Friday, June 8, 2012

Evolution of the National Book Festival Poster

"The book's role in passing knowledge from person to person, from generation to generation, 

is unique and irreplaceable."   -Librarian of Congress James Billington.

What a thrill to work on the poster for the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival to be held on September 22-23 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. This extraordinary event will feature more than 100 renowned authors, poets and illustrators and is free and open to the public. Festival-goers can get books signed and kids can have their photos taken with storybook characters as part of special activities created just for them. An estimated 200,000 people attended in 2011 and the festival this year includes Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Roth and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa who won the 2010 Nobel Prize among others.
I first explored the concept of reading to your pets in this illustration from 
Book Fiesta written by Pat Mora.  

Book Fiesta! We read to our pets.

Drawing of Class Guinea Pig Shakespeare
by 9 year old Santiago

I vividly remember reading to my dogs, cats, lizards and hamsters as a child. My young son Santiago reads regularly to his class guinea pig Shakespeare, who by the way is a big fan of Roald Dahl. This concept resonated with National Book Festival organizers giving me the incredible opportunity to re-invent this theme for their poster.

Raw Gestural Sketch

Previous posters had always featured the headline at the top. I wanted to change things up by creating a border of animals mesmerized by three young readers that encircled the text. To get started I made the gestural sketch above to set the mood and guide my storytelling. I wanted the three children to be the focal point so when refining the sketch below I added directional clues with the animals pointing their eyes and bodies at the central headline and kids.

Refined Sketch

In this phase I define the characters slowly and carefully, sketching and developing the personalities into each animal. This results in a wise turtle [he has already lived 100 years after all] and a curious tiger [stretching his neck for a peek at that book]. I draw each one separately on sheets of tracing paper and move them into position, enlarging or condensing them, tearing off bits of tissue, re-positioning and overlapping them till my intuition gives me the green light. I then re-draw the finished sketch, transfer it to the board and tape it up in my studio. After hand selecting, cutting and sanding the board till the grain is just right I transfer the sketch and mask out all the characters in preparation for the background. The next step involves covering the entire composition with tape and carefully cutting out each creature with an xacto knife.

Cutting shapes with an xacto knife.

Distinctive shapes are ready for color. 

Shape and texture is central to my work. Books are about reality and fantasy and I choose to stir up a  concoction of both. Because I view my subjects as design elements I have the freedom to push scale all over the composition. I know kids are not hung up on realism so why should I be? I can make a gigantic, almost pre-historic dragonfly. Who cares if a tiny creature is the same height as a dinosaur as that just heightens the fun. It's more important that I include a spiky texture in that spot so along comes a pointy hedgehog. I'm focused on the shapes and getting them to fit the space. Then along comes the big color decision.

Applying background colors to the wood surface

The background dictates all the other colors. I wanted to use blue/green daylight hues to contrast the warm characters. Lighter colors at the base  bring attention to the kids while the top of the composition is cooler and darker to add a touch of wonder near the inquisitive monkeys. Developing the colors for each character involves looking back at what I've already done and complementing colors across the composition. I don't hesitate to make a textured purple elephant if that brings vitality to the storytelling.

Color palette taking shape

The border comes alive

Working my way around the composition I want the colors to talk to each other.  I stay focused on the shapes and keep telling myself to think like a kid. Listening to that inner child reminds you that it is important to play. That's why I add lots of surprises, details and textures hoping children will identify with one of or two of the playful creatures. Here's the finished artwork given to the design team at the Library of Congress with a temporary headline for position.

Pictured below is the final poster for the 2012 National Book Festival. To see a more detailed step by step of the poster evolution please visit the Library of Congress blog at this link.