

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