Saturday, October 8, 2011

Illustrating "The Ice Castle" -- Initial Sketches

I'm in the midst of illustrating The Ice Castle, a middle grade fantasy adventure written by Pendred Noyce. I thought it might be interesting to share the behind-the-scenes process of creating a book from the illustrator's point of view.

Of course, it all starts with the manuscript. Once I get those, crisp, new pages in my hands, I read the manuscript several times. The initial reading is done quickly so that I can get the overall feel of the book. The second time, I go through the text more carefully, marking up the typescript and making notes to myself about possible illustrations. During the third review, I refine my list and make visual and written notes about the look and feel of the characters, costumes, and the settings. Most of The Ice Castle takes place in the imaginary "Land of Winter", so creating a fantasy world that is grounded in reality is very important to the integrity of this story.

During my initial conversations with the art director, we agreed that the book should contain about thirty black and white interior illustrations, a frontispiece, one iconic image that will appear at the top of each chapter, and of course, a color cover illustration. Working with the author, we each came up with a list of possible illustrations. Once those three lists were combined and edited, I had my working illustration list, although I was free to add or subtract scenes if I thought another would serve the story more effectively.

I was given a lot of leeway and creative freedom by the art director. She did urge me to tell the author's story visually -- in other words, it should be clear what the story was about without reading the prose. The Ice Castle is full of action, mystery and rip-roaring adventure, so it really lends itself to a cinematic illustration style. I was able to exploit unusual angles, close and medium shots and interesting POVs to underscore and heighten the action and emotion of the scenes.

Once I completed the initial sketches, the illustrations were reviewed and most of them were accepted as submitted. Some changes were suggested for existing scenes, one scene was eliminated, and two more were added.

The next step will be to submit those edited sketches and, once they are approved, I'll be able to begin on the finished illustrations.

In my next entry, I'll talk about deadlines and timelines.


  1. Your illustrations are very dynamic and convey emotion and action wonderfully! This looks like a fantastic story. And thank you for walking through your process and schedule. I'm very fascinated to learn more. :)

  2. Thanks, Bella. I just got the go-ahead on my sketches, so it's on to the final illustrations. I'll be sharing some "before and afters" in the months ahead.

  3. I hadn't seen these before Joan! Beautiful work. Really cool project. I need to track it down now!