art, Behind the brush, Book Updates!, illustration, Uncategorized

A Picture’s Worth: Behind the Brush

Delightful Children's Book! For ages birth to 7.
Sweet, sweet bedtime story for kids ages 3-8

 

Although you may have seen the official release of debut children’s book author Erin Broestl back in 2019, I’m adding it to the list of wonderful things happening in 2020.

There are so many aspects of this highly-acclaimed Christian children’s picture book (CPB) that I could blog about it for a month of Sundays.  Eventually, I’ll secure an interview with the gifted wordsmith whose — should I call it poetic prose?– seems to speak a language all its own. The making of God Made the Moonlight is the perfect topic for a “Behind the Brush” post. That is, it’s a great example of how illustrations can shape a story. Therefore, I’d like to share a look back at the illustration journey that brought out a second, rather unexpected, meaning to Mrs. Broestl’s God Made the Moonlight.

I can’t believe it’s been three years, but it has. While this is not completely unusual as far as the typical amount of time it takes to bring a new CPB to life, it’s a bit longer than I’m used to. As usually happens in the illustration business, I received the author’s manuscript, nicely-typed, with “illustration notes” next to each block of text. Many, I’d even venture to say most, new authors of children’s books include such notes with their submissions, in varying degrees of details, along side their stories.  Erin’s little notes were blessedly few, but she did have some idea of certain colors and other elements she envisioned for her first book. She suggested a sort of genre (fantasy, in this case, “I’m seeing castles, a fairy-tale,”) and even lent me a book with images that she liked.

For almost two years I sketched out scenes of hazy moons and foggy, night-time castle scenes. While there was nothing technically wrong with the watercolor sketches, I suppose, the “meh” feeling I got from them kept me up at night. Since the Broestls had just welcomed a new member to their family, I chanced that Erin might also be awake.

 

ink-and-wash painting for proposed manuscript
Early idea for “God Made the Moon”

 

“Erin, would it be ok with you if I rearranged the order of some of your lines?”  I texted.

I proposed the idea of using the phases of the moon to guide the sequence of the picture-story that was just beginning to come to life inside my head. (To understand this sequence of events, I highly recommend re-reading your copy of GMtM right now and trying to imagine the text alone on a single sheet of paper.) The verbiage was already there in Broestl’s quiet, charmingly unassuming manuscript:

  • Each day, the moon’s shape changes a little.
  • Tonight, it looks like the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
  • Soon, it will be so dark that I can hardly see it.  A new moon!

There were references to car rides, and airplanes, and city lights. And then,

I love the moon! Just knowing that it is there makes me feel at home, no matter where I am.

There it was: the longing, the pull, the emotion, the universal themes of journeying, going out into the unknown with a spirit of adventure, yet yearning for the familiarity of home.

The story.

I could see the girl on the page, packing her suitcase, the child being read to asking, “Where is she going?” There is a boy on the next spread: her little brother. They are out of their norm, experiencing things that are all new. They are happy, but sometimes the unfamiliarity of a situation can be a little scary.

Packing her suitcase
A young girl sets out on a journey from the city to the country.

 

How blessed I am to work with such a gifted writer as my friend, Erin Broestl! And I’m so thankful that she was open to listening to my new “vision” of GMtM. I sketched out, verbally and on paper, my ideas for a “subplot” to the revised manuscript. The images came to me more easily now, and I worked with a clearer goal in mind. Erin and I collaborated, filled with a new energy.  Over the next months I painted, adjusted, and sometimes even deleted new spreads of artworks. (Here’s a deleted scene from the storyboard before we had the full new story worked out:)

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 12.28.19 PM

 

This one’s Erin’s favorite (it made the cut):

scene from God Made the Moonlight by Erin Broestl and Jean Schoonover-Egolf
The moon plays peek-a-boo through the treetops.

 

“It’s like you saw inside my mind,” says Broestl, who recalls a family trip from her childhood. Believe me, it is a rare thing when an illustrator can actually see what the author “has in mind” for the proposed manuscript. And I assured Erin that this was just a coincidence! I’ve since said this, so many times, to so many children’s book authors:

“An illustrator’s happiest clients are the ones who, when it comes to the artwork,  completely hand over the reins to the artist.” 

The simple truth is that, no, the illustrator cannot see inside the author’s mind. The more details the author has already conjured up in his or her mind about the way each page “should” look, the more that author is setting himself/herself up for disappointment with almost any illustrator’s work. Please see my post on “How to prepare a children’s book manuscript for your illustrator.”

Mrs. Erin Broestl is one amazing woman, folks. She blogs at Eight Hobbits. Although God Made the Moonlight is Broestl’s first published children’s book, she’s no stranger to the writing industry. I’ve no doubt we can expect more great volumes from Erin.

 

art, Behind the brush, illustration, Uncategorized

Behind the Brush: An Illustrator’s Advice on HOW to Prepare Your Children’s Book Manuscript for Your Illustrator

Many prospective children’s book authors are already familiar with the concept of storyboarding, but I’ve come to realize that it is important to help wordsmiths understand the purpose of pictures in a book.

Despite what Wiktionary might say, illustrations that merely echo the author’s words do not belong in Children’s Picture Books (CPBs). A good illustrator doesn’t repeat, in pictures, what the author has already stated in the text. Envision, if you will, a page with an apple and the word “apple” typed underneath. While this type of literal illustration has its place in school readers, such obvious image-feeding only serves to bore the audience seeking a story for entertainment. Chip Kidd said it best in this 2012 Ted Talk (for adults only!) about designing the cover for Stephen King’s Jurassic Park, “Because this (putting the word “apple” under the picture of the apple) is treating your audience like a moron. And they deserve better.”

Illustrators are trained to create in a way that is quite different from how an author writes. Rather, our job is to compliment and expand your text, similar to the way a composer adds a harmony part to the melody. What a dull piece it would be if every member of the choir sang the exact same notes! Our ears, and our eyes, delight more in intertwining phrases and media that seem to dance like two partners who’ve known each other for 50 years but still find something new about one another every dance.

In children’s books, it is important to avoid “spoon-feeding” the story to the reader/listener. Using more open-ended sentences and “breathing room,” in the story is essential to writing great children’s literature. Leaving space for the child’s imagination to work invites the child to become an active participant in the story. To some extent, you can let your reader fill in his/her own details in your story. Give children something to think about and wonder over. When the child is actively trying to guess what’s going to happen or how exactly something did happen, he/she becomes invested in the story’s outcome and wants to see it (or hear it) through to the end.

An author’s words should tell the reader only so much. Even most adults who cozy up with a good book don’t appreciate an overly “voicey,” commanding, or condescending commentary. I don’t want to be told what to feel! Make me feel it! Likewise, there’s a better way to express, “Sally felt sad because her favorite toy was broken.” Let the illustrator (and designer) express that sadness, not only in Sally’s face, but also in the page spread’s sudden hue change to a cool palette, a lower position of the words relative to the image, a thinner, more deflated-looking font, and so on. Perhaps you don’t even need to reiterate that it was her favorite toy because the illustrator has done such a great job, on previous pages, of showing how important that toy was to Sally.

Some of the suggestions in this post fall outside of the typical illustrator’s scope of advice-giving. I’m coming at you from the point of view of someone who’s had the pleasure of working as an author, an illustrator, a graphic designer, an art director, and, most recently, a publisher. From this more global perspective, I’ve collected (and paraphrased) the following pieces of useful advice to authors writing children’s books:

Bark less, wag more.

You have only 500-1000 words to use. Make them count. (More than 1500 words and you are moving into another genre such as early reader.) Skip the colorful descriptions, strings of adverbs, and long-winded character development. Focus on a strong, well-timed rising plot with a single, clear-cut resolution. A well-executed drawing of a woman peeling a large, bright, juicy orange in a sunny kitchen has no need for the words “the woman was peeling a large, bright, juicy orange in the sunny kitchen.” Now you have more space to write, “Mom said the children must hurry, so she helped with breakfast.”

Show, don’t tell.

As you write, ask yourself, “What ideas could be expressed in pictures rather than in words?” Leave plenty of breathing room, that is, ample creative space, for the illustrator to add visual layers to your story. In the third book of my Molly McBride series, never once did I mention in words that Dominic’s mom found the missing invitation: that entire twist of events was left to the illustrations!

The missing invitation is discovered!
Molly and Dominic are BUSTED! Moms rock.

But the Amazon reviews clearly told me that I correctly conveyed, via illustrations alone, this crucial plot point. My readers were able to surmise how it came to light that Molly and Dominic had misbehaved.

Chapel scene from Book # of the Molly McBride series
Mass before Ora et Labora

 

Organize from the get-go.

I advise authors submitting CPB manuscripts to number a sheet of paper from three to 30. The first page, page 3, will be single, right-sided (recto) page. The rest will be in spreads with the lesser-value even number on the left (verso) and the odd number on the right. (E. g. the first spread will be pages 4-5.) Place small chunks of your text beside the page and spreads on this list. Even better, check out this free tool on the Perpetual Light Publishing website.

 

Keep the pages turning.

End each odd page on a mini “cliff-hanger.” For example, instead of page 5 reading something like, “Joey saw the weirdest-looking ball he’d ever seen hovering in the air,” put “He stopped in his tracks. Hovering in the air in front of him was the weirdest thing Joey had ever seen.” Don’t reveal that it was a ball until spread 6-7. Better yet, don’t use the word “ball” at all. Let the illustrator paint it!

 

Plot a traditional plot.

Known in some circles as “the traditional plot,” there is a practically no-fail secret to making anything entertaining. And yes, it takes plotting. It goes like this: introduce the character, introduce the conflict, build up the action (most of the book), climax, resolve.  This works just as well for an Indiana Jones movie as for a Backyardigans episode. Knowing that you have to get all this in between pages 3 and 30, you can even look at the list of page numbers from “Organize” above, and do some tightening up to ensure you are giving these essential parts of the story the proper order and length. There are plenty of articles online about this.

PLOTplot-01

Good things come in threes.

From pigs to bears, the golden rule of children’s picture books (and many other forms of entertainment) is that Rule of Threes. In a nutshell, this generally means it takes your main character three attempts to resolve the conflict. This is a proven, old-as-the-hills storytelling strategy can be used in other elements of the story as well, such as three supporting characters or a setting of three rooms. Look for additional design elements in sets of three, like text boxes and background details.

In summary, a book’s illustrations have the power to not only bring out the best in the author’s words, but also to beckon the reader’s imagination to become an active participant in the story. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? We want our books to be creative works that beg to be enjoyed again and again, for generations to come.

Dr. Jean Schoonover-Egolf, creator of the award-winning Molly McBride series of Catholic children's books.

Jean Schoonover-Egolf is a retired Internal Medicine physician-turned-homeschooling-mom/author/illustrator/publisher. A catechist and volunteer librarian at St. Patrick Parish in downtown Columbus, Ohio (Go, Bucks!), Dr. Egolf spends her free time gardening and rearranging the dishwasher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's sharing time!, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

7 Must-Know Authors of Catholic Children’s Books

Momma’s loving these kind (and hilarious) words from author Theresa Linden, award-winning novelist of the West Brothers’ series and many more!image.pngvia 7 Must-Know Authors of Catholic Children’s Books

“I have actually met this talented and amazing author in person! Jean Schoonover-Egolf and I both attended the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, making our books available to attendees. At one point, a sister in a purple habit approached Jean Egolf’s table and the two of them stood talking for a moment. Well, I was impressed. This woman loves Jeanie Egolf’s books so much, I thought, that she dressed up like the main character in her Molly McBride and the Purple Habit series!

“Well, I was wrong. She was a real Sister! There really is an order of Sisters who wear purple habits! They are called the Children of Mary and they are a new community in the service of the Church “to satiate the thirst of Jesus to be loved in the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

“Through entertaining and beautifully illustrated stories, the Molly McBride and the Purple Habit series promotes charity, virtue and even plants the seeds for vocations in little hearts.”

Religious vocations awareness through children's literature
Sister and Molly have a heart-to-heart.
Purple Nun with Molly
Yes, The “purple nuns” are real!
OSV Acquires PBG content, including "Molly McBride" Series
Book Updates!, Molly Comics, Promoting Vocations, Uncategorized

“Molly” Meets New Publisher

OSV Acquires PBG content, including "Molly McBride" Series
Molly McBride series to be published by Our Sunday Visitor

Friends, I’ve had to keep a secret for a long time, but now it’s all out there:

Peanut Butter and Grace officially announced yesterday that Our Sunday Visitor, the largest English language Catholic publisher in the world, has acquired several of their titles and content, including my “Molly McBride” children’s picture book series promoting religious vocations.

The news that Molly was being sold to Our Sunday Visitor was a shock to me. Change is scary, and Peanut Butter and Grace has been by my side since almost the beginning of this journey. But on the other hand, I’m really excited. When I first found out the name of the company looking at my series, I thought, “Our Sunday Visitor? I remember their weekly newspaper on our porch and my parents reading it after Mass.”

Religious vocations awareness through children's literature
Sister and Molly have a heart-to-heart.

OSV has a huge reach, and that helps me in my mission, which can now be on a grander scale, to encourage Catholic parents and teachers to talk to kids about becoming religious sisters and priests. All of us here at the “McBride” household are looking forward to merging into the OSV family. Everyone I’ve spoken with over there is a gem.

You know, it’s always been my dream that “Molly McBride” would someday be a household name in Catholic families, a cute little reminder to plant those seeds early about becoming priests and nuns. Plus, she reminds us all to do as Jesus told us, to have the faith of a child.

Since OSV boasts an audience of millions of Catholic readers globally, it seems possible that dream can come true. I am so grateful for everyone who has helped me in this endeavor.

JesusWithMeWill the cartoon will be picked up by OSV Newsweekly There are currently no plans for this. But how cool would that be? One “Sunday” in the other “Sunday.”

Fellow authors, book stores, reviewers, and fans awaiting copies or even Book Four, I’m in a bit of  a “publisher limbo” at the moment. As OSV transitions over each new title, books will again become available. I’ll do my best to keep you all posted! Meanwhile, look right here for the next Molly comic on Mother’s Day.

cropped-molly-stamp-copy.png

Molly McBride cartoons
art, Molly Comics, Uncategorized

Faith Vs. Fairies

Molly McBride cartoons
Dominic shares an important truth with bestie Molly McBride!
art, It's sharing time!, Mothers of Mollies, Promoting Vocations, Uncategorized

Family Idea for All Saints’ Day: Momma Draws

We all have *that friend* who can make anything and everything as perfect as Pinterest. I, however, once attempted to make a “simple” Minecraft Creeper birthday cake. It came out looking like 50 shades of mold growing on a box.

You know what makes me even more jealous? People who can sew up coordinating Halloween costumes for a family of 10. I knew a family who did the Incredibles one year. Yeah. We don’t have the best of luck here at the “McBride” household when it comes to costumes. Here’s “Molly” one fun Hallowed Eve about 8 years ago:

Dang, the things we do to our kids for holidays!

Ok, so back to current. Momma can draw, but when we start talking about 3-dimensional art like cake and costumes, I fall short. But if I could sew really well and really fast, I’d make Victorian Era costumes.

I fell in love with the Victorian Era a coupe years ago when I took on an illustration job for author Becky Arganbright. The book is about one of everyone’s favorite little saints, the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux.

I had a blast researching the life and times of the Martin Family, from their charming house (now a museum!) and the plates they ate off of, to their garden tools and their clothes.

Oh! how I’d love to go to France some day and see these things for myself. I had to be content with my old pal Pinterest to provide reference photos for this project.

IMG_2061

Drawing St. Therese was a holy experience. Through this particular job, I drew closer to this saint (and her saintly family) than to any other saint whose life I’ve studied.  I read everything she’d written that I could get my hands on, studied her artwork and her photos, and read every public letter anyone ever wrote to her. For several months before officially beginning the job, I did pencil and watercolor sketches of Therese, her mother Zelie, and her father Louis. For nearly a year, I thought of little else than the Martin Family.

IMG_0602
Working on likeness: St. Therese Project
IMG_1946
preliminary watercolor sketches of St. Therese
IMG_0661
Pencil sketches of St. Therese’ First Communion and Confirmation Dresses
IMG_2064
watercolor sketch of St. Therese’ First Communion dress
IMG_0915
imagining St. Therese as toddler through early childhood
IMG_1185
Watercolor sketch of Therese with her father Louis Martin
IMG_0644
planning night scene of St. Therese
IMG_2354
watercolor sketch of St. Therese in a typical Victorian Era dress, as well a her famous hair!
IMG_1187
detail of Victorian Era watering can in the garden scene –later cut from the book

 

After a while, when I could draw her familiar face from memory, it was time to build the story board to go with Becky’s manuscript. Here are some early scene plans:

IMG_1066
Second Round of storyboarding a scene from Flowers For Jesus
IMG_1086
Third round of storyboarding for Flowers For Jesus
IMG_1109
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower
IMG_1338
Early watercolor study of Therese Martin using actual photo

So, if I could sew, I’d whip up the whole McBride and friends gang outfits to match the famous Martin Family, and I’m sure we’d be a hit at any Saint’s Day Feast.

fusain-annould-1917-60x80cm

Unknown

Flowers for Jesus (Gracewatch Media) is available wherever books are sold and available in full PDF preview here.

How ’bout you? Any plans for family costumes for Halloween or All Saint’s Day? Don’t be afraid to share. I promise not to be jealous. Too much. 😉

 

art, It's sharing time!, Mothers of Mollies, Promoting Vocations, Uncategorized

Family Idea for All Saints’ Day: Momma Draws

We all have *that friend* who can make anything and everything as perfect as Pinterest. I, however, once attempted to make a “simple” Minecraft Creeper birthday cake. It came out looking like 50 shades of mold growing on a box.

You know what makes me even more jealous? People who can sew up coordinating Halloween costumes for a family of 10. I knew a family who did the Incredibles one year. Yeah. We don’t have the best of luck here at the “McBride” household when it comes to costumes. Here’s “Molly” one fun Hallowed Eve about 8 years ago:

Dang, the things we do to our kids for holidays!

Ok, so back to current. Momma can draw, but when we start talking about 3-dimensional art like cake and costumes, I fall short. But if I could sew really well and really fast, I’d make Victorian Era costumes.

I fell in love with the Victorian Era a coupe years ago when I took on an illustration job for author Becky Arganbright. The book is about one of everyone’s favorite little saints, the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux.

I had a blast researching the life and times of the Martin Family, from their charming house (now a museum!) and the plates they ate off of, to their garden tools and their clothes.

Oh! how I’d love to go to France some day and see these things for myself. I had to be content with my old pal Pinterest to provide reference photos for this project.

IMG_2061

Drawing St. Therese was a holy experience. Through this particular job, I drew closer to this saint (and her saintly family) than to any other saint whose life I’ve studied.  I read everything she’d written that I could get my hands on, studied her artwork and her photos, and read every public letter anyone ever wrote to her. For several months before officially beginning the job, I did pencil and watercolor sketches of Therese, her mother Zelie, and her father Louis. For nearly a year, I thought of little else than the Martin Family.

IMG_0602
Working on likeness: St. Therese Project
IMG_1946
preliminary watercolor sketches of St. Therese
IMG_0661
Pencil sketches of St. Therese’ First Communion and Confirmation Dresses
IMG_2064
watercolor sketch of St. Therese’ First Communion dress
IMG_0915
imagining St. Therese as toddler through early childhood
IMG_1185
Watercolor sketch of Therese with her father Louis Martin
IMG_0644
planning night scene of St. Therese
IMG_2354
watercolor sketch of St. Therese in a typical Victorian Era dress, as well a her famous hair!
IMG_1187
detail of Victorian Era watering can in the garden scene –later cut from the book

 

After a while, when I could draw her familiar face from memory, it was time to build the story board to go with Becky’s manuscript. Here are some early scene plans:

IMG_1066
Second Round of storyboarding a scene from Flowers For Jesus
IMG_1086
Third round of storyboarding for Flowers For Jesus
IMG_1109
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower
IMG_1338
Early watercolor study of Therese Martin using actual photo

So, if I could sew, I’d whip up the whole McBride and friends gang outfits to match the famous Martin Family, and I’m sure we’d be a hit at any Saint’s Day Feast.

fusain-annould-1917-60x80cm

Unknown

Flowers for Jesus (Gracewatch Media) is available wherever books are sold and available in full PDF preview here.

How ’bout you? Any plans for family costumes for Halloween or All Saint’s Day? Don’t be afraid to share. I promise not to be jealous. Too much. 😉