The day after NESCBWI17, I received an email from Web of Life Children’s Books, asking if I’d be interested in illustrating a manuscript about the Yellowstone supervolcano and this national park’s fauna by award-winning author Janet Fox. This would be Janet’s first picture book, and the moment I read her lyrical, informative manuscript, I fell in love with it.
I dove into thumbnail sketching and Google Image searches, but it quickly became clear that without some boots-on-the-ground research, a challenging project would arrive in exceedingly difficult territory. The greatest challenges would lie in conveying the potentially catastrophic power of the supervolcano for young kids without terrifying the applesauce out of them, as well as huge shifts in time and scale.
So, it wasn’t long before I booked a ticket to Salt Lake City, rented a tiny car, and found myself and my art supplies in beautiful, wild Wyoming. It’s one of my favorite places and where I lived for a year and a half in my 20s. I had been to Yellowstone once before but briefly and without seeing much but Old Faithful. But I digress…
I spent six happy days driving and hiking around every part of Yellowstone, taking a zillion photographs (most of which I lost due to a card error.... GAH!), learning about the geology, and thinking about the best way to illustrate the book. I’d been intending to use detailed pencil drawings with digital oil paint. But as I viewed the various thermal features—spouting geysers and bubbling mud pots, roaring steam vents and gloriously colored thermal pools and runoff—I realized watercolor must be incorporated in the illustrations. Yellowstone’s thermal features are various degrees of wet.
Of, course, as well as the powerful, simmering volcano beneath the park, Yellowstone is known for its abundant wildlife. I saw my first ever black bears, including three cubs up a with their mum below, which inspired one of the illustrations. I saw my first moose, including a cow and calf browsing by a stream, and (through the enormous spotter scope of a generous wildlife photographer) wolf pups playing on a distant hillside.
For a couple of nights, I stayed with Janet in Bozeman, Montana, and we had good fun getting to know each other better and brainstorming about the book. It’s fairly rare for an illustrator to have one-on-one contact with a book’s author, and one with whom you have much in common, so I relished this lovely opportunity!
Yellowstone is a must-see. If you’ve not been there, I hope you’ll put it high on your list!
VOLCANO DREAMS official release date is September 25th, 2018. In Part the Second, I’ll talk about the next stage of my illustration process.