Laying the Foundation for a Great Picture Book

h1 January 11th, 2013 by jules

One of Jonathan’s early studies from the book
(Click to enlarge)

I love this post so much, and it’s all thanks to author/illustrator Jonathan Bean.

Last week over at Kirkus, I wrote about his newest picture book, Building Our House, released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux this month. (That link is here.) I discussed why I really like this book, but today I’m here to follow up with some art from the book.

I always do this, as I get twitchy if I don’t get to share art. (Pictured right is a cutting from one of the book’s spreads.)

However, Jonathan also went out of his way today (I’m yelling that in excitement) to share early studies, sketches, some process shots, and even photos of his family building this house back in the ’70s. There’s even more than all that.

For all this, I raise my coffee mug to Mr. Bean. Sharing lots of images that show us picture book fans (me and my imp’y readers) how a book was made is how you win over this blogger. Shoot, I’ll even buy him a cup of coffee if I ever meet him in person. And a cookie, if he wants one.

Let’s get right to it. There’s lots of good stuff to see here, especially if you like his style, his art, his books—all of the above—as much as I do.

Note: Jonathan also visited The Horn Book recently for their five-questions series. That link is here. Best part? Roger Sutton asks, “What is the most useful home repair tip you know?” to which Jonathan replies, “I know from personal experience that humming a soothing melody helps unclog a drain.”

* * * Early Studies * * *
(Click each to enlarge)



* * * Storyboards * * *
(Click each to enlarge)



* Photos (1970s) of House’s Construction *


(Click to enlarge)



* * * Some Process Images (Cover) * * *
(Click each to enlarge)



* * * More Process Images * * *
(Click each to enlarge)


“Our big crew moves everything into the house.
When Mom and Dad are busy, I show the crew where things go.”


* * * Another Set of Process Images * * *
(Click each to enlarge)


“Once the moving is done everyone goes back to their homes,
but my family stays right where we are.
It’s our very first night in our new home.”


* * * Editor Feedback * * *
(Click each to enlarge)



* * * Watercoloring * * *
(Click each to enlarge)


Jonathan: For this project, I had the line work printed on watercolor paper and then watercolored them in, like a glorified coloring book. A blessing, because I could redo them, if needed. A curse, because I could redo them ad nauseam, which I did! I didn’t end up using any of those beam.jpgs for the book. I’m hard pressed to explain why, now.


* * * Final Art * * *


Front endpages
(Click to enlarge)

“Today is moving day. We left our old house in the city
and are moving to the country.”

(Click to enlarge)

“My family makes up a strong crew of four and we have a truck named Willys.
My brother helps Dad carry the tools. ‘The right tools for the right job,’ says Dad.
I help Mom carry plans. ‘A good plan for a good house,’ says Mom.
Willys carries everything else.”

(Click to enlarge)

“On a clear, cold night Dad sets the corners of the foundation by the North Star. One wall will face north to ward off the wind, one east to welcome the morning,
one south to soak in the sun, and one west to see out the day.”

“When the concrete hardens, the form comes down and the foundation stands solid.
My brother helps Dad inspect the lumber.
‘Strong lumber for a strong frame,’ says Dad. …”

(Click to enlarge)

“A frame-raising party! Everyone visits. My grandfather and grandmother, my aunts and uncles and cousins, my other grandfather and grandmother, my great-grandfather, our neighbors, and the workers from the sawmill and quarry
make up a big frame-raising crew.”

(Click to enlarge)

“But this year the first frost arrives early. The cold rains fall early. The icy winds that carry the heavy snow blow early. The bad weather slows our work but doesn’t stop it.”
(Click to enlarge)


Photos of the House’s Beam Replacement (2012)

The house’s floor plan
(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

BUILDING OUR HOUSE. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Bean. Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Jonathan Bean.

25 comments to “Laying the Foundation for a Great Picture Book”

  1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing everything!

  2. Wow! As a former architect and current PB writer/illustrator, and someone married to a former timber frame designer, I have a huge amount of appreciation for all of these wonderful, wonderful images. Love Jonathan Bean’s work already, and this is just more proof of his wonderfulness!

  3. This is wonderful! Oh how I love those early photos of his family 1970’s house building. You never know when seeds are planted for a story!! Thanks for posting!

  4. Oh, wow…wow…wow…this is a marvelous post. Thanks Jonathan and Jules. I have to have this book now.

  5. What great process photos and a wonderful, interesting book!

  6. Love the drawings!

  7. My parents designed and helped build our house in the late 50s. Nothing like this, but this brought back memories. I loved the process drawings-seeing Jonathan finding, in my case often groping, his was way towards the very best solution to an illustration challenge. That is what most people don’t realize-that the right picture is not obvious, it just seems so to the viewer after enormous effort and hard choices have been made. Thanks Jules, and Bravo Jonathan.

  8. What a lovely book! This is one of the best start-to-finish examples I’ve ever seen. And Jonathan’s color studies are beautiful enough to be finishes! Very inspiring!

  9. Such a treat to see so much of Jonathan’s process! Love that the endpages showed the lot where the house would be built. Beautiful!

  10. Absolutely love this — such a great post. Also, those paper bag costumes are the best.

  11. This is so great. Thanks Jules and Jonathan for sharing! I must have this book. My dad built my childhood home much in this same way!

  12. “Laying the foundation,” indeed! What a beautifully constructed picture book. And what a joy to see how it grew from the evocative early sketches. Much thanks to Jules and Jonathan for this inspiring feast of a post.

  13. Love this! Thanks so much, Jonathan and Jules, for this post. Can’t wait to see the book.

  14. I love this book and this posting so much I want to marry them! (I know Jules will appreciate this) I have been a fan since Jonathan’s first book–and I am still a fan.
    Something in that School of Visual Arts water…

  15. Amazing! I just spent about a half an hour looking over all of this… I am such a sucker for the process and LOVE seeing how other writers/illustrators go from blank dummy to final images! Love this post and thank you for sharing!

  16. Every once in a while, a story makes my insides warm up. “Heart-warming” sounds inadequate, cliché. So I guess I’ll say that this post is “spleen-warming.” Thank you for sharing!

  17. Thanks, all, and big thanks again to Jonathan.

    Spleen-warming. I like it a lot.

  18. I’m so glad I happened upon your blog and saw this terrific post. I’m making a note of this book-to-get. Thanks for sharing the process in words and pictures!

  19. This is rad!! I love seeing process photos but this post was super thorough and the sensibilities of the pages and showing all the cut-through shots of the house with the family’s interactions were really endearing… nice!!

  20. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Laying the Foundation for a Great Picture Book […]

  21. Love all the documentation of the process. Awesome post. Thank you for sharing all the details and photos.

  22. This is so interesting to see the entire process of illustrating this book. Very interesting. I am an art teacher and think that maybe someday, I’d like to try to illustrate some of my writing… So posts like this are very helpful! And the art work is lovely. Thanks!

  23. […] To add to the high interest subject, this book is based on a true story. Bean’s parents built their own house using the same process in the book, although it took five years instead of one and a half. In an author’s note at the back, Bean provides pictures of the process, including one of himself standing among the rocks and boards of the basement. For people who would like to learn more about the back story of the book, Bean shares fantastic storyboards, early sketches and  even more photos over at the blog Seven Impossible Things. […]

  24. Wow!!! I learned a lot and felt better as a struggling picture book maker.

  25. […] a lovely, in-depth description of Jonathan’s process of creating this book, read Jules’ marvelous interview with him at Seven Impossible Things.  Illustrator-types, you will love […]

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