Do you remember reading here, 7-Impers, all about Kate Berube? When I posted that back in 2013, she was not yet published. That is, incidentally, one of my very favorites of the up-and-coming illustrator posts.
Well, Kate’s debut picture book is out. I’ve got a review (it’s here) at BookPage. It’s called Hannah and Sugar and was released by Abrams this month. As a follow-up, Kate visits today to talk about the book and share early images and art, etc. “Generally,” she says, “I will draw and draw and draw a character until I find one that strikes me. This [pictured left] was that drawing for Hannah.”
Let’s get right to it. I thank Kate for sharing. I really enjoyed reading her thoughts and, especially, seeing her preliminary images. (And I can’t wait to see what she does next.)
Kate: I’m happiest drawing in burnt umber ink with washes, so that’s how I made most of the studies for Hannah and Sugar. These are the earliest drawings of Hannah. Apparently, my biggest concern at this point was the size of her feet.
Below are studies for some of the other characters. Sugar is based on my own dog, also named Sugar, but the real Sugar has only one eye. The Sugar in the book had one eye at first as well, but I quickly realized it wasn’t helping the story and was difficult to draw. Poor odd Eleanor did not make it into the book. Maybe she’ll show up in another story someday.
At one point, the story included a nightmare Hannah had about Sugar, and this was how Sugar looked in it. I had this drawing hanging up in my studio the whole time I worked on the book. It’s how I imagine Hannah sees Sugar at the very beginning.
The first dummy was made up of very quick loose drawings, like these below. Many of them are awkward and unpleasant, but there are a few gems.
I’m always trying to produce final art with this sort of feel. It’s very tricky to do, though, because you also have to focus on keeping the characters consistent and you often have to draw the same spread over and over many times, both of which make it very easy to lose the touch. I’m now working on my third picture book, and I’ve found this is the thing about making art for picture books I’m the most fascinated with and frustrated by. I imagine I’ll be thinking about this problem forever.
I’m tempted to only share sketches that turned out lovely with you. But it’s important to remind myself and anyone else trying to make a book about how many bad drawings it takes to get to the good ones. So, here’s a very early and unsuccessful color attempt.
When I was in art school there was a girl we called “the painting machine.” She made tons and tons of work. I asked her about it one day, and she told me that it was because she wasn’t afraid to make a bad painting. This blew my mind. I was terrified of making bad paintings! And I probably still am. But now I don’t let that fear keep me from making experimental decisions. Because the most interesting things come out of being experimental and free. Sometimes they aren’t very pretty, but you always learn something.
And every day after school, Hannah said, ‘No, thank you.'”
(Click to enlarge)
Most of the compositions from the first dummy were changed over time. But a couple spreads stayed pretty much the same. This is one of the only compositions I’ve ever come up with in my head with no sketching. I always expect every page to work like this, and 99% of the time I’m wrong. Usually, I have to draw a ton of different things that aren’t right and, through drawing, eventually come around to something that works. So, looking at this early sketch makes me feel happy and a little smug, but probably it’s lulling me into some delusions about what to expect for my next book.
I took pictures of my neighbors’ houses for reference. So, this is very much a Portland neighborhood. All the drawings in the dummy I submitted to publishers were painted ink washes like this. It’s perhaps more developed than a typical sketch dummy. But since I hadn’t been published before, I wanted to show what I intended to do with the values. I have a background in observational painting, so I like to think about how the light will fall in my illustrations.
Here’s the finished spread:
(Click to enlarge)
Below is a more typical spread progression. This is the first super quickly-drawn dummy. There were lots of changes and redrawing (and rewriting) to get to the final result.
I moved the moment when she heard the sound to the next page. And I created the page of stars for when she was thinking about how Sugar feels.
Below is the finished spread. I have to give credit to my excellent editor, Tamar Brazis, and art director, Chad Beckerman, for suggesting this change. They are so smart! It’s been great working with editors and art directors. They have so much experience and knowledge, and all the books I’ve worked on so far have really benefited from the collaborative process.
She decided that it would be scary and that if she were lost
she would be sad and probably hungry.”
(Click to enlarge)
Below is the cover for the second picture book I’ve worked on, The Summer Nick Taught His Cats To Read, written by Curtis Manley. It comes out in July from Paula Wiseman Books. This story is so charming! It’s all about books and reading and also cats!
And [below]: The tiniest sneak peek of what I’m working on now for Putnam Books. It’s called My Little Half Moon and is written by Douglas Todd Jennerich. I’m playing with some collage in this one, which is really fun. This is a unique and beautiful story about a child who talks to the moon. I really love it.
I’m also working on another book for Abrams, which I’m writing and illustrating. I have nothing to share just yet, but it will be similar in feel to Hannah and Sugar.
Thanks so much for letting me share these images with you, Jules! It’s been fun for me to go back and be reminded of all the work it took me to get to the finished book. And thanks for writing such a great blog! It’s a treasure. I love reading about how other illustrators work and seeing all the gorgeous art.
HANNAH AND SUGAR. Copyright © 2016 by Kate Berube. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York. All images used by permission of Kate Berube.