Monday, January 9, 2017


So how were stories conveyed after oral tradition? I imagined cave paintings were next when man began to evolve and develop a sense of objectivity about himself and the world around him.

I researched the cave paintings discovered in southwest France in Lascaux and remember studying them in school, but forgot how beautiful they were. I love doing research for my books because I learn new things and one of the things I learned was that these paintings were not merely of animals. They had another meaning, which I was totally unaware of and fit perfectly into the story.

As you'll see whenever the subject of the story is being depicted in I AM A STORY, it's in some way, shape, or form related to the night sky, the cosmos, as it was the very original subject on the title and campfire image page, which was then passed down from generation to generation. Well, I was concerned that the story man was conveying in the cave painting image was merely about things around him and his everyday experiences, but I was wrong- and relieved. 

Among the animals, depicted are 3 bright stars we know today as the Summer Triangle, as well as a star cluster of the Pleiades sometimes called the Seven Sisters. So even here, I was able to keep the content being conveyed consistent. 

It was also a star map. Whew!

Below is my original sketch for the dummy.

I printed out and pieced together some of the cave paintings and used it as my guide for the drawing. When Picasso went to Lascaux and saw the paintings he said that man had learned nothing new.

Now story would no longer need to be told by a particular person. It was depicted here for all time, or at least 16,500 years so far.

You'll also notice that the red bird makes an appearance, too. I thought it might be weird to have it flying by or perched on a rock inside the cave, but I thought a child wanting to imitate the artist by drawing it on a rock would be appropriate and a nice touch.

And here is the final image.

Moving ahead to stories written on clay tablets and in hieroglyphics, I did research on Sumeria, Mesopotamia and Egypt, which was fun for me. It has been said that the Sumerians invented writing (cuneiform), the stylus (used to write onto the clay tablets), the wheel, the plow, sewers, jewelry, bronze tools, geometry, medicine, architecture, and music, just to name a few.

So maybe it wasn't so strange that in my research I came across the image below of 3,000 year old hieroglyphs found in Seti 1's temple in Abydos, Egypt, of what I consider to be a helicopter, a plane, and a futuristic aircraft.

How could so many incredible things originate from a single culture? Perhaps some friends from another planet gave man a little help? Or time traveling future man checking in on his ancestor's progress? Just saying!

It's something to think about and for those of you who know me, it's something I think about a lot. I love science fiction and those of you who know my work, see it in some of my books.

Anyway, here it is. Let me know what you think.

Pretty wild, huh? I hope it's not a hoax.

Below is a depiction of two different forms of very early writing.

In the instance of the tablets, now you didn't need to go to a certain place (like the cave in Lascaux) to experience story, it was now portable (although incredibly heavy).

You'll notice that the bird appears in the sketch and line drawing for the Sumerian image.

But not necessarily in the Egyptian image. Or does it?

It doesn't appear in the final of the Sumerian image.

Why? Because the bird is in the hieroglyphics! I tricked you.

I wasn't going to allow an opportunity to pass to be able to reinforce the subject matter of the story being conveyed. It took some doing, but I actually wrote out the beginning of the story of man's origin according to the ancient Egyptians. Some of it is obscured by the characters, but it's there. I didn't want to just put a meaningless jumble of symbols there when I could actually give it a purpose.

We move onto papyrus scrolls and tapestries. 

Both of these images were single page and I completed them, but then my editor told me that the pagination needed to be changed, which completely changed 2 images. I created a double page spread depicting Japanese wood block printing, which then had to become a single page and my single page image of the tapestry and the king needed to become a double page spread!

Here are the line drawings of the components of the tapestry image, which I then arranged in Photoshop, then colored.

And here is the double page version of the tapestry spread. I actually like it more than the single page version.

We now move onto illuminated manuscripts created by monks in the early Medieval period, which I found fascinating. Here's the rough sketch.

And here is the very tight line drawing.

And here's the finish. Now multiple stories could be contained in a single volume.

I really enjoyed including small details like the cat and mouse. Did you spot the bird?

The next image, plays and performances, is one of my most favorite from the book. The lighting is dramatic and I got to draw dozens of faces in the crowd. I never actually come out and say the actor is performing a Shakespeare play, but I guess I sort of alluded to the Globe Theater in the final art, where many of his plays were performed. 

Below is the rough sketch. I didn't know what I was in for until I did the line drawing.

Now that's a lot of people! It was fun drawing the costumes of the era, especially those frilly collars.

You don't see the bird right away, but he's there. 

Now stories can be experienced in a dramatic setting with actors playing roles.

Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized how information (and for our purposes here, story) was disseminated around the world and we still feel it today. It was as profound as the wheel and the computer.

I wanted to show a busy printing shop.

You'll notice that the subject of what they are printing is still related to the cosmos, this time represented by prints of an engraving of the phases of the moon.

Now stories could be mass produced and distributed.

Next: The 20th and 21st Century.

Friday, January 6, 2017


Once I accumulated dozens and dozens of drawings, most of which were unusable (but led me to the ones that were), I sifted through them and kept the ones that had potential. I always like to have way more than I need rather than the opposite. I feel the same way about cooking. I've been accused of making way too much food, but hey, leftovers are not a bad thing.

I laid out the drawings more or less in chronological order, even though most of these mediums overlapped each other. There was no way to put them in any sort of totally accurate order, but I tried my best. From this I created a very rough book dummy, which consisted of black and white sketches and first draft text. 

My editor Nancy Inteli at HarperCollins really liked the idea so we moved ahead with smoothing out the idea. Throughout the editing process, Nancy would send me suggestions and questions and I would reply with responses and answers. We did this a lot.

I mean a lot.

If you'll notice in most of my picture books, I tend to use the title page to start the story since there are only 16 spreads in a 40-page picture book (subtracting the front and back covers, the end pages, and title spread), so I try to use as much as I can.

I wanted to start the story with early man, so I came up with this image of a prehistoric man gazing up at the vast night sky with his son, to allude to the idea of generations and how it played into the book. I guess what I'm suggesting is that these stories are passed down to each generation, especially in the beginning, when it was an oral tradition. Someone had to hear and learn the stories and then pass them down to the next generation.

I also wanted to touch on the ideas of those first stories. I thought about early man and how he may have looked up at the night sky full of mystery, stars, and endless blackness. What did he think? How did he explain his existence or where he fit into the cosmos? Why was he here? Maybe he created stories to explain these things. 

Perhaps these stories provided comfort in a cold, dark, confusing world that surrounded him. Maybe that's why we still tell those stories today.

I imagined he created stories about the stars in the sky above him. Perhaps this is the way the zodiac came into existence. I did some research and learned that astrology has a very ancient history. Perhaps those signs were the subject of man's earliest stories.

So I combined the image of early man around a campfire with the signs of the zodiac swirling in the night sky above to suggest that these are the stories he's telling to the rapt listeners huddled together on a cold night around a warm fire.

Then I started thinking about just what drove man to keep telling these stories. Why didn't they eventually stop being told? Why weren't they abandoned? What was that ineffable something, that desire to hand them down from generation to generation? Being a visual person and being that this was a picture book, I knew I had to depict this with an image. I also knew whatever it was, it had to appear throughout the story in order to string the images together.

This is what I drew.

To me, this represented INSPIRATION. I imagined that this bird flew through man's history, always moving ahead into the future.

And I wanted it to be red because red is such a powerful color for me. I didn't want too many things in the book to be red, so the reader could spot it. The bird is not in all of the images, but it's in all of the spreads (even the one spread you don't think it's in).

So on to the art. 

First I take the rough sketch and place a sheet of frosted vellum over it. Then using the rough sketch as a guide, I redraw the image onto the vellum using India ink and a brush. I like using vellum because it's smooth so the lines are clean. I also use the blackest black ink I can find, so the lines are clear and dark.

This is the line drawing for the title page spread.

Then I scan the line art and open it in Photoshop, then apply color.

This is the final art once it was designed by the extraordinaire Rick Farley.

Next: Moving through history.


Sometimes I'll have an idea for a book that comes very quickly and then there are times when I have an idea in my head for a few years before I even write it down. My picture book I AM A STORY was in my head for at least 3 or 4 years before I wrote or drew anything because I think it was such a BIG idea, I wasn't sure how to approach it.

I used to think of stories and books as being synonymous, but once I took the long view, say 500,000 years, I realized that the medium of books hasn't actually been around all that long. In fact, just about any other medium which delivered stories had been around significantly longer.

I first looked at it in very broad strokes, playing around with an image I've seen many times before, the Ascent of Man, to cover in a very general way HOW stories were delivered.

Then I thought about a quote I read years ago, which sort of stuck in my head.

Hmmm. Willa Cather had a point. We do tell and listen to essentially the same stories over and over. It's just the details that have changed to fit in with the time period, location, or culture.

So putting specific story aside, I decided to concentrate on just the ways stories were delivered to us and came up with this.

Now I know there are many many other different ways, but I had to narrow my focus, so I decided to limit it to these, which ended up being the end pages for what eventually became I AM A STORY a few years later. 

Once I figured out the different mediums, then I started to sketch in my sketch book to work it out. This is an important stage in the process for me. I usually like to give myself several days, a few uninterrupted hours at a time, to just draw whatever comes to me. I don't edit myself at all. I play some music, turn off my phone, and shut down my computer. 

I know most of what I'm doing will not end up in the book, but that's okay because looking back on having done this for other books, I find that some of the things I come up with at this stage actually do end up in the book, almost exactly. Throughout all of the changes and draft upon draft that comes later, there are certain things that never change.

These are the very first drawings I did to flesh out specific scenes.

While I was sketching, I thought about what kind of voice should tell this story.

The idea of it being a first person narrative came to me very quickly.

As did the title, I AM A STORY. 

It just clicked and once it did,  I never had any other ideas about how to tell it or the title. Even some of the text I scribbled in my sketchbook remained unchanged and eventually ended up in the book.

This was such a HUGE and potentially complicated idea, so my goal was to strip it down and keep it simple. 

Next: Honing in on the idea.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


So now it's day 4 of my tour!

I woke up super early and had myself a good breakfast. It's the second most important meal of the day (the first being pre-breakfast).

The Overlook Hotel was wonderful, except for that kid on the Big Wheel and those two creepy kids who kept popping up.

 The Mothership landed in the lobby.

How can this not be the coolest job in the universe?

Those children revere me like a god. Just look at this shrine!

 We had a great time.

 A gift for the library!

 Listening to the many fun questions.

Then signing signing signing!

 My publisher HarperCollins very graciously created these lovely postcard books.

Back to the airport and in a short line! Again!

Stop tempting me Cinnabon! Be gone!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


I say a fond adieu to my new friends in Oxford, MS and now I'm off to Houston, TX!

 Another short line at the airport!

I had no idea they still made barf bags.

 Sometimes I secretly wish for a water landing.

A little dinner.

And little doodling after a long day.

Time to rest up for a big day tomorrow!