Agent Monday: Halloween Treat – Behind the Scenes with Illustrator Lee Harper

TTTCoverHappy Agent Monday – Halloween style! For a special treat, I’m excited to have a guest post from our talented client, author/illustrator Lee Harper. He’s going to take you into his studio for a behind the scenes look at how he created the images for Wendi Silvano’s too-funny TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT (Two Lions). Lee’s currently hard at work illustrating the sequel to Leslie Helakoski’s wonderful WOOLBUR picture book, titled WOOLBUR GETS READY FOR SCHOOL (Harper Collins). To see his portfolio, and get info on his books,  visit his website here.

****LAST MINUTE UPDATE! I just found out that TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT is read aloud by Scandal’s actor Guillermo Diaz on the show BOOK-A-BOO. The reading has fun animations and is available for streaming here.  Perfect treat for kiddos of all ages. 😉

Okay, take it away, Lee!

Tricks Behind Illustrating Turkey Trick or Treat
by Lee Harper

After I received the manuscript for Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trick or Treat, I started by filling up sketchbooks with drawings. In the beginning, I let the story and my imagination take me wherever they wanted to take me without worrying about how it would all come together. A lot of the character development happened during the sketchbook drawing stage. There were a lot of animal characters to develop.

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There were also a lot of human characters to develop, each with their own costume.

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All the characters needed to look like they belonged to the same reality.

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Only a small percentage of my early stage drawings made it into the book.  As a result, I have a vast collection of storyless characters as this illustration shows.

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I mixed in some experimental painting during the drawing process to make sure the drawings would work in color. This sheriff turkey didn’t make it into the book but gave Wendi an idea for another turkey story!

When I had a general idea of the characters and an overall visual theme in mind, I started the dummy by creating a storyboard with thumbnail sketches on Post-its. At this time I also gave myself a drawing schedule that kept me moving along. I like to do this part fast, in one fell swoop. Details can wait for later.

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The great thing about storyboarding with Post-its is you can quickly mix and match images —like putting together a puzzle — and because each drawing is small, it’s impossible to delve prematurely into too many details.

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When the storyboard was done, I began a more detailed dummy by drawing each individual element of each page, scanning it, and placing it in Photoshop.

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I then arranged all the elements of each page, including the text. Since each element of the drawings was an individual layer in Photoshop, I could easily re-arrange things and make revisions.

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Once I had all the drawings completed, I saved each two-page spread as a JPEG file and created a PDF dummy to email to my editor and art director at Two Lions. After revising the sketches according to their notes, I printed out the pages 10% larger than actual size and traced them onto watercolor paper using a light table.

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After the lightly drawn drawing was complete, I soaked the watercolor paper with water and stretched it on a board to keep the paper flat during painting.

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While painting I referred to photo-reference material I collected during the drawing stage. I needed to show the farmer’s feet in one of the illustrations so I photographed my son Dan’s pants and boots. (There’s nobody in there.)

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This is the illustration with the boots and pants.

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Because Turkey Trick or Treat was the third in a series of books about the same character, I regularly referred to the first two books to make sure I kept things somewhat consistent.

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Here’s my watercolor palette while I was working. This is actually the first book in which I use a black pigment. Usually I make darks by mixing other colors, but for Turkey Trick or Treat I wanted a very pitch-black sky.

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I have an unusual painting process that involves spraying a mist of water in the air and swinging the painting through the mist. It eliminates hard edges.

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Here’s a painting under construction.

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And finally, an illustration comes to life.

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Thanks so much, Lee, for giving us such a great behind the scenes look into your studio and fun creative world!

Happy Halloween, everyone. And keep your eyes peeled tonight for Turkey trying to steal some of your treats!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Drawn from my Art Background

Sketch from Marie's England journal

In some way or other, aspects of my own life seep into my novels. And in my new paranormal YA novel Drawn you will find it’s the artist in me.  Like in these lines from the novel:

“I sit on a wooden pew in the back row, flip open my pad and lose myself in my sketch.

Things make sense when I draw. Everything is angles and texture and relationships.”

Like Michelle in this novel, I’m a very visual person. I notice the slant of an eyebrow, the curl of someone’s hair along their neck, the slightest twist at the corner of a mouth. In college I double-majored in English and in Literary Art, which was a major I created that blended creative writing and fine art.  My plan was to become a writer/illustrator, but since then I’ve been all writer.  The artist side of me has always been within me, though, lurking.

As an artist, I tend to unconsciously sketch the lines of things I see. You might find the pointer finger of my left hand (southpaw, here) tracing the lines of what I see onto my lap or on a tabletop.  And as a writer, this “mental sketching” naturally filters into my writing. I’m always making connections about what things look like.  It filters into my scenery, like in this part of my novel when Michelle is describing a graveyard she’s walking through:

I like St. Paul’s because you enter its yard through a little wooden gateway with a peaked roof. The roof leans to the left and the gate makes a horror-movie squeak when you open it. Best of all, the graveyard is filled with stones in varying stages of decay. Tall ones lean forward or backward like giant levers that have been pushed or pulled. And full-sized carved stone images of knights in armor on top of marble slabs look like they’d laid down for a nap and froze into place for a few hundred years. Closest to the tiny church are the oldest graves. Words washed away by time. Stones cracked and crumbling. My favorite stones are the ones that look like giant gingerbread noblemen resting on the ground. Their arms and legs are separated from their bodies as if they’d been soaked in milk for too long.

And it shapes my character descriptions, too:

He rubs his chin. “Yet there is something, indeed. And you wield some power over me. I feel it.”

I shake my head but I think there is something about him. Christopher has this rugged appeal that makes even William Wallingford ordinary in comparison. I can’t seem to look away. It’s as if I’m studying him for a portrait. I notice he tends to raise his chin. The very corners of his mouth curve up, making him seem slightly arrogant. And his eyes. Their light color gives them endless depth. Yet they seem so full of…of what?

Longing.

I glance away, surprised.

Of course the fun here is that Michelle actually is an artist too. This means I can use her powers of observation to shape what the reader sees, and her drawing skills are integral to the plot.  Through her drawings she starts to channel what is either a ghost or a delusion. And her ability to notice details ultimately helps her to put together the pieces in an ancient mystery.  It also presents a great opportunity for me as the writer to create some beautiful images, especially of the guy Michelle is so drawn to:

I take a deep breath and open the door. The flickering fire in the small stone hearth casts a shadowy light. Christopher is in his bed asleep. I close the door and press my back against it. My eyes fill with grateful tears. I’m not too late.

He is bare-chested, a sheet covering him just below his arms. His one arm is flung over his head and his chin is turned toward the fire. The coin he took from me hangs on a chain around his neck, a silvery orb resting in the hollow of his throat. I quietly set my bag beside the door, peel off my sweater and crouch beside the bed, wincing from my sore knees. But what do sore knees matter? He’s here and he’s real and he’s safe and he’s even more beautiful than I’d remembered. I’m glad he’s asleep so I can look closely at him without embarrassment. The pout of his lips. The curl of his dark lashes. His flexed bicep. I long to touch him but can’t bear to wake him.

I’ll draw him.

I’ll draw him…  With Drawn, it’s as close as I’ve come to being the writer/illustrator I’d once envisioned I’d become.  I did draw the book’s cover myself, which is a pencil sketch painted with India ink. I guess in a way I am a writer/illustrator and always have been. Just painting images with words.

And hoping you, as the reader, are seeing what I see.

Happy reads,

Marie