The Story of “The Story Circle” by Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin.
Smile for the camera, Wendy!

I’m excited to share this post from Wendy Martin, someone who’s art I’ve admired for many years. I love process stories. Whenever I talk to kids about what goes into making a book, either through writing or illustrating, I show them the work-behind-the-work. Why? Because finished books are magical things that look like they leaped out of someone’s head fully formed. And that makes them a little bit intimidating, and a lot a bit inaccessible as “something you could do.” It takes a lot of work to make a book, and I love to show people that that work is made up of attainable steps along the way. Sure, I get it, you can’t draw a straight line and your grammar is broken. That’s why we sketch, draft, and revise!

Here’s how Wendy works wonders. It’s great stuff. Enjoy!


Wendy Martin: Process

Jim asked me to share my art process. I’ll be explaining what I did for one spread of the book.
Upon receiving the story text from the publisher, I start with thumbnail sketches. These are very, very rough ideas of what and where I’ll be placing the image. For “The Story Circle,” I received the text in page breaks already. In some cases, I also have to decide the best way to break the text for the flow of the story.

Story Circle thumbnails.
Story Circle thumbnails.

The next step is to move to a half-size layout sketch in pencil. As you can see, this image changed a lot from my thumbnail.

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Part of this book’s art requirements included unique vignettes for each spread. The vignettes are a visual separation for the English and Spanish text. In this instance, I created a larger version of one of the fish in the full spread art.
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After I nail down how I want the layout sketch to look, I add other details. The background and the turtle and the fish near him are some of the revisions I made in this stage.  There are others, too, small refinements and adjustments. I made sure to keep the area where the text and vignette fall clear. I finish all the pencil sketches and scan them in to send to the publisher for approval.
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After I get editorial comments, I make the changes requested and move on to the next step. Inking. I rescan the changed images. Then, I clean up the scans and enhance the contrast in Photoshop. Now they’re ready to be imported into Illustrator. I do my “inking” in Illustrator. This part of the process takes a lot of the pressure off of me from worrying about ruining the color part and having to start all over again from scratch. In the past, before all this wonderful technology, I used to use a light table to trace the line work onto sheets of watercolor paper, paint it and then ink the lines. So if the watercolor part didn’t work out as I’d like, I’d have to transfer all over again. It’s backbreaking, hand and mind-numbing work. I don’t miss it at all. My last step in this phase is to change the color of the inked lines to a pale shade of one of the main paint colors I have planned for my color palette. In this case it’s a dusty green-gray.
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The color-adjusted inked line art gets printed onto watercolor paper. I stretch and tape the paper to flannel covered canvas boards and paint all the book images in an assembly line fashion. I’ve found this is the best way for me to keep character consistency throughout a book. It was especially important in this case as there were EIGHT repeating characters in the story. 7 students and their teacher.
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These images are again scanned into the computer. I do some final color adjustments and minor retouching in Photoshop, make sure the color profile matches the information I have from the publisher and make low-resolution version of each image to send back to the publisher for approval.
With this book, there were some revisions to the final art once the story was fully translated. Some of my art had type in it and I got my tenses wrong on one of these. I also had to create some matching backgrounds for the end pages. All images are finalized, put in a folder, compressed and sent off to the publisher. Now I wait. And wait. And wait.
I finished the art for “The Story Circle” in mid-May 2015. I received my author copies in April 2016. Nearly a year of waiting!
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The right-hand side of this image also graced the cover of the publishers Spring releases catalog and is reused on the back cover of the book.

Where to get the book:

You can get “The Story Circle” direct from the publisher, or through Amazon.

The Blog Tour Continues!

Here’s the schedule for the continuing adventures of Wendy and “The Story Circle,” and while you’re at it, visit Wendy’s site as well.

The full blog tour schedule.
The full blog tour schedule.