Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
Collaboration, how does (or should) it work?
In my earliest collaborations with authors, not only was I illustrator, but also designer, typesetter (letterpress type, where each metal letter is handset), printer, binder, and publisher (The Hale Press). My first project was a friend’s lengthy translation/retelling of Beowulf in couplets. I printed the illustrations as lithographs. I bound each of the 75 copies in cloth over boards, and we sold them to our friends. That was 1984. Then I moved to NYC to study illustration at Pratt. I continued making books with poets, and was even invited to collaborate with William Stafford on How to Hold Your Hands When It Rains for Confluence Press. I enjoyed working with poets. I was connected to their words. I knew the feel of each and every letter.
After Pratt I began work in commercial publishing as art assistant in the children’s book department at E.P. Dutton. I continued at different publishers until eventually I became an art director—a position that involves pairing newly acquired manuscripts with illustrators. The occasional slush dummy arrived with author/illustrator teamed up, but most often there was a weak link in these collaborations and a rejection letter was dispatched.
When I was offered my first picture book illustration assignment, I was already an art director for Four Winds Press. I knew that it was not typical for authors and artists to communicate during the illustration process. One author-friend thought that co-creators were kept apart to avoid discussion of discrepancies in advance payments. No! This is done to allow space for the illustrator to find their own visual narrative without a back-seat driver issuing directions. Here I would like to say loud and clear that I applaud this practice.
Many stories I’ve illustrated are set in other countries. My book advances never have been generous enough to budget travel. In several instances I asked the editor to allow me access to the author’s resources. This has always been fruitful for my research. When there is some kind of accuracy issue involved, I believe that an author should have an opportunity to review sketches and final art, however not directly, but through the editor.
Now I am an author. When I submitted early drafts of The East-West House, there was talk about having someone Asian illustrate my story. Ha! Now the shoe was on the other foot. I wanted my vision of my story illustrated. Of course I did create art, art directed and designed the book too. I sure don’t sound like much of a collaborator. The writing process certainly involved lots of guidance from my writers groups and my editor.
Currently, besides developing my own stories, I’m sketching stories by author-friends to pitch. We have advantages over unknown teams in slush piles because we have published work. The truth is I love, and have always loved collaboration, but I desperately need privacy to find my way. I believe many authors would like more input into the visual presentation of their words. Let’s get some dialogue going about collaboration (or lack of) between authors and illustrators. What is your experience?