Who would have guessed that illustrating a children’s book could be a painstaking process?
I, for one, had always assumed that illustrators were granted creative freedom– not only to choose the parts of the book they wanted to draw, but also draw the images of whatever inspired them through the author’s words.
I learned that is not necessarily true.
According to sculptor, painter and visual artist Frank Morrison, although “having fun,” and “feeling inspired” can (and do) happen in the creative process of a book’s illustration, illustrating is a job.
“When you illustrate something, you’re reading over a manuscript, and basically, you’re trying to match the manuscript down to exactly the vision of the author,” said Morrison. “And then that has to go through an editing process.
“And so you may start with one thing—like, for instance, this…” He points to a painting of a girl of about 7 years old. In it, you see an adult finger tapping her on the shoulder, and the expression on her face is all-too-familiar, ‘Uh, oh. I’m in trouble.’
“This took like seven or eight thumbnail sketches to get an agreement on this perspective. And so if you work on a picture book that has 32 pages, you literally may draw 150 sketches for that one book.”
Morrison, a New Jersey native, was explaining this process at an “artist talk” session at House of Art Gallery in Bedford-Stuyvesant last weekend, where his work was featured in the exhibit “Jam Session,” along with artist Bryan Collier. Both Morrison and Collier are well-known and respected illustrators. Their work at House of Art Gallery focused on the theme of music, beats and movement.
For his illustrative work, Morrison draws and then paints with oil on canvas. He also works in watercolors, collages and mixed medium.
Morrison continued, “And even thought you might want to keep your style in it, what you’re seeing is what the editor and the illustrator agreed upon together.”
…Which might explain why his portfolio of work looked so diverse; each of his illustrations look markedly different from the other. In fact, to the untrained eye, you wouldn’t assume it was the same illustrator at all.
But what one person may view as differentiation, Morrison considered as “growth” (he has illustrated close to 30 books in the past ten years) and a “good agent.”
“I have a great agent,” said Morrison. “When you have a good agent, they see a spark in your work and they push it and encourage you to push yourself.”
Morrison is now working on four new projects: a book about King Tut; another on the life of George Washington Carver, the African-American scientist and inventor; another on boxing legend Muhammad Ali; and finally, a book entitled, “The Quickest Kid in Clarksville” due out next year, about the life of Wilma Rudolph, the first African-American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.
Morrison said his work is still evolving, growing and reflecting even greater diversity, but diversity in a different way:
“I grew up in Jersey,” said Morrison. “We didn’t live in diverse communities until we moved to Franklin Township, a Jewish community. And we were the minority suddenly.
“So now [my wife and I] are seeing our children bring everyone, other ethnicities home. And so I decided to get back to that in the illustrations in my children’s book. I want to show this in my work now, representing all nationalities. I think that goes along with what Barack was saying…
“Bringing people together and everyone appreciating each other. That’s what America is about.”
“Jam Session” is on exhibit now through October 10, 2015, at House of Art Gallery, located at 408 Marcus Garvey Blvd. For gallery hours and more information, go to their website.