I was scrolling through Facebook in April of last year when I saw Julia’s post about writing a children’s book. Without thinking twice I clicked comment and let her know that I would be happy to help. I have always considered myself an artist but since college I’ve only dabbled in it here and there. I’ve always wanted an excuse to dive back in and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“I’d love to take a stab at illustrating! For fun! If it’s bad, you can find a professional :)”, I said, already lacking confidence. I was nervous but I wanted to try and, more importantly, I wanted to help.
Quitting before I had even started.
After meeting with Julia for breakfast and brainstorming, we turned her comic book style sketch into the rough draft of the story. That was it, pressure was on - we had a story and needed illustrations to go with it! I could feel her excitement and I knew I had to deliver! I began sketching that evening and within an hour, I was nearly in tears. I really wanted to uphold my commitment, but I had to be honest with myself… I was not that good at drawing characters. It quickly dawned on me that the style of illustrations needed for this book were not at all my style of art and I simply wasn’t sure I could do it. I started googling children’s book images and characters. I drew and erased, drew some more… and erased some more. I snuck into my son’s room while he was sleeping and looked through some of his books. Everything just looked so polished and professional. I couldn’t do anything worth publishing, that was for sure… and so I began thinking about how to break the news to Julia.
Maybe I can do this after all.
I started typing out a text to her to let her know that I was backing out. I felt awful, but I was just being realistic. As I typed out the text, my frustration about the situation grew. I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I put my phone down and flipped through some random TV channels and gave myself an hour or so to think it over. After some time, I picked up my pencil instead of my phone and started over. To my surprise, eventually I came up with something that I was pretty happy with. She was cute and even resembled Eliza in a cartoon sorta way. This could work, I thought. Maybe I really can do this. I cleared out the text I had started to send to Julia and sent a photo of my pencil sketch instead. When she responded enthusiastically I knew I had to keep trying, but I was truly overwhelmed at what I had gotten myself into and lacked ZERO confidence that I could reproduce this cute little cartoon girl (let alone create her parents and their girlfriends) doing things like camping and reading. I went to bed that night nervous, a little frustrated with myself for committing to something I had no business doing, and pretty sure it wouldn’t ever come together in the way Julia was hoping. I hadn’t given up yet though, and I would try again in a few days.
Who has time for this?!
Over the next several months I worked on drawing one illustration at a time. I started with the easier ones and it usually took me multiple attempts and/or days to complete one drawing. I would have 30 minutes here, 20 minutes there. I even brought my sketch pad on a business trip and spent 45 minutes in flight drawing before I needed to get out my laptop and prep for the meeting I was headed to.
It was rare that I had a full evening to dedicate to drawing, which was frustrating. If I DID have a free evening, sometimes I was just too tired to be creative. I was going through a lot - I had recently moved out and was dealing with my own divorce situation, had a lot going on at work and wanted to spend as much quality time with my son as I could. While I didn’t always have the energy to work on the illustrations, it was always on my mind - I wanted to do it, I knew I had to do it, and yet - it was taking forever to get done. Frustrating!
People don't really need heads, do they?
At times, I looked for creative ways to get around the more difficult parts of the project. In fact, I even texted Julia multiple times asking if it would be acceptable if the characters simply didn’t have heads. I mean… we all knew they were people… how important was it for them to have actual faces?! I was joking in a “haha, but I wish it were really true” sorta way. I enjoyed some aspects of drawing (like flowers and hearts), and completely agonized over others (like heads and hands). I was constantly reminded of the fact that I was drawing in a style that was not my own and while I really just wanted to draw a fun colorful heart on each page, I knew I had to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone and draw people with… you know… faces (uhg, details). There were days where I flipped through the blank pages that still needed illustrations, and felt the anxiety creep in. I got frustrated, I got angry, and the whole thing was just so much more work than I ever anticipated. But once I hit about 5 completed drawings, I was committed. It didn’t matter how frustrated I was, I had to keep going (and here is where I should put in a big thanks to Chris - who I vented to on a regular basis and who always responded with encouragement regardless of how ridiculous I was being. We all need that person in our lives when something feels challenging, and Chris is definitely that person in mine. So... Thank you Chris!)
The struggle is real.
As I drew, I wondered in the back of my head how this would all translate into a printed
book. I was using colored pencils on a cheap sketchbook. Some things didn’t blend or erase well and there were imperfections all over the place. I was worried that all my efforts would be for nothing if I couldn’t scan and edit things appropriately. About 6 or 7 drawings in, I came to the now obvious realization that writing in the text on the illustrations was a really stupid thing to do. Of course, the text would need to be erased off of the illustrations so that printed text could be added. I took some graphic design classes in college but I knew I didn’t have the expertise needed to remove drawn on lettering over grass and flowers that I’d colored in the background. So, I enlisted some help from a friend of a friend and went to Kinkos to scan my work. Seeing the illustrations on a computer screen was a big moment for me. It was starting to feel real and, for the first time, I felt a small sense of accomplishment and pride. Unfortunately that didn’t last long when I realized that I had spent far too much time and money scanning the drawings in at the wrong resolution. So, I went back to Kinkos and tried again only to learn… again… that they were scanned at the wrong resolution. Yep, I did the exact same thing wrong twice. “Screw it” I thought and just paid someone else to do it for me. Eventually, I won! The scans were at the right resolution and my friend’s friend cropped my drawings and removed the text. Getting closer!
The drawings are complete!
Several more months passed and then the big day arrived. I had one drawing left and I was practically shaking as I finished it. That moment when I put down the pencil for the last time and sat back and looked at the final drawing is one that I won’t forget any time soon. As painful as the process felt at times, the feeling of accomplishment was equally as overwhelming. Not only had I completed 24 illustrations for a children’s book, but more importantly - I finished something that I had nearly given up on several times. To accomplish something that once felt impossible is an experience we should all have. I was just so damn proud and happy and I quickly ran to Kinkos to scan the last set. I texted Julia. I posted to Facebook. I went to the bar… I deserved a drink!
Julia came over to my apartment shortly after I completed the drawings for a “girls night” that I was hosting. Several friends were over and she asked to see the drawings. It was the first time that she had seen them all together and it actually brought tears to her eyes. It was in that moment that I realized that it was all worth it and that what I had accomplished was important and meaningful and very special. I’m honored that she asked me to help with something that is so close to her heart, and I finally - after many long months of agonizing over those dang drawings - felt like I had done a good job and like my illustrations were worthy of being published. The hard work was done, she was happy with the outcome, and now we could submit everything to the publisher!!
Unfortunately, this was just the start of a complicated process. I won’t go into all the details, but there were manuscript submissions, design reviews and a handful of complications and frustrations along the way. The big one was realizing that all my efforts trying to scan the illustrations in correctly at Kinkos was a waste of time and energy after all. Turns out that not all scanners are created equal and to get true to life scans worthy of book publishing, you need to fork over significantly more money and use a fine art scanner. Fortunately the company we found to do the scanning was also able to re-crop, clean up and remove the text from the originals (phew!). When I saw the new scans, and I uploaded them all to one place and clicked through them, I was so much happier with the results. The new scanned images have since been turned into a formal proof with the the cover and text and it’s been an incredible experience to see my work go from a messy pencil sketch to a complete and colorful book proof. It means a lot to look at the final proof and reflect back on the many emotions I went through since I started. I can only imagine how I will feel when I hold a printed copy in my hands.