Why I wish I were a visual artist

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I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long, long time. At first, I thought the only “real” books were fiction, so that’s what I wanted to write. Then I realized that I really wasn’t good at fiction writing, and I really loved facts and narratives, so I thought something social or instructional or travel-oriented would be good. Then I thought about the universal dream of writing a book for money, so adult fiction popped up again. Then I thought that I really don’t want to write sex scenes, so that was gone. Maybe young adult novels!

Now, as a mother of a 2 year old who loves to read, I’m really psyched about the idea of children’s books. And also a bit sad. Because, you, see, I’m not a visual artist.

I know there is tremendous work that goes into writing the words of children’s books. I imagine that it is something like poetry: they may be short, but require all the more careful writing for that. So yes, I have great respect for the authors of children’s books. But I’ve concluded that I have a lot more for the illustrators.

However hard the writing is, the pictures have to be at least as hard. An average young child’s book might have a few words per page, or as many as 1 or 2 sentences. At the same time, each page will have a full colour illustration. Beautifully done. Requiring, I would imagine, hours and hours of work as you sketch out different options for positioning the scene. And maybe you create the images digitally so you can just do a few manipulations with each change. Likely not – it’s starting all over again with each new draft. And after ALL that work – you get listed second, sometimes barely warranting a mention while the writer gets top billing.

Admittedly, that is not why I want to be a visual artist (Note to self: stick with the theme set up in the title). I mention it to show my level of respect for illustrators of children’s books. What I really do want to do, however, is create some kids’ books. Ideas keep coming to me, and I want to do something with them. I could write a kid’s book – but without pictures, what’s the point?

Options: find collaborators. I could ask. I’m hesitant to impose my weak prose on a professional artist, but it could be done. Or, take an xkcd-style approach to the illustrations. However, that’s not really what I’d want in a book. For your reference, three children’s books whose pictures are making me smile lately, see When I was Small by Sara O’Leary/ illustrations by Julie Morstad (renamed “When I was Tiny” by baby); One Naked Baby, author/illustrator Maggie Smith; and And You Can Come Too, by Ruth Ohi, author/illustrator. Those books suggest a third option: become a visual artist. Sigh … I’ve read Talent is Overrated; I would expect it to take thousands of hours of hard work to begin to get to a level where I could illustrate a book. But that doesn’t mean (as Piggy said in Elephants Cannot Dance) that I cannot try! So I may, some day, get some art supplies and do something with them.

Do what you can with what you have. My winter break philosophy as applied to writing ambitions.

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