Today I welcome the amazing Dow Phumiruk to share what goes on “behind the scenes” for illustrators. Dow writes and illustrates multiple books each year. And this project presented several challenges – time -wise, emotionally, creatively. Thank you, Dow, for taking the time to share your experiences! The process of illustrating a picture book is sooooo fascinating! Titan and the Wild Boars released May 7, 2019.
Behind the Scenes: Illustrating Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team
Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog to share about creating the artwork for our book about this incredible rescue story!
This was easily the most challenging project of my art career to date – for several reasons. First, there was so much information I wanted to pack into the visuals, and I wanted to do so as accurately as possible. I had to draw more recurring nonfiction characters than I’ve ever had to do previously, and learning each boy’s features took much time and research. For example, this included what the boys and their coach looked like upon being found in the cave (after having lost an average of nine pounds each after days without food). I wanted to capture the astonishment of this important moment. The video footage from the divers when the boys were found was pretty blurry, and I had to do my best to carefully tease out which boy was which on the rocky ledge and extrapolate what they would’ve looked like from clearer photos. It was pretty tricky!
On a personal note, this was an emotionally difficult project. We had a death in my family amidst the busy timeline. I managed to stay on schedule, but I really had to work hard to stay focused. The research for this project was at times heart-wrenching. I watched an interview with a Thai farmer who said that they were asked if the water from the caves could be pumped out and diverted into their adjacent rice fields. The farmers did not hesitate in agreeing to the flooding of their crops. “After all, we can plant again, but we can’t get the boys’ lives back,” she remarked. She said that they also refused government compensation, because they knew the government had spent much money already for the rescue efforts. Hearing about that kindness made me cry! And of course, reading about the death of navy seal Saman Kunan was very sad. He was a hero, and our book is dedicated to him.
Though the project was challenging, the story is ultimately immensely heartwarming. I couldn’t have been more honored to be a part of it. First because I am an immigrant from Thailand, and I am so proud to draw Thai people and scenery. But also, for this remarkable story: never before has the world come together in this way, in this scope and magnitude, to help a group of children. The story is a shining example of great teamwork and the kindness of strangers. So many of us followed along and hoped and prayed for the boys to be rescued safely. It seemed the entire world watched. We hope the book will inspire future readers to see what is possible when people care and work towards a common goal – and then imagine what they might one day achieve by working together.
Creating the artwork itself:
A lot of thought and planning must happen before I actually start drawing. Susan and Pathana wrote a stunning manuscript. Susan’s alternating poetry and prose especially are effective and beautiful in telling the story. The carefully researched back matter also impressed me. I knew that I needed to do this book justice with my art!
In general, when I plan art for a book, I try to think about each page or spread as a freestanding piece of artwork. I want a reader to look at one page or spread and want to see more. At the same time, I work to make the book as a whole cohesive.
First, I will create a storyboard, which is the best way to evaluate my choices of composition and perspective. Layouts need to be varied to keep things interesting! The storyboard is usually in the form of a single page of tiny “thumbnail” images – super rough shapes basically, that probably only I can make out. You can find free sample storyboards online. The storyboard is also where I break up the text per page, and I put it together on Photoshop – sometimes right on top of my rough thumbnails. I can’t seem to find my storyboard for this book, but here is a sample of one from another project.
I then pull out each thumbnail and create each individual spread. I eventually have a whole book dummy. Here is a sample of one of the opening spreads as a black and white sketch. I created the illustrations using ink, charcoal, and pencil.
My art director for this project was Dana Fritts, who gave expert guidance on my sketches and layouts. She also helped me compose the cover illustration. I can’t emphasize how much better a book is as a result of great art direction! While they do not draw for us, these experienced and talented people sure know what makes a book eye-catching and appealing. One of the biggest behind-the-scenes parts of illustrating a book for a traditional publishing house that is how much it is an effort in teamwork.
After my sketches have been approved, I add the full color and the lighting along with the overlays. This is my favorite part: seeing the book pages in color! It comes to life! For this book, I colored digitally. We used a lot of rich jewel tones. I also used scanned watercolor samples as overlays, especially for dirt, mud, and rock textures in the cave. Lastly, I used a lot of overlays for lighting and glow. I had very little opportunity to place light inside the cave, except that which came from flashlights. I had to carefully create scenes that were dark, but not too dark for printing!
Along the way in creating the art, we would look it over for accuracy, and I’d make revisions as needed. Each of us on the bookmaking team was committed to getting the details right. Nonfiction books must as accurate as possible!
Dana put finishing touches on the book by designing the jacket and placing bits of my art on the backmatter. I love the Thai ornamental design she found and used decoratively. I was so amazed upon seeing her work on the jacket!
After the months of hard work, it is always a pleasure to hold the project in book form in my hands. I am especially grateful that I was given the opportunity to illustrate this project, and I hope you’ll check out our efforts!
Thank you again for having me here to talk about the creation of this book and my illustrations, Beth!