At a recent writing retreat I listened to fellow kid lit creator Courtney Stevens Potter relate hearing how Shaun Tan chooses to create his images for a story. Tan does not paint his characters in the chronological order they appear in the book. His reasoning is that the more time you spend with the characters they better they will be. Therefore paint the scenes that appear first in the book last because they will be the best renditions of the character. Readers should see the best images of the characters first while they are hooked into the story. Once a reader has fallen in love with a character they will forgive minor variations or weaknesses in the images that appear later in the story.
Let's go ahead and state for the record that for this, and many other reasons, Shaun Tan is brilliant. Happily, I'm standing in the shadow of brilliance because I've already been doing this with my character illustrations - and for similar reasons. As I mentioned in this post, the recently finished illustrations for Beyond The Grave, were not created in chronological order either. Most illustrators will notice an evolution in their character's "design" over several pages. My evolution usually takes the form of putting more and more detail into the images as I get used to painting them. By intentionally painting the scenes out of order my hope is to sprinkle this detail over several pages making it unnoticeable that some versions of the characters may have an extra line around their mouth or extra attention paid to the shading on clothing. Since I usually transfer two images to the board at a time and work on them side by side the trick is figuring out which two images should go together.
In Beyond The Grave, along with the two boys there was also a cast of ghosts and the requisite Evil Doctor. I didn't have that many images to get across the point of how evil Dr. Naper is so I figured I'd better go straight for the jugular in the first one - literally. Here's the initial sketch and final:
Do you want this guy chasing you around a creepy science lab? I hope not. In case you are wondering why this looks like it's been ripped out of a newspaper - well, you have to read the book.
Evil doctors rarely work alone and Dr. Naper is no exception. Here's a sketch of his monstrous creation and the final.
I worked on these two images together even though they are pages apart in the book. Both depend on lots of solid black tones to carry the drama. And these were my two clearest images of the monster so I was able to check my details on each one.
Next Beyond The Grave post: the cover!