When you buy a picture book, you might only notice the author and illustrator’s name. But when it comes to transforming a typed manuscript into a published book? That takes an entire team of talented people. The author works with the editor on direction, revisions, and anything else that has to do with the text. But the illustrator takes their direction from the art director. Today we get to talk to Teresa Lagrange, the art director at Islandport Press, the publisher of my next book, Chowder Rules! The True Story of an Epic Food Fight.
This nonfiction picture book tells the true (and funny) story of the Maine state lawmaker who tried to make it illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder! Let’s dive in and find out what an art director does and what Teresa’s pictoral vision for this book was and how that process works!
Anna – Tell me about your job and what it entails! What are the pros and cons for future designers?
Teresa – I design and layout all the Islandport Press books from start to finish. I also create marketing materials such as our catalogs, postcards, and sell sheets. The world is fascinated with design and software continues to blow our minds with its capacity. The problem is also that the world is fascinated with design so everyone thinks they are a designer.
Anna – How early in the process, do you get involved and begin analyzing a book’s visual storytelling potential?
Teresa – It depends on the project. But first we do the cover design, which is often a collaborative effort. And I don’t always get my way—but that is okay, flexibility is a key characteristic of a good designer. Ideally I read the manuscript (talking adult books here, children’s manuscripts are always available to read before cover design) before I do the cover, but sometimes that isn’t a possibility, and I just get a synopsis. Some covers have been extremely easy, others have required many rounds of revisions to get it just right. After the cover comes font selection, and chapter header and page design. The back cover design is an important factor as well.
Anna – What stood out to you about this book?
Teresa – This book has it all—a historical event, a rivalry, a climax and a resolution—all with a historic Maine component! Great storytelling Anna!
Anna – Thank you! Teresa, can you tell us more about the role visual storytelling plays in picture books. Why is it so important?
Teresa – Children are visual sponges. Illustrations should provide readers with an immediate vision of the characters, setting, and overall mood of the story. The right picture book promotes participation and imagination. One of the most important things in children’s books is the consistency of characters. There’s a big difference in drawing a character once, and drawing them over and over in different ways and keeping them recognizable. Illustrator Vita Lane accomplishes that feat in “Chowder Rules” perfectly.
Anna – When I first saw this cover, it blew me away! Tell us about this cover, the composition decisions, the color palette, and lettering.
Teresa – Melissa Kim (the editor on this project) and I wanted the characters in the cook off on the cover—we loved the idea of them back to back with ladles in hand. But it was missing something. We added the hint of Maine/Manhattan in the background to portray a sense of place. The interior started with Vita developing rough sketches and we gave suggestions, until we were all on the same page—then off to the colored finished pieces. This book had to be historically accurate—the clothes, the telephones, etc had to be from the era. Though clam shells and tomatoes haven’t changed much over the years! The color palette was all Vita. She did a fantastic job carrying through the colors throughout the book.
Anna – Tell me about the design process for picture books
Teresa – When I get the final sketches laid out I think about what font to use. I usually do a few samples and as a team we look at which font matches the feel of the story best. It is important for a font to be readable. I have seen horribly designed picture books with beautiful art but designed with a font that isn’t readable so children that are learning the alphabet and site words have a hard time recognizing any letters.
Anna – In addition to heading up design for Islandport Press, you are also an author/illustrator as well. Tell me about your journey as an artist.
I have been in art ever since I was 4 and drew Winnie the Pooh and friends all over my walls when I was ‘napping.’ I didn’t attend art school but went to college for advertising (hey it was the 80s!). My first job out of college was at the Kennebec Journal newspaper in Augusta, Maine and learned how to design on a little macintosh computer. I have worked as a designer at University of Connecticut, Portland Museum of Art, and numerous other clients before coming to Islandport Press. I have illustrated a cookbook, “Always in Season” with Islandport Press; and I wrote and illustrated a children’s book with Allen and Unwin called “The Twelve Days of Christmas Island.” I also do illustration work and paintings outside of work, and have an ongoing exhibit, Women in Rock, featuring paintings and illustrations inspired by women-named rock titles (think Jolene, Ruby Tuesday, etc).
Thank you to Teresa for the awesome interview and inside scoop! If you missed my previous interview with the illustrator Vita Lane of Chowder Rules!, you can check it out here. If you have a young artists in your life, this is a great interview series to share with them. You might be opening their yes to a career! If they want to go deeper, don’t miss this interview with the book designer who design both of my young adult nonfiction books, Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World and Google It: A History of Google. Raphael Geroni lets us in on his design secrets!
And don’t forget you can pre-order a signed copy of the book right now from my local indie, Print: A Bookstore.
Friends, as always, thank you for your support!