S. S. Taylor and I thought it would be fun to do a three-part blog post together, to discuss the writing and drawing process behind three scenes from The Expeditioners series. Today is Part 2 in the conversation. To read Part 1, please follow this link.
KATHERINE: Hello again, Sarah! Let’s jump right into our next scene to discuss, this time from Book Two, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair…
It was warm and festive inside the Longhouse for the dinner kicking off the Final Exam Expedition season; we’d each be proposing our own expeditions, and the ten best proposals would be announced in six weeks at the Announcement Banquet. The room was full of energy and anticipation.
The long table were filled with parents and special visitors, all of us watched by the stuffed heads of lions and Elebeests, Shadow Leopards and other exotic creatures, the huge Doolandan Elk antler chandeliers casting flickering candlelight on our conversations.
SARAH: As soon as I decided that Kit, Zander and M.K. would join their friend Sukey at the Academy for the Exploratory Sciences in the second Expeditioners adventure, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair, I started thinking about what the Academy would look like and about the spaces where students would spend their time. I knew that the Longhouse was a great place to show the dynamics between the Wests and other students and teachers and also between the siblings themselves. The dining hall at a boarding school is full of possibility because it brings everybody in that community together in a common place.
KATHERINE: The Academy campus sounded endlessly cool; there were just so many terrific spaces and buildings to draw! I wanted as many exterior and interior drawings of the school as possible to appear in the final book. I remember first reading Sarah’s description of the Longhouse and loving all the shiny details she described in the text. Shadow Leopards? Chandeliers? What does a Doolandan Elk look like? I made notes to myself about these and other questions and answers that would impact the illustration, too. What time of year is it? Who’s in the room? Is there a way to show the outside of the Longhouse? There were so many important points to consider. How would I strike the right tone and content in the final illustration? I remember calling Sarah and discussing both the atmosphere of the room and the tension in the scene.
SARAH: The narrative “point” of this scene is the confrontation between Kit and Lazlo Nackley, another young explorer who has a history of denigrating Kit and thwarting him.
The backdrop to the confrontation is the noisy, bustling Longhouse. The Academy’s headmaster, Hilda Magnusdottir, is just about to announce the kick-off to the new Final Exam Expedition season when Lazlo approaches the table where Kit, his siblings, and their friend Sukey Neville are eating.
“What’s the matter, Neville?” We all looked up to see Lazlo Nackley standing over our table, holding his empty dinner tray. “The food isn’t rich enough for you? They say real Explorers can eat anything. I once ate a cockroach when I was exploring in Deloia.”
“Don’t they also say, ‘You are what you eat?’” I muttered. Everyone at the table laughed, and Lazlo flushed red.
“Excuse me?” He fixed his pale blue eyes on me.
“Come on,” Sukey said. “Leave us alone, Lazlo. Or are you still mad you lost to them in the challenge?”
KATHERINE: At first, there seemed to be three different possible drawing approaches to this illustration. One would be just to show the room—elegant, grand, a little bit rustic—and fill it with all of those wonderful animals in the text. Another approach would be to focus on the presenters during the announcement ceremony, especially Hilda Magnusdottier, perhaps with Mr. Mountmorris in the background. And a third approach might be just to focus on the kids and the encounter between Kit and Lazlo. After careful consideration, I decided that all of them could probably be combined into one illustration, and that the composition could stay “centered” on the encounter between Lazlo and Kit, since it was the emotional heart of the scene.
SARAH: There’s a lot of history between the Wests and Lazlo Nackley and it all comes to a head in this scene. Lazlo has a nagging sense that they put something over on him in Arizona and deep down, Kit is angry that Lazlo got so much credit and there’s nothing he can do about it. When Lazlo ribs Sukey, Kit can’t help himself. The stakes are very high and Kit’s lack of self control may have serious consequences. If Kit, Zander, M.K. and Sukey don’t get sent on this expedition, they won’t be able to try to find the location of the new map their father left for them.
KATHERINE: So for the illustration, we have Lazlo facing off with Kit. Sukey, Zander, and M.K. are present, and the food being served is generally disgusting. I asked myself a few more questions to figure out the composition of the drawing. Where does Lazlo belong in the frame, on the left side or on the right? Is Sukey watching them or still flirting with Zander when Lazlo begins to bother Kit? What’s M.K. up to while everyone else is talking? She doesn’t have much to say here; maybe she’s trying to avoid eating all that nasty soup? I did some sketches to try out poses, then took the one that worked best and dropped it into a much more zoomed out view of the room.
KATHERINE: Next came the photo reference—lodge interiors like the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, chandeliers, animal trophies, and a huge mammoth head. I also needed images of ceremonies with podiums, and of people sitting and standing in restaurants. Finally, I needed reference for all those long tables in correct perspective. Google 3D warehouse was a huge help with this to get the angles and the diminishing sizes right on all those rows of heads and chairs.
KATHERINE: In the end, the final illustration was my best attempt to include all the important parts of the scene, with the atmosphere, the characters, the actions, and the emotions all rolled into one. I also included a little joke in the art showing M.K. dumping out her disgusting soup. It seemed like something that M.K. would do, and when I checked in with Sarah she approved the addition. It’s the kind of small character moments that illustrators love to create, something that the text doesn’t originally describe but that can be visually “written” in to compliment the other actions in the scene.
SARAH: I love Katherine’s illustration of this scene. You can practically smell the woodsmoke and the terrible food! Thanks for staying in this conversation with us! We’ll be back next Tuesday, December 16th, for the last installment of this behind-the-scenes discussion.
KATHERINE: In the meantime if you want to buy copies of The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair to give as Christmas gifts, be sure to head to your local bookstore soon or stop by Amazon.com to get them online. Thanks, readers!
SARAH: And make sure to check out Katherine’s new book, Neighborhood Sharks. It’s a great gift for kids who love science and the natural world!