Friday, February 12, 2010

Research, research, research

This past Monday I made the finishing touches to the paintings for my recent book for Millbrook Press. On Monday I will be mailing the paintings off. That is always a good feeling! Work on my latest project began the next day when I made a trip to the library. It always helps having another project to jump into to dull the bittersweet feeling of finishing my latest book. In what has become a bit of a tradition for me, I made the journey to my favorite library in downtown Bellevue. When I moved to the Seattle area almost 16 years ago, before starting art school I was living in Bellevue and remember spending some lonely hours visiting the cavernous library. Where I grew up in rural California we had nothing like this. Now when I visit the Bellevue library I sometimes stumble across one of my previous book projects now on display on the children's book shelves. This is always a nice full circle feeling.

So the Bellevue library is where a new project is born for me. As you can see it is a treasure trove of research materials! As much as I try to limit myself to the amount of books I will check out I always end with a pile about two feet high. As the illustrator working on a historical project images will come to mind when reading the manuscript but there are many gaps that my research helps to fill. My new book is about a girl and her family traveling across the Oregon Trail in the 1860's. It is a fictional family but based on the experiences of thousands of pioneers that made the real journey. The story takes place in northeastern Nebraska and Wyoming. Reading a story raises more questions for an illustrator than it answers. What does the landscape look like? How do I depict Fort Laramie? How do I accurately paint a Sioux Chief of that era? So many questions but luckily existing non-fiction children's books are a treasure trove of old photographs and paintings. I get a little jolt of excitement when I finally stumble across that elusive image I was looking for. If I can I will travel to the area the story takes place as I did for my book "Survival in the Snow" set at Donner Lake California, but that's not always possible. I also have lots of existing photos I have taken of places like Boston or Philadelphia that have helped me illustrate stories set during the American Revolution. For my current project though I will have to satisfy myself with what's discovered through arm chair travel.

The next step for me is to go through the books at home and scan the images that will be most helpful to me, then print out the pages and pages of images so I can begin sketching. I am always a bit nervous, is that illegal, scanning from books? But I figure it just serves the greater purpose of making my paintings more historically accurate. If there are still any holes to fill after all this research there is always Google images. Time to start scanning!


  1. Congrats on your book being finished and the start of the new one- I personally could never leave the research part of a project- love it- and find it very hard to not go off on interesting, but unneed tangents!

  2. Thanks Julia. Yes it can be hard setting aside the research but once I get rolling on the sketches its the best part!