Illustrations and the Creative Process
September 22, 2015
I have, I think, over a thousand sketches, drawings and paintings of the various scenes and characters in my books. I love commissioning artwork–it’s a bit of an addiction, I think. When I was a kid I loved all the illustrations in my Chronicles of Narnia books. I’d stare at the pictures by British artist Pauline Baynes for hours. Baynes also illustrated JRR Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham, which I also loved.
I swore if I ever managed to collect the crazy ideas in my head into an actual book I’d have it plastered with illustrations.
Flash forward about thirty years. I made good on my promise. With an average of twenty-five maps and illustrations per book, I’ve got over 200 in print and counting.
A Picture is worth … a thousand less words.
The practice of adding illustrations to the interior of books seems to have vanished in modern times. When folks pick up my books to have a look at them, they almost always fan through the pages–what are they looking for?? Most books don’t have anything but printing in the interior and checking the pages for them usually comes up with nothing. But, imagine their surprise when they flip through my books and come to a page with a beautiful illustration. It’s a genuine moment.
Illustrations are also helpful when you’re dealing with a fantastic, completely made-up world like what I write. You have to describe everything, and that can derail the plot. Modern readers don’t like that, plot is very important Instead of spending a couple thousand words going over one of my whacky creations, why not toss in a cool picture and go a little lighter on the descriptions?
A Creative Symbiosis
I usually give my artists a lot of freedom when they create an illustration. Some authors can be quite exacting in what they expect, me, I’m easy. I rather enjoy seeing how the artist interprets the subject. If I see something I really like, I’ll often add it into the writing, it’s only natural to do so.
Take this image of Princess Marilith of Xandarr by Carol Phillips. This is one of the first commissions I got from Carol, going all the way back to Book 1. As you can see, it’s a nude. I don’t recall asking Carol for a nude. Princess Marilith is an angry, spurned, blue-haired woman, heartbroken and vengeful. However, my early visualizations of her were fully clothed. Carol’s painting of her captured those various feelings–you can see how upset she is in her painted face. Her unexpectedly nude body is strong and beautiful. I was captivated by what I saw. Inspired, I went through and re-wrote the Princess, making her essentially nude in the story. She comes from Xandarr, a very hot and dry place, so it seemed to follow. Wearing only light veils or nothing at all, daring you to look her in the eye, has been her trademark ever since.
Revving-Up my Creative Process
I usually come up with an idea or a character years before they actually appear on the page. Typically, as the image clarifies in my head, I get all excited and commission a drawing of it. Seeing the finished artwork gets me going every time and influences what happens in the books.
Take Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR. I was sitting at a Burger King several years back when I came up with a foil and opposite number for The Professor–Lt Kilos’ brainy husband. I imagined a tall, rather swarthy woman dressed all in white, her skin powdered to pearly perfection, her raven hair tucked up into a large white wig. I immediately sent a note to my friend, the amazing Eve Ventrue, gave her the details and waited a week or two to see the results.
Eve came up with Hannah-Ben sitting in an opulent padded study. As usual, I incorporated her study into the writing, the image of Professor Shurlamp sitting in her fine red room is her standard calling card.
That first painting of Hannah-Ben was stunning, she was beautiful, but I thought she was missing a little something. She was too demure, too unassuming. Professor Shurlamp is anything but unassuming–everything she does is big and bold and in-your-face.
Not enough wig, not enough eyebrow and piercing stare. I wanted something beautiful, yet sort of horrible as well, rather like Gerald Scarfe’s work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Just like that. I wanted something cool, but a little creepy.
Enter Carol Phillips, the Queen of the League of Elder who has contributed probably 40% of my massive art inventory. Carol went to work and produced the second painting of Hannah-Ben.
Working with Carol for so long, she is often able to pop my head open, pull out the mess that’s inside and paint beautiful things with it. The painting Carol created of Professor Shurlamp was absolutely perfect. She was a mile high, she had the wig, the eyebrow, the “You are nothing to me” expression … everything was perfect. Even her snowy white gown was perfect–look at the frills, the buttons, the tight waistline and the bows. So many bows …
Seeing this thrilling painting gave me the added “oomph!” to finish The Shadow tech Goddess, a tome that had taken me four years to write.
And then came Stenibelle, another book where Hannah-Ben Shurlamp makes a notable appearance.
I wanted another image of Hannah-Ben for the book, I thought it would be a nice touch, and this time, Carol came up with a true masterpiece–the ultimate image of Professor Shurlamp holding her Glyph with scores of data orbiting her head. This image gave me chills when I first saw it (really–no kidding!!)
Seeing that giant wig, those curls, that glyph-wand in her hand helped me figure out the various twists and turns in the story that had been giving me a few minor fits.
So, when in doubt, get a piece of artwork and let it fire your imagination, you’ll be glad you did.
Copyright 2015, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips and Eve Ventrue