Hen&inkblots: A Literary Blog

The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Looking for the Zone — An Illustrator’s Perspective by the Coop’s Amy Huntington

January 15, 2019 by Erzsi Deak

Just like writers, children’s book illustrators must consider the question, “How do we encourage readers to want to turn the page?” How can we make images so engaging that a reader soaks up every detail while at the same time, can’t wait to see the next spread? As an illustrator I’m looking for that “zone” that marries images with the author’s written word, enhancing the flavor of the story.

The bog picture is from a WIP. I started with a watercolor background. The bog laurel is done separately with made stamps and inkpads. I like the texture and edges that you get from a stamp. It’s been fun to play with that against a less defined background. It’s cleaned up and put together digitally.

The processes illustrators develop to make their visual stories are likely as varied as the pictures they create. We all use different routines, tools, experiments, trials and errors, inspiration, and very possibly head-banging or hair-pulling while looking for that “zone” where your artistic vision starts to click.

The buildings, sky and people here are all done separately. I cut and glued the buildings, and added some colored pencil. I love collage. There is so much freedom that comes with the tactile, hands-on process. The pieces are pulled together on photoshop, with added shadows, highlights etc.

This zone is the light at the end of a long and twisty, creative tunnel. It is the point at which I know a good idea for a project has landed, if not in my lap, then at least somewhere within reasonable reach. I now have a general vision for the artwork, not only how it will look and carry the writer’s story, but also how I will physically make the pictures.

For me, getting to this point involves playing with different materials and techniques. I’m looking for new ways to create texture, line, color, composition, and emotion. It’s an ongoing process I practice daily, whether I’m working on a children’s book project or doodling in a sketchbook. When I begin a new project, I often have weeks of experimenting to draw on. Ha, ha! See what I did there?

That’s not to say I don’t have my fair share of hair pulling, but it helps. (Not bald yet.) This frequent “play” is what keeps my work fresh and evolving, and me fully engaged. After all, at the end of the day it’s our (the illustrators’ and authors’) enthusiasm for the process that keeps us all wanting to turn those pages.

The fox is inked, brush and pen, with colored pencil, and grey ink background. I did this during Inktober, a month of daily ink sketches, (though I obviously added to this one). I like the freedom of working just in ink with a limited palette. For me, when there are fewer less color choices, there is more focus on other aspects of a composition, like texture and line. And if you do add a bright color, it pops!

About Amy Huntington
Amy Huntington began painting in kindergarten, using the ends of her pigtails for brushes. She drew castles, bicycles, sleds, cats, and her siblings with the chicken pox. In summer she wrote poems while tucked in the branches of her favorite tree. After college she settled in Vermont, exhibiting her paintings in various New England galleries. As a new mother she fell in love with picture book illustration, and has never looked back.

She fills lots of sketchbooks and writes lots of words. Some turn into picture books. Her first picture book, One Monday, Orchard/Scholastic, 2001, had both Amy’s words and her art. She has since illustrated numerous books. Her most recent illustrated book is Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, by Michelle Schaub, Charlesbridge, 2017. It is a 2018 Growing Good Kids- Excellence in Children’s Literature award winner, from the American Horticultural Society.

She is currently working on NINE: A BOOK OF NONETS, written by Irene Latham, Charlesbridge, to be published in 2020.

Amy lives with her husband, two (velociraptor) cats, hens, and two sheep in an old Vermont farmhouse that needs lots of care. Member SCBWI, Authors Guild and Picture Book Artists Association. www.amyhuntington.com