Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Trouble with Illustrators

You may not have known that a writer could have trouble with an illustrator, but it is absolutely true. Now don’t get me wrong. Illustrators are talented artists. Dr. Seuss books just wouldn’t be as exciting without those wacky illustrations. Pictures make the picture book, you know?

But sometimes you wonder what the artist was reading when you see the illustration made to go with your story.

Girl expressing frustration over illustrations
I’ve been writing children’s stories for a certain client since 2002. That company asks its writers not to be descriptive when it comes to the characters. I can see where a detail hidden in the tenth paragraph might be missed by the artist skimming the story for ideas. So, I don’t usually give a description of the main character. And any description that is an integral part of the story will appear—quite helpfully, I might add—in the first few paragraphs. The illustrator can’t possibly overlook it. Um, yeah ...

A name can be descriptive, can it not? And if my characters have Hispanic names, the illustration typically presents Hispanic children. However, I may choose a popular minority name, such as Jasmine or Jamal, for a black child, and end up with an illustration of a pale redhead that leaves me scratching my head!

But this latest gaffe wins the prize. I wrote a Christmas story. The preteen girl in the story is in the clothing dept in the first paragraph. She’s admiring the gorgeous party dresses, the lacy and velvety ones you always see around the holidays. She wishes she could have a fancy dress for the Christmas program at school.

Imagine my unhappy surprise upon seeing the published result with a picture of a girl holding up what appears to be a casual blue jean jumper with a flower applique on it. Really??? In whose mind does that represent a fancy party dress? Or Christmas, for that matter? And so I sit and wonder what happened. How did the meaning of that first sentence get lost? Did the illustrator truly think a girl would beg for a denim jumper when her classmates have holiday velvet? Or did this anonymous illustrator dig through a file labeled “Children Shopping” and pull out an illustration of a girl holding up a jumper and think, “Eh, close enough,” and turn that in?

Sighhh. It’s at times like this that I wish I could illustrate my own stories.

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