I use Photoshop and I “paint” with my stylus pen, or entirely digitally, but I also create hand-painted textures and place them in a layer as well as a few photographic elements. My technique is not that different from my actual hand painting (when I used to render in oils), it’s just less messy. While it takes almost the same amount of time, I can really play with color and composition more freely than if I were painting by hand. Still, I strive to make the end result look like a hand-painted piece. This book in particular was a great vehicle for me to play with media and patterns. It's a jumping point for much of my future work.
I had no idea it was primarily digital because it looks hand-painted.
Do you have a favorite spread?
It’s tough to pick just one, but I would have to say it’s the sequential spread where the different animals are checking off qualifications for Groundhog Weather School. I love the different environments and the use of the newspaper and pattern designs, not to mention the fun side characters (some of whom make other appearances in the book). I also love the format of the sequential storytelling. It makes reading it more fun.
Which was the last illustration you painted for the book?
The final piece was the cover. That was quite a challenge since I had to please the marketing people. I probably had 5 to 7 sketches and 3 to 4 rounds of changes on the final art. We wanted the cover to reflect the crazy amount of information in the book and the fun that you would find when you open it up, yet still be clear enough to pop off the shelves. The bold type does that and in the back you can see the groundhogs actually burrowing, ironically the only time you actually see this happen in the whole book.
The cover looks so effortless! And it does pop. I've done experiments, where I look at the picture book shelf in bookstores from a distance to see which catch my eye, and this one does, particularly because of the color use and shapes. I particularly like the title type you created. Thanks for a gorgeous cover.
I'm always fascinated with artists' sketches. Would you share one of yours?
Sure! I’m including a few character sketches since I got a chance to play with some “personalities.” I had the most fun with that. I love the ballerina and the intellectual groundhogs. You'll also see the layout sketch of the groundhogs and skunk onstage, which won our editor over pretty easily so it isn’t too different from the finish.
Do you have any groundhogs? How about other pets?
We have a couple neighborhood groundhogs! One actually took the time to visit my front stoop the same day I got feedback from Cecilia, the Art Director. It was such a funny coincidence and perhaps a very good sign if you believe in such things! I do have a rescued black lab mix as a pet, but I have to separate him from the groundhogs since they don’t play nicely together. Oh, and my dog makes a cameo in the book! He's in the bottom right of the illustration below:
What's your studio like?
I have two computers, a Mac Pro tower and Mac Pro laptop (you can never have too much power), an 11 x 17 flatbed scanner and archival printer. Lots of tech. But my studio is full of inspiration, magazines, art and other children’s books of course. I have a literal reminder hanging on my wall of what I need to do everyday.
Any websites or blogs to share, so everyone can see more of your work? Any upcoming books or other projects?
I’m currently working on a picture book with Sterling Publishing. Don't think I can give away the title yet, but it's one of those books where the pictures tell the whole story. It's quite a challenge. You can see my work at www.kristinsorra.com www.kristinsorra.blogspot.com
Please check my website for news on appearances related to Groundhog Weather School. My blog gives some insight into my creative inner workings in and around kids books, and anything else that inspires. I hope you'll feel free to leave feedback. Thank you, Joan for the artistic challenge that was Groundhog Weather School!
Groundhog Weather School
illustrator: Kristin Sorra
author: Joan Holub
publisher: Putnam, 2010
~ Joan Holub