Picture books aren’t that quick to make. Sure, there can be exceptions, but mostly they involve a lot of time and love and work. It can be years from start of a project to the book release, when you hope that thing you worked on for so long gets a good reception when it finally makes out into the world. I took a look back at events in the timeline of one of our new Fall picture books; A Bowl Full of Peace by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Akira Kusaka. Here now is a little window into one picture book’s timeline (from the Art Director’s perspective, of course):
Some time in early 2017 (March-ish): see a piece of art on an illustration social media site (yes, it was instagram) and think “hey this is beautiful and emotional and I need to make a book with this artist.” Bookmarked his page for when that just-right project magically shows up.
Almost Simultaneously in early 2017: Discussions start about developing a new picture book based on our Middle Grade nonfiction title Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. My mind goes to the challenge of how to show images of destruction in a picture book… and realize the artist whose work I bookmarked earlier would basically be perfect. But hiring must wait until there is a manuscript in a far enough along to have the right scope in mind.
December 2017: first draft manuscript arrives
July 2018: manuscript mostly edited & in a good place to sign up an artist
July 27 2018, am: editor Carol and I discuss the Japanese version of “Nice to meet you” via email (はじめまして. Carol remembers much more from a beginning Japanese language course than I do) so I have it to include in an email to Akira Kusaka, the Japanese-speaking artist in Osaka, Japan, whose art I bookmarked more than a year previous.
Also July 27 AM: hit send on email to Kusaka-san to see if he would be interested in illustrating a children’s picture book about the Nagasaki bombing. It’s not a foregone conclusion he’ll want to – illustrating about war is a lot of time spent in heavy topics, images, and research.
Seconds after hitting send on July 27 AM, a friday: sets in to bite nails until Kusaka-san responds, hoping I had not sent too much American Slang in my initial email that it would be impossible to interpret.
July 30 2018: Cheers! Happiness! Kusaka-san responded in the positive and wants more information! Time to get more into details, process, offer, and contract.
August 30 2018: Send storyboard to Kusaka-san to begin in earnest!
Early September 2018: the date Kusaka-san has planned to visit Nagasaki for research, there is a strong typhoon in the Osaka and Nagasaki areas of Japan, so flights and trip are cancelled. He plans to visit another time.
September 16 2018: storyboard sent again upon request, but, this time translated in Japanese.
November 2018: get first few “sketches” (aka color comps) from Kusaka-san, are impressed so far.
December 2018: get full set of color comps from Kusaka-san. MAYBE get a little emotional (in a good way) with what he has accomplished so far with these visuals. One spread in particular made me stop and think, and perhaps exclaim “I’m so glad he is illustrating this book!” to anyone who was close enough to my office at the time to hear it. Here’s a small peek of that piece:
January 2019: send sketch comments back to Kusaka-san, with note to include all adjustments within the final artwork due in April because there was just nothing huge we had to change. Not a common occurrence in picture book process. Also sent ideas to begin cover artwork at same time. Cover design process ensues for a few months. That could be a whole different additional blog post.
April 1 2019: receive low-res final art files. Not a joke.
April 16 2019: Share final art in layout with the team and agents, whom are all very complimentary (which is kind of an understatement). Send final art feedback to Kusaka-san.
May 9 2019: receive high-res art files, including The Final Cover Artwork.
June 13 2019: receive The New Final Cover Artwork Again (covers be covers) and also Kusaka-san’s Illustrator note, written in Japanese.
Also June 13: send Illustrators Note for translation, realize our delightful translator Keiko is currently in Japan for the summer organizing her wedding and getting married. So that translation is understandably a little delayed.
June 16 2019: realize Keiko was visiting Nagasaki, and when there she shared a color print out of this book so far to Sachiko – the Sachiko the book is about – and she liked it! A relief we didn’t know we were waiting for.
July 9 2019: Request last final art alt which is really at the stressful end of our production schedule: changing a full moon depiction in the art to a slight crescent, because this moon was shown on a very specific night – the night following the day when the atomic bomb detonated – a moon phase which is easily researched and a detail very obvious in the art. And because nonfiction.
August 12 2019: enter final final final alts. Perfectionists be perfectionists.
A bit later in August: send book to print. Printer schedules printing for mid-September. I plan to go for press check.
September 11th, 2019: spending the very thunderstormy day on press with this book at Worzalla Press in Wisconsin, realizing that I am on press with this book about survival and promoting peace on 9/11. (I’m not weepy, YOU’RE weepy.)
End of November 2019: we hold the finished bound book in our hands for the first time, anxiously awaiting book release day in April 2020!
February 2020: A Bowl Full of Peace receives its first starred review! It pays equal attention to both words and art – picture book, after all. The art is not minor. Publicity plans are underway for the book release in April 2020. Some of our Japanese friends from Nagasaki are even coming to St. Paul to be there for the event.
March 2020: The world shuts down. Pandemic. International flights… yeah. Nope. Book release delayed till a few months later when people can actually buy books again.
July 2020: More starred reviews have happened. Enter Kusaka-san’s artwork in the Society of Illustrators Original Art 2020 juried illustration competition, because the art is magnificent, and why not?
August 2020: book releases in time for anniversary commemorations of the bombing of Nagasaki. A safe outdoor book launch held in St. Paul (Nagasaki and St. Paul are sister cities, after all).
September 2020: Kusaka-san’s work & the book accepted into the 2020 Society of Illustrator’s Original Art show! Wishing to be able to go to New York for the opening night, but, Covid. The show is both online this year and in the SOI gallery in New York, and artist/art directors pick one spread from the book to hang for the show. The spread we decided on, which has the most emotional impact for both the artist and the art director (we agreed) is the same one I had the strong response two when seeing the first comps. This time, here’s the whole spread:
Kusaka-san even talks about this piece in the video he and Caren created for the book launch. You can see that here.
Picture books are not that quick to make, and so much life can happen along the way. Of course throwing a Pandemic into the timeline doesn’t help speed either. This art was on my mind for 2.5 years before it went to print, and longer yet before the book was finally released. The book and the experience of making it will continue to resonate as we hear of people reading, enjoying, and learning from it— whether by seeing the book, or seeing the artwork up in an exhibition. After all the time and events big and small that occurred while making this book, I am so happy we finally were able to celebrate its launch, and so happy Kusaka-san’s stunning artwork is being recognized along with that.