By Andrew Day
Before I get into the insanity of illustrating a full-color, 32-page book in three and a half weeks, I’ll tell you about my appreciation for children’s literature and my origin as an illustrator. Born in 1984, I was a quiet little kid who loved to be read to and had parents who always supported creativity. I always tell people that as soon as my hand could grip, my father put a paintbrush in it.
While in first grade, I had my first art show, alongside my father, at a now closed bookstore in Chicago’s Loop called Kroch’s & Brentano’s. Leading up to that show (with my father’s help), I drew and sent pictures to the illustrators and authors of the books he read to me. Most of them wrote me back, and my correspondence papered the walls of the bookstore.
I have fond memories of my father using foam core to build for me Max’s boat from Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. I would place all the plush characters from the book in that boat, and the ensuing adventures would occupy me for hours, which was obviously my parents’ plan all along. Another favorite book of mine was Country Crossing, by Jim Aylesworth. I am sure I bothered my parents to read it to me every night.
My mother, an educator, sometimes butted heads with my teachers because I constantly covered my schoolwork with what they called “doodles.” My mother argued, “Does Andrew not always know the answer when called upon?” My teachers could never say otherwise.
Eventually I made it to middle school, still drawing like a maniac. In eighth grade, I took a correspondence course through Art Instruction Schools. I lasted about ten months before I threw in the towel, primarily because I became busy with as many high school art classes as I could take and because the assignments (while important to artists) were too outdated. Despite all this coursework, I learned almost everything about drawing, painting, and design from my father. I can’t credit my high school instructors for teaching me anything new, but they did provide plenty of opportunity for practice. The American Academy of Art in Chicago was my next stop after high school. I got quite comfortable in the environment that the Academy created and was able to really focus on refining my style and craft.
During my junior year, I was assigned to create a book dummy. My idea for this assignment was so well thought out and so well accepted that I have been working on it ever since. I think I have gone through nearly five different book dummies, which is actually how I got to know Emily Easton at Walker Books for Young Readers. I sent out the dummy to several editors, and Emily was one of the few who actually took the time to give me some advice. Her advice was excellent. She saw that dummy about two years ago. Since then, as I retooled the book dummy, I kept Emily updated every three months or so, sending her my most recent works. While I did so, she kept an eye out for the right project for me.
After graduating from the Academy, I got a job at Leo Burnett, an advertising agency based in downtown Chicago, alongside my father, just over two years ago. I illustrate images for clients such as Nintendo, Kellogg’s, and Hallmark.
Such is the summary of my career thus far. My father’s agent Christina Tugeau (now my agent as well) came to me from Emily with a job to illustrate a book called Now Hiring: White House Dog. It was presented as a rush job, meaning that I would have the month of January to start and finish all thirty-two pages, title page, and cover. After an hour of thinking about it, I called Christina back and accepted the job. I drew samples of the two girls in the story in about an hour and a half, using some of my girlfriend’s baby pictures as a model. The samples ultimately sold the publisher on my style. Next, I read over the manuscript with my father a few times. Together we thumbnailed it out and reviewed it from an illustrator’s perspective, noting what was un-illustratable, what would be too big to illustrate on the page, and making suggestions. This process was completed in about two days. Unfortunately, the ending of the book was not yet finalized. Since time was tight, I began drawing the pages and cover. As I completed the finished pencil sketches, I sent the pages to the editor. It took me about a week and a half of full six- to eight-hour days (I was completing the work on top of my full-time job) to get the pencil sketches done. Once they were finished, I received the revised ending.
I had previously planned a trip to New York City for mid-January to attend the Society of Illustrators Sequential Show, which would be displaying one of my works. This excursion offered a good opportunity to meet in person with Emily and Donna (the art director on the book). We met for an hour and a half, making sure we were all on the same page, and I presented to them four completed pages. I worked a lot in my cramped room of the Roosevelt Hotel, right next to Grand Central Station, a little bit away from the Chrysler Building (my favorite building on the planet). Fortunately, I squeezed in a visit to the Empire State Building at 11:30 p.m., at which time a guy tried to sell me an eight-dollar map of what the city would look like in the daytime. I enthusiastically recommend doing that (going to the Empire State Building, not the map thing). It was so very cool.
Anyway, back to the book. When I got home, it was gung ho—a lot of seventeen-hour days for drawing, weekdays and weekends alike. After all the pencil sketches were finished and approved by the editor, I began to ink the remaining twenty-eight illustrations. That took me a solid week. After the inks were finished, I began painting, which took a week and a half. I finished all but two of the illustrations by January 29 because what I had completed had to be shipped off by five o’clock Thursday night to arrive in New York by Friday afternoon. I finished the final two spreads by Monday and sent them out right away. There the book was finished (Andrew makes dusting off motion with his hands), and I could sleep for the next week.
That didn’t happen at all. Since the book was a rush, every single step in the process was a rush, too. I received all the pages back the following week with small revisions and a few additional elements. I did that over a weekend, and the revisions were back in New York by the following Tuesday. Soon thereafter, I received the layout of the book’s design. This was where the really frustrating part came in. At this point I could not see the book anymore, for I had spent so long with it that I now saw only what I thought to be flaws in the illustrations. I had to go scream and run around the block a few times (not fun because it was the middle of winter). I then asked people I trusted who were unbiased towards the work, people who would tell me the truth and avoid euphemisms. The responses I received were positive, so I concluded that what I had done must be acceptable. About a month and a half went by and all of a sudden the F&G showed up, and a couple of days after that, the first copy showed up. Man, did I show that thing around town. I carried it with me wherever I went.
My explanation of the process in creating the book’s art may suggest that there wasn’t enough time spent on it, but I honestly believe that if I had spent any more time working on it, then I would have overworked the art.
I finally had the opportunity to meet the authors for lunch in Chicago, as they are both from the area; initially, my only contact regarding the book was Emily and Donna. People are always surprised to hear that we hadn’t met prior to the book’s completion, but that is how the process is meant to work, unless the illustrator and the author both conceived the story and worked on it together. Editors know how to talk to artists and writers, letting them know what works and what doesn’t. If the illustrator and the author both go through only the editor, confusion becomes less likely to occur.
Leo Burnett took note of the book and acquired for me an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. The Academy created a press release about the book and me, got me an interview with the Chicago Tribune, and set up an on-air, three-minute interview and story with NBC Chicago. The authors and I have had a couple of book signings, too. The book is selling well, so I am pleased with that.
I am working on a few projects right now that have great potential. I love the medium of children’s literature, and I honestly believe that Amazon’s Kindle will never replace a good children’s book. I enjoy a great deal children’s books that speak to children as equals, rather than as subordinates or those unable to understand the more complicated aspects of the world. Children are much smarter than most people think. Now I have run out of things to say, so I will leave you with this. Accept critique, and never take yourself too seriously. Thanks for reading.
Artist Andrew Day lives in Downers Grove. His first picture book, Now Hiring: White House Dog, was released in April 2009.