Illustration Station: Q&A with an Art Director

Soon the spring ’11 artwork will start pouring in to be digitalized, printed, and bound.  Before our art director Nick becomes buried in a mountain of watercolor paintings I thought I would sit down and ask him about the art of, well, art.

AWC: How do you generate a pool of illustrators with whom we could work?

Nick: Agents, referrals, past illustrators, unsolicited postcards and slush pile submissions.  I usually go online and check out their work on their website or blog and sometimes I link to the blogs they follow to find new people that way.  I’m always looking for consistency in the work.

AWC: How do you and the editors decide which illustrator to assign to a book?

Nick: It’s all subjective.  It’s about style, about what fits with the story.  You might look at some art and say, ‘that’s too graphic’ or others and say ‘that’s too editorial.’ But regardless, the manuscript leads the illustration.  We start with a mock-up book that is text-only and I decide how to block the art.  Then I’ll offer guidance to the illustrator.  For instance, with The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare (Spring 2011) I said, ‘Well, the rabbit is kind of cosmopolitan – maybe it should have a backpack of some sort.’

AWC: What are some of the trends we are seeing right now?

Nick: Well, the graphic novel is huge right now, and we are seeing it have some influence, but you have to be careful because sometimes it can look too cartoony for a picture book.  Then there’s digital.  Everything is going digital.  Last year it was something like 60/40 or 70/30 traditional versus digital, but this year it’s the exact opposite.  Take this one (pointing to The Three Bully Goats), the illustrator drew the outlines but painted everything digitally.

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AWC: I bet the digital artwork makes it easier for the printers to get the colors exactly right.

Nick: Not always.  With reproduction the CMYK colors are always muddier and darker than the Pantone versions.  See the brightness of that green in the grass?  We’ll never get it as fluorescent as that.  It’ll look more like this color here.  [See Below]

AWC: What did you do before you came to Albert Whitman?

Nick: I worked in advertising as an art director.

AWC: What about your own art work?  Do you still paint or draw?

Nick: (Laughs).  Not anymore, no.  Not after looking at art all day.

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Illustration Station: Q&A with an Art Director