Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mayra Calvani on The Author/Illustrator Relationship

Below is an article by Author Mayra Calvani. (I am illustrating a children's picture book written by Mayra)
This is Mayra's blog-tour stop on my blog.

For anyone who leaves a comment, she will be giving away a $20.00 Amazon gift certificate on Christmas day to the winner of a drawing if you leave a post after you have read the article.

On the Author/Illustrator Relationship…
By Mayra Calvani

For most authors, working with an illustrator for a picture book can be a thrilling yet stressful experience. Having created the imaginary world in their stories, authors often wonder whether or not the artist will be able to grasp the essence of the setting and characters—not only physically, but tone-wise as well. After all, it is up to the artist to bring the story visually to life. Sometimes the artist may have a different idea for the artwork than the author, and this can create problems.

When working with the big publishing houses, authors hardly have any saying as far as the artwork goes. The art department assigns the illustrator who they think will be better suitable for the book, and that’s that. With small presses, the author has more influence in the matter and often authors and illustrators work side by side. This, by the way, doesn’t necessarily lead to a better book. It’s okay for the author to indicate her vision for the book, but it’s also important to allow the artist to be creative and do her part. Likewise, an illustrator should keep in mind the author’s vision for the illustrations. Mutual respect and communication are essential in any relationship, and for authors and illustrators working together this is no exception.

Of course, an author has the most control over the artwork when she hires an artist for a self publishing project. This is how I found Amy Moreno. Initially I was planning to self publish my children’s picture book, The Doll Violinist. I had sent it out to dozens of agents and publishers, without success. I got some good comments on it, but apparently the editors and agents found the story’s tone too ‘quiet’. Nevertheless, I had faith in my project and set out to find the right illustrator for it. My plan was to keep submitting while the artwork was being done, and in the event that I didn’t have a publisher by the time it was finished, then I would publish it myself.

But to go back to Amy … I spent about three months searching online, studying illustrator’s styles and querying the ones whose work I liked to learn about their fees and work schedules. I found Amy via ( I believe in the sixth sense, and I instantly felt a connection to Amy’s beautiful illustrations and renderings. I got in contact with her. To make a long story short, I sent her The Doll Violinist and she loved it. Amy’s background in music and the cello was a huge plus, as I really wanted someone who would understand the musical aspect of the story. After I described her what I was after and we exchanged ideas, I asked her to send me a sample illustration, which she did. When I saw it, I was spellbound—in that single black & white drawing, she had perfectly captured the essence of the story. This was in the fall of 2006. She’s still working on the illustrations, 24 in all, and in the meantime I have been sending off the story and sample artwork to various publishers. The Doll Violinist won an Honorable Mention Award at the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and was one of 12 finalists this year at the ABC’s Children’s Picture Book Competition, so I’m still hoping that it will catch the attention of a publisher. Working with Amy has been a thrilling and rewarding experience as we see the story, setting and characters come to life. Since the story takes place in Victorian Europe, Amy has done a tremendous amount of research for the fashions and architecture of the time. She spent a long time studying the postures of violinists and even bought a violin so she could get the violin illustrations perfectly right! Thanks to her skill and vision, I know the book will turn out a beautiful product, whether traditionally or self published.

In the case of The Magic Violin, however, it was my publisher, Lynda Burch of Guardian Angel Publishing, who assigned the artist, though she asked my opinion before a decision was made. As soon as I saw K.C. Snider’s website (, or I was very impressed by her drawing and paintings, especially of horses, which are her specialty. So I accepted her suggestion to have K.C. illustrate my book. K.C. was wonderful to work with, even though I made a few mistakes initially. For one thing, I didn’t give her enough information about the setting and especially about the correct postures for a violinist. This created some delay as I found errors in the artwork which had to be fixed. I blame myself for this. If I had spent more time communicating, I would have made both our lives a little easier. She was very open to suggestions and wanted me to be happy with the result, so I’m really grateful to her for that. Part of the reason for this lack of communication was my hectic schedule, so this has been a valuable lesson—to always give my writing projects 100% of my attention. Fortunately, I’m happy with the results and especially with the cover. I think K.C. captured something special and even magical in that cover.

Every children’s picture book is an adventure and I can’t wait to dive into the next one. Finding the right illustrator can be difficult, but once you do, it’s really a worthwhile and exciting experience. The secret? Mutual respect and communication.


Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for having e on your blog today, Amy! I appreciate it!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your post regarding the write/illustrator relationship. I totally agree with you, that it can be a very wonderful combo - when you have the right match. I have worked with traditional publishers and self-published authors and have to say that it is much more fun to work and illustrate for authors one-on-one. Your post may encourage other authors to give it a try....though it can be a little scarey, the exerience can be much richer when you see your vision for the project come to life!

All the best to you with "The Doll

Kim Sponaugle

Margaret Fieland said...

I've written a couple of picture books, so far unpublished, and, yes, I do have a picture in my head of how some of it would look. I'm looking forward to some day working with an illustrator. Thanks for an interesting interview.

Margaret Fieland

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed your article. It is so true that the writer and artist be properly matched and on the same page (no pun intended), especiall for an illustrated children's book. As you know, I wrote a review on The Magic Violin (see Amazon, Gather, etal) and was extremely pleased with the magical cover art. I also recommended the book for it's poignant message for kids of all ages. Even adults who struggle to find their way can take away the positive message in this work. I'm looking forward to The Doll Violinist and hope it soon finds the appropriate publishing venue.

I have been fortunate to have worked with a marvelous artist and graphic designer for my own novels and don't underestimate the writer/artist relationship. As you say in the article, good and continuous communication is the key.

Best of luck and continuing success with both your books and your virtual book tour.

Douglas Quinn

Jess said...

Wow, very nice article! Great job Mayra!

Anonymous said...

Great article. I just finished my first PB. The illustrator contacted me with the idea. One more pass by my critique group and then she'll see it. I'm nervous, but can't wait. She says she's open to suggestions on the art. :-)
Jessica Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer

Mary Cunningham said...

Very informative article, Mayra. Both author and illustrator must work almost seamlessly for the book to take shape.

Continued success with your book release and blog tour!

Lisa Garner said...

I sounds like it's been amazing journey with your books. I'm glad your were able to find special artists who were able to make your visions come to life. Congratulations on your books!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Kim, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I took a look at your website. Lovely illustrations! I also enjoyed the book trailer!

Margaret, I hope you find the right illustrator for your book and best of luck with finding a publisher. Keep submitting!

Douglas, thanks again for your kind words and for taking the time to review my book and post the review on various sites!

Jess, I see you are following my tour--that's so sweet of you! I know this is a busy time for everybody, so I really appreciate it!

Happy holidays--I hope you're all having a grnad time decorating and shopping for gifts! :-)

Jackie DiGiovanni said...

Mayra, Your article thoughtfully combines information and encouragement. I admire your dedication to putting your story in the hands of young readers. How nice that you found a compatible creative person to design beautiful images for your story. I wish much good luck to you and your book.

Cakespy said...

This was a great post. My mom is a children's book illustrator so I have seen some this in action! It was very informative, I've passed it on to her and enjoyed reading it myself!