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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but art and design junior Emma Phillips, who recently illustrated the children’s book “The Boy Who Couldn’t Cry Wolf” by Caldric Blackwell, knows this isn’t always true.
Phillips met University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus and author Blackwell through her roommate, who is Blackwell’s sister. Blackwell had written two other published books with Icasm Press and was so impressed by Phillips’ previous artwork that he wanted to work with her for his upcoming book.
Phillips stepped up to the challenge.
“I had never illustrated a children’s book before, but there I was, my first time trying it with an actual publishing company,” Phillips said. “That was scary, and they had to be patient with me. I had no idea how long it can take and how hard it can be.”
Not only was the process of illustrating a children’s book foreign to Phillips, but her previous artistic style had been more feminine and realistic. She had no formal experience drawing in cartoon style.
Art and design senior Sammy Ness is Phillips’ classmate in the graphic design program. She felt the style Phillips adopted fit well with the book’s intended atmosphere.
“Her work usually carries the air of being very welcoming,” Ness said. “It’s been great to watch her approaches to each new project. I would describe Emma’s illustration style here as really well-suited for children’s books. She creates great spaces of color, and for a book about werewolves, it has a very friendly atmosphere.”
Luckily, Blackwell and Phillips were able to come up with a style that not only suited the targeted age range but also Blackwell’s vision for the project.
“She had a lot of input, and I trusted her judgment because I had seen a lot of her work before,” Blackwell said. “I started by telling her the adjectives I had in mind for all of the characters and a few pictures I had seen elsewhere.”
The main character of the story, Byron Woodward, is a 6-year-old werewolf who is embarrassed about not being able to howl like the other children werewolves. The story was inspired by Blackwell’s research on children with autism. However, this character posed the most difficulty to illustrate because of the inherently scary nature of werewolves.
“It was really hard to make the werewolf look not intimidating and still look like he could be a child,” Phillips said. “The werewolf was the hardest part by far.”
At first, Phillips made the character too cutesy for Blackwell’s taste and then overcompensated and made him too scary for a children’s book. Finally, they agreed on a style by referencing other cartoon werewolves and talking it out via email.
Phillips used digital painting in Photoshop, along with her Bamboo tablet and stylus to create all of the illustrations.
“The tablet was relatively new for me,” Phillips said. “This was my first time diving into using it so I actually had a few pages that I started out with that I ended up scrapping entirely because it was me learning how to use.”
Even though it was her first foray into the digital painting world, Phillips immediately recognized its value. Instead of having to recreate all of the elements again and again for all of the pages of the book, she could copy and paste them and then modify them with the program to make them match the scene on that page. This time-saving device came in handy for illustrating 28 pages, corner to corner.
Her painting professor, Daniel Dove, also helped her with the consistency and forms of her drawings.
“There are no real-life references for werewolves, so I had no idea, for example, what a werewolf would look like sitting cross-legged on the floor,” Phillips said.
Though Phillips had never illustrated professionally, there was one aspect of it that came naturally to her: working with others to create a product.
“In studio art classes, I always was concerned that I was too shallow to be an artist because my teachers would be like, ‘Do what you feel,’ and I never knew what to do,” Phillips said. “Through becoming a publicity officer with my high school leadership team, I learned that I actually loved working with people and having a prompt to work off of.”
Blackwell, one of Phillips’ first clients, appreciated her willing attitude.
“I am very happy with the final product,” Blackwell said. “We were able to get on the same page and I had a good understanding of what she wanted to do creatively with it. So far, all of the children I have interacted with have seemed to really like the illustrations and text.”
Phillips had to learn about all of the other business practices of publishing as she went, such as release forms and contracts stating that she could not share the book before the company did. It was a big leap from only being a student in classes where work was, for the most part, her own. However, the payoff of being able to see the results in others’ hands is what made the freelance project worth it in the end.
“You can work on a project or a campaign for a long time and it can be very stressful, but my favorite part is seeing it on the world,” Phillips said. “As soon as I searched for this book on Amazon, I got this sense of pride, which is one of the best feelings.”