I have a little song that I like to sing with my K-3 students when we’re first getting to know books. In some of our first lessons together, I teach them the parts of the book: where the title is, the cover, what the papers in the middle are called (pages), and then, we sing: the author writes the words, the author writes the words, the illustrator draws the pictures and the author writes the words.
I’m afraid it’s a little bit of a misnomer. Sometimes, the illustrator does much more than draw pictures. And that is very much the case for Rowan.
You have no idea how hard this man has to work to get you these gorgeous chapter illustrations. Sometimes I don’t even give him an idea. Sometimes I do. Other times, I’m like, “well, what would you like to draw?” Or even: “Well, what do you think this character looks like?”
I’ve mentioned that I’m not neurotypical. I’m not a very visual person. I’m a writer, and a bit of a poet. I’ve been told that my strengths lie in dialogue and in narration and in world building and storytelling, but frankly, my prose is more characteristically short, accessible, and not heavy on words you need to look up in the dictionary. I also seldom pull out a thesaurus. Part of this is because, in all seriousness, I seldom, if ever, visualize what I write. My imagination doesn’t work that way. I can’t really ‘see’ things in my head the way you might. When I read, I enjoy patterns of words, turns of phrase, rhythm, that kind of thing. It’s more like music for me — not a movie.
So basically what happens on a weekly basis is, I hand Rowan some sheet music and he comes back with a gorgeous, comprehensive portrait. And I don’t think you realize how challenging that must be! Don’t think I’m over here dictating everything. Sometimes I do have some visual input — or maybe a mannerism to impart on a character — but more often than not, I throw papers at Rowan and say “uhm, I don’t know? Draw a skinny goth? What does a skinny goth look like???”
And somehow, not only does he figure out that stuff, but also composes scenes, backgrounds, and all the other bits and bobs — and then colors it — and bam, you have art. I do my best, but really, he’s critically underpaid and overworked.
Just, you know, thought I’d brag. And also show you all that the design process is likely much more collaborative than you might expect.