Last fall I illustrated my first chapter book, Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game, by Amy Gutierrez, and...it released today! I really enjoyed this project. Despite the fact that I was born in Cooperstown, NY, home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I have several uncles and a grandfather who were serious about baseball, I went into this project knowing essentially nothing about baseball or softball, and the story required me to illustrate both convincingly. As a result, I spent an embarrassing amount of time watching YouTube videos of baseball and softball pitching and catching, and peppered my uncle (who happens to be a Little League coach) with inane questions when the internet let me down. One of my favorite things about being an illustrator is that with every project I have to give myself a crash course on some new topic I don't have a clue about so I can create illustrations that kids won't poke a zillion holes in right away. Kids are seriously the toughest critics, notice ALL your mistakes, and tell you all about them (in illustration and in life).
Illustrating a chapter book, it turns out, is completely different from illustrating a picture book. With a picture book, the illustrations and the text work together as equal partners to create a story. For those projects I spend lots of time planning out all the illustrations in sequence to make sure they flow well from one to the next. And, all the picture books I have done so far have had full-color illustrations throughout. In other words, picture books are a ton of work. This chapter book, on the other hand, had a very quick turn around time, and the black and white illustrations were mostly vignettes as opposed to full page spreads. The illustrations in a chapter book don't really carry any of the weight of the story, they are decorative, and without them, the story would read just fine. Which means, for the illustrator, way less stress.
The character "Smarty Marty" first appeared in Amy Gutierrez's picture book, Smarty Marty's Got Game which came out a few years ago. That book was illustrated by Adam Macaulay, who used a very graphic style. For the chapter book, the art director, Melissa Greenberg, wanted me to take Macaulay's characters as a starting point so there would be some continuity between the two books, but draw them in my own style. Because the deadline was so tight, I put the grays in digitally, which would not have been my first choice, but I have to say it felt great to be able to turn around so many images so quickly. To celebrate the book's release, here are a few images: