Setting Sail with Steve Light

h1 January 26th, 2016 by jules



 

If I think of children’s book illustrators working today and style—that is, their manner of expression as determined by their use of line, color, shape, texture, etc.—I think author-illustrator Steve Light has one of the most distinctive styles, a you-can-spot-it-from-outer-space kind of style. In particular, his line is terrifically distinctive, and he’s visited 7-Imp several times to share his pen-and-ink sketches and artwork — and to show off those lines at my request.

Steve’s latest book is called Swap! (Candlewick), and it will be released in early February. It’s good stuff, and if you don’t believe me, trust me when I say it’s already garnered some starred professional reviews. It’s a sweet, but never saccharine, story of friendship. A young boy (the jacket flap refers to the child as “he,” though one of my daughters thought it was a girl, and I like this about that character), with a peg for a leg, sets out to cheer up a friend, a sea captain whose ship is falling apart. Through a series of barters, starting with the trade of a button for a teacup, the child helps fix up the ship for his friend. And it’s through these barters that the adventures occur and readers meet a cast of wonderful sea-side characters — from tattooed burly men drinking tea; to a get-it-done female blacksmith, forging anchors; and just about everything else in between.

The hand-drawn illustrations were created using a fountain pen and then hand-colored, using inks and gouache. Steve gives color to our two main characters, as well as the items they’re trading. And the blue! O! The blue, blue ocean on most of the spreads is simply lovely. As always, readers are treated to elegant, detailed drawings, the kind you could pore over for days. Also, be sure to remove the dustjacket to see the surprises on both the front and back cover. (The endpapers are also delicious.)

I’ve got two spreads from the book at the bottom of this post, but before that, Steve visits to share lots of process images — with commentary to boot. I thank him for sharing.

Enjoy!

 

Steve: Swap! started with me wanting to draw sailing ships. But not actual ones, more fanciful ones. As I researched ships, I got introduced to trade and shipping routes and such. I know I wanted these two characters, a boy and a pirate/salty dog, to go different exotic places in their ship. Then I thought of how kids love to trade stuff, from lunches to baseball cards — and Swap! was born.

 


“The first drawing I made of the pirate in the story”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“An early color sketch — I started getting obsessed with that blue!”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“Character drawings of the hat-makers.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“Pirates drinking tea. Pinkies up!”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“The figurehead goes on the front of the ship. Most figureheads are bare-chested, because the sailors thought that would calm the rough seas. As this is a children’s book, the mermaids and figureheads are all covered.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“More color studies. The blue was always there, but at one point I thought of everything else in the picture being monochromatic and changing that color with each spread. It really did not work, as the characters were then changing color and some of the line work was getting lost. So, we went with the blue of the sea, plus the characters being full-color and the things traded being in color. A very elegant solution.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“One of the first sketches of the main characters.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“Another sketch of the two main characters,
seeing if I could get the right emotions across.”

(Click to enlarge)


 




“These are pages from my sketchbook, sketching out each page. These are very close to the finished pieces. You can see the notations of color next to each one. Even though I work in limited color, color is very important to me. And I am constantly planning the color sequence of each page turn.”
(Click each to enlarge)


 



“This is an example of the work put into which color will be used and how it would work with that blue of the sea. I really was obsessed with this blue color
during the making of this book.”

(Click each to enlarge)


 



“These are sketches of each page of Swap! and how much blue would be used in each spread. They are all designed after Ellsworth Kelly’s work. I love his big graphic paintings. This is how far my obsession with ‘smalt blue’ [went].
Yes, it has a name, and it is smalt blue.”

(Click each to enlarge)


 





“Pencil sketches of the characters. A few of these were used on
the dustjacket flap.”

(Click each to enlarge)


 


“A full-size color, finished piece. While the green, I thought, worked well, even if the characters were that color, when I tried other colors, it failed.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“An early attempt to do the other colors in a loose watercolor, then ink over it. A lot of the detail got lost, though. So, I left all that stuff just black and white. I love the graphic quality of black and white with color, especially smalt blue!”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“Early pen-and-ink finished drawing.”
(Click to enlarge)


 








“This is a small, page-turning dummy I made to really see the progression of the story. These were Xeroxed sketches from [my] sketchbook, glued into a little stapled book.”
(Click each to enlarge)


 


“A pencil tracing of the final spread. I needed the boat just right, so I lightboxed this pencil tracing and inked it on the lightbox. My whole desk is a giant lightbox —
very useful.”

(Click to enlarge)


 


“A finished piece of art that is not in the book. This was done to show my art director — and for me to get comfortable with the style and pen I was using. I used a fountain pen to ink the lines with a flex nib. A flex nib gives you thicker lines the more pressure you apply. You can see the different thickness of line in the drawings.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“I designed the type for the cover. I love playing with type.
These are some of the tracing pencils I did.”

(Click to enlarge)


 

Swap! was so much fun to make. I love drawing ships and crazy places and maps.

Also, people always ask if I draw from the models I make. I don’t. I mostly make them to see my drawings come to life. And it’s fun! And it keeps me thinking about the book while I’m doing something else besides drawing. It gives my mind a change of pace, so I can figure things out, and keeps me busy while I wait for sketches to be approved, etc. My model of Zephyr’s flying machine from my book Zephyr Takes Flight is hanging in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which is a dream come true, so I guess I’ll keep making them.

The Mermaid figurehead [below] was made to show my editor and art director what it would look like — that it would look like it was made of wood and not the “real” mermaid strapped to the ship. I guess my sketches of the mermaid figurehead were too rough. So, I made this model and drew pictures of how I was going to draw it in the final art — and they were convinced.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 


Final art from the book
(Click to see spread in its entirety)


 


Another final spread from the book
(Click to enlarge)


 

My book launch party will be at Books of Wonder on February 13 from 1-3 p.m. Everyone is invited.

* * * * * * *

SWAP. Copyright © 2016 by Steve Light. Final art reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. All other images reproduced by permission of Steve Light.

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on Tumblr




12 comments to “Setting Sail with Steve Light”

  1. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you!!


  2. Can’t wait to own this!


  3. Steve, I LOVED seeing your process. The models you made for the book are equally as wonderful as your drawings. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I adore that ship – Well done STEVE! I loved seeing your sketches!


  5. You are so inspiring…and you make me want to draw, draw, draw!! I read Swap at ALA a few weeks ago and loved it (and the blue!)– can’t wait to own a copy.


  6. Fantastic! Love seeing your process. Thank you!


  7. So fab!


  8. Fantastic! Thank you so much for the process imagery and a peek into Swap!’s obsessions. Smalt!


  9. Wow! This is all so cool. Thank you so much for sharing your process — I love everything about this interview!


  10. Brilliant and beautiful work! Love it.


  11. This was so much fun to see! I love that you shared the color planning process, your teeny tiny book dummy, and the sculptures, too! I always enjoy the energy of your drawings. So generous of you to share, and much appreciated! Great interview!


  12. Awesome, loved what you showed and the progression. Keep me posted when it appears.
    thanks


Leave a Comment


Note from your webmaster: we are testing a recaptcha solution to address recent spam aggression.
Should you have trouble posting, please contact sevenimp_blaine@blaine.org. Thanks.