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 3 in the conversation. To begin reading with Part 1, please follow this link. To read Part 2, please follow this link.
KATHERINE AND SARAH: Welcome back, readers! For our final “behind the scene”, we thought we’d discuss one from the second Expeditioners adventure, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair. It takes place aboard a giant steamship called The Deloian Princess. Let’s jump right in!
SARAH: Kit, Zander, M.K. and other members of their expedition team are heading south towards the Caribbean. While Zander and M.K. are enjoying the ship’s amenities, Kit would rather play an exotic game called Simalio or eavesdrop on the conversations of their fellow passengers.
I loved sitting on the main deck and watching the assortment of people making their way around the ship. There were BNDL and ADR and ANDLC officials on their way to the Caribbean from New York, wearing concerned expressions while exchanging hushed remarks with each other about Simeria. There were glamorous Neo couple from Paris or Milan, wearing colorful clothes made from synthetic silks and velvets and carrying small dogs, their fur dyed red or purple or green.
SARAH: As they steam south for their expedition, the kids are finally introduced to the big world. Despite their adventures—and their father’s far ranging travels—they’ve actually lived a fairly sheltered life and this is the first time they’ve seen people from all over the Allied World, heard different languages, seen vastly different customs. This is one of those scenes that I knew would be in the book before I even started writing. I love the romance of an ocean voyage and I was thinking of the way in which the great steam liners acted as opportunities for the mixing of people from different places and walks of life during the heyday of British Empire.
KATHERINE: When I first read this section of the manuscript I knew it had to be an illustration, too. I was terribly intimidated—so much information needed to go in this scene!—but I also knew it would be fun to visually showcase the broader world that Kit, M.K., and Zander are finally encountering for the first time. I started working on this page by first doing a little visual research on steam liners from the 1900’s, paying attention to details of the decks, the body language of the passengers, the number of people using the decks. I also looked at clothing, costumes, and accessories that the passengers might wear to find details that would give the scene more atmosphere. I love learning about fashion in different countries and eras—clothing tells you the story of a culture’s history, aesthetics, trade agreements, climate, and designated gender roles—and poking around online gave me some initial ideas to build into the first sketches of the other characters.
KATHERINE: The next stage involved doing a lot of separate drawings of figures before putting them together into a cohesive whole. A lot of questions have to be asked when designing a spread, because time passes in the scene as a readers’ eye travels through the scene. There were a lot of moments that needed to happen in this one drawing—Kit is pretending to read a newspaper, Zander and Kemal and Joyce have just come from the pool, Monty Brioux is about to approach their ship, there’s a Simalio game going on below decks—so there’s really a lot to look at, and a lot happening at once. What should go on the left side of the drawing? What should go on the right? How should I deal with composing the image around the seam—called the gutter—that would fold my “shot” in half in the final book? I began by drawing each major character or group of characters separately, then scanning them into Photoshop from my sketchbook. That way I could move each figure around on the page until it felt right.
SARAH: As I writing, I was very conscious of wanting the ship to represent Kit’s isolation. He is missing Sukey desperately, but there’s nothing he can do. He’s trapped in the middle of the ocean, along with the rest of the passengers . . . and some pirates. Monty Brioux is a notorious pirate whose crew has been taking cargo ships from the government.
On our ninth day at sea we were steaming due east when a Neo woman on deck shouted that pirates were just off our starboard side. A couple hundred yards to the east, we could see the bright-purple solar sails of the biggest boat we’d seen yet.
“It’s Monty Brioux!” someone called out.
KATHERINE: As the drawing began to come together, I started to see little character moments and opportunities for play, including how I could use small clues to hint at upcoming moments like the pirate encounter. Illustrators love to drop in personal touches, and this illustration includes cameos of two of the dogs in my life. The first is of Jellybean, my brother’s girlfriend’s deer-legged Chihuahua, a perfect model for one of the small dogs belonging to the “glamorous Neo couples from Paris or Milan, wearing colorful cloths made from synthetic silks and velvets…” And the second is of Askim, our neighbor’s dog, who sometimes keeps me company in my studio while I work. I dressed Askim in an expeditioner-style backpack and drew him as the only one to notice Monty’s approaching ship, which hasn’t quite happened yet in the real time of the moment(s) I chose to illustrate for this scene.
SARAH: In addition to serving as an introduction to the larger world, the ship also serves as the setting for a dangerous confrontation between Kit and Lazlo’s Nackley’s father Leo. Kit has already had a tense confrontation with Lazlo Nackley, but now the young explorer’s father has reason to believe that Kit is hiding something from him. Again, Kit needs to be very careful. In many ways, Leo Nackley holds Kit’s future in his hands.
Leo Nackley grabbed my arm, squeezing it until I gasped with pain, and turned me around until I was looking up at him.
“You sarcastic little snot,” he growled. “You know something that you’re not telling us. I can feel it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Nackley.” He squeezed harder. I could feel his fingers digging into my elbow.
Joyce and Zander stepped forward, but then they hesitated, waiting to see what he’d do next.
KATHERINE: Though this confrontation isn’t explicitly pictured in the illustration, the tension between Kit and the Nackleys was very much on my mind when I drew it. I wanted Kit’s body language to be tense, mistrusting, ever-watchful of the people and agents around him and on the look out for Leo Nackley’s next move. As always, my husband posed for me based on my sketches to help me get the gesture and mood right. Here he is as Kit eyeing some businessmen on the deck of the Princess, and as M.K. working on a new piece of machinery.
SARAH: When I first saw Katherine’s illustration, I was thrilled because I thought she’d gotten the feel of this scene exactly right. It’s like a party out there on the sea, but then there in the background is the pirate ship. There’s danger waiting out there and before long they’re going to come face to face with it.
KATHERINE: It was such a fun scene to riff on thanks to the richness and detail of the world-building in the text. An illustration doesn’t have to exactly follow a manuscript, so long as it’s true to the description and accurate to the characters. In the context of the story I’m really proud of how the words and the final drawing of the scene pair so well together!
SARAH: So am I! It’s always so much fun to see the visual details of my imagined world in Katherine’s illustrations. Thanks, Katherine! And thanks to you, dear reader, for reading!
KATHERINE: Yes, thank you so much for joining our conversation! Next year we’re sure to do more of these joint blog posts as Book Three moves forward. Sarah, can you give us any hints about what happens next in the series?
SARAH: Well, Kit will learn more about Grygia and the beginnings of the New Modern Age of Exploration, and as the war heats up, he and his siblings and friends will find themselves carrying out some important missions in the hot and dangerous deserts of Simeria.
KATHERINE: Sounds amazing! Well it’s mid-December and the holidays are just around the corner, but there’s still enough time to get copies of The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair as gifts. Please check with your local bookstore or order them online through Amazon.com. Happy holidays from the Expeditioners! See you at the shelf!