Art development: Creating blueprints to build great art

One of the most exciting and creative opportunities we encounter at Imagineering is creating original art for first–edition textbooks. Rather than just renovating, repairing, or redecorating, we are building something new from the ground up! But just like needing a well-designed set of blueprints constructing a dream home, we need to have a carefully planned and well-developed sketch before we can begin rendering a beautifully detailed illustration. This early stage of creating studious and refined sketches is what we call Art Development.

One of the great things about first editions is how closely we get to work with the authors. Through initial discussions we get an idea of their overall vision for the book, and their goals for the art program. Before setting pencil to paper, our development artists read through the author’s draft text manuscript, while also considering the art suggestions offered by the author and development editor. We also like to keep competitors’ books on hand, to ensure that our new art is easily differentiated from the rest, and in fact, improves upon what has been done in the past.

Armed with this information (and any additional research they may do), our development artists begin with a series of very quick rough thumbnails, brainstorming possibilities for every figure. Select thumbnails are fleshed out into rough sketches, which are in turn reviewed by our internal art editors and art directors. At this point the focus is not on the details of the rendering, but on the didactic values of the art, the logic of the layout, and the organization of the information, always imagining how the student might interact with the figure. The sketches are then sent to the authors and publisher editors for review, and we receive their invaluable feedback through annotations or conference calls. Ideally we also employ web conferencing, where authors can witness the art changing on the fly in response to their suggestions.

The sketch is then further refined, with proper arrows added, labels and leaders set, and rough colour blocked in. Authors and editors review the work continually before they approve a “Final” sketch. The path from thumbnail to final sketch can be fast and easy or long and arduous. Sometimes the first idea is the best one, and with a clear direction and a bit of refinement we quickly reach our goal. And sometimes, we have to explore a lot of different paths, and even backtrack, before arriving at that “Aha!” moment. Each book, and each figure, presents its own challenges, but ultimately the dedicated and collaborative effort between artists, editors, and authors produces wonderful results.

Example: The Animal Cell

All first-year Biology textbooks have a figure illustrating the structures of a typical animal cell. So in this case we were faced with the challenge of re-inventing the wheel. This meant using a distinct style, colour palette, and textures, but we also took some unique approaches that would help this figure stand out from previous interpretations. Most books show a fictitious idealized animal cell, but the authors wanted an illustration fo a more realistic cell, and we agreed upon a macrophage, shown in a living environment. Another innovation was the shape of the mitochondria. Often mitochondria are illustrated as idealized “kidney beans”, but the authors felt it important to show that the shape of these moving organelles is plastic and dynamic and can involve all kinds of fusion and elongation. Here you can see a small selection of the sketches that led to the final illustration. You can read more about Biology: How Life Works in Featured Projects.

Art Development Slideshow

Well-planned and thought-out development sketches can be both labour and time intensive, but they give our artists a clear blueprint from which to render the final art. Like houses on well-built foundations, we know our art development efforts lead to illustrations that will stand the test of time.

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