Sunday, June 24, 2007

Artist Respect Boundaries

ALABloggingWhen a children’s picture book is created there are usually three integral people involved: the writer, the illustrator, and the editor. The editor acts as middleman with a slightly different twist. He gets input from both parties but doesn’t confer with the other. In essence, all information is fed to him, but he doesn’t dole it back out. Thus an innocent little 32-page book is created without the writer and illustrator communicating. For example, the very popular Miss Bindergarten Kindergarten series, illustrated by Ashley Wolff, shocked writer Joseph Slate when his human characters appeared as animals.

It is a rare occasion when collaboration occurs between writer and illustrator, with the exception of married teams. This is why Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) program, Collaboration Techniques Between Authors & Artists: The Inside Story of How Picture Books are Created, was extremely interesting.

The speakers consisted of HarperCollins writer, Eloise Greenfield and illustrator, Jan Spivey Gilchrist; Farrar Straus & Giroux writer, Eric Kimmel and illustrator, Leonard Everett Fisher; and Bloomsbury/Walker Books writers/illustrators, Kevin O’Malley and Patrick O’Brien.

All brought to the audience a well rounded program, but admitted they respect the other's space. Mrs. Greenfield elegantly stated, "they [Greenfield & Gilchrist] collaborate on all books, but they are strict not to comment on the other's work." Kimmel and Fisher admit to swapping jokes when they are on the phone, instead of talking shop. The O’Malley/O’Brien collaboration began because the two are related by marriage and it "seemed like a good idea," but they too tend to banter on the phone.

It is with respect they all maintain a healthy distance from their mutual artistic partners. Very obvious, from the ease at which they are all in the same room, at the same tables, that friendship abounds. Kimmel explained their connection as, "being on the same wavelength." Gilchrist trust Greenfield enough to paint a whole book without ever having words to consult. The book, Sweet Baby Coming, is a poem of expectation written after the artwork arrived.

I think Kimmel explained the collaboration process the best with his storyteller analogy. As a young summer volunteer, Kimmel spent his salad days telling stories at his local public library. (He also claims this storytelling is the key to his successful writing.) He soon realized the characters and scenes he was describing, actually appeared totally different in the heads of his listeners. No one is ever wrong when interpreting a story, including illustrators.

5 comments: