Everything I ever needed to know I learned from a chicken. Well, maybe not everything, but I sure learned a lot about illustration from my quirky feathered friend, and star of my first picture book,
Henny came to me one day as a doodle. I like to call it procrastidoodling, because I’m usually sketching instead of doing what I really should be doing. At the time, I had been thinking about birds with vestigial wings (don’t ask) and got carried away drawing a funny bird with long dangly arms.
Then I started “thinking” by asking questions. What if it were a little hen? I drew her. What if she really did have arms—instead of wings? I drew some more. What would she do? What could she do? I drew some more. I kept on asking questions. Patterns began to emerge.
One question led to another, then another, until I felt I had a deep understanding of what made my little chick tick. Soon, I had drawn enough Hennys to fill upwards of three fat binders: I drew her at the beach. I drew her as a cowboy. I drew her singing and dancing on a hilltop. I dressed her up. I had her doing everything from driving a tractor to waving like the Queen! These, and so many others, never made it into the book, but the process of asking the questions and drawing the answers helped me define her as a character to the point where, when it came time to tell her story, all the pieces fell into place. Doing these visual explorations helps me get to the heart of the character and, by extension, straight to the heart of the story.
Over time, I’ve come to know that even the simplest doodle can lead to a character—so I am, and will remain, an inveterate doodler. So far, I’ve procrastidoodle-ed my way to a huggable chicken. I’ve danced with a pig and pondered the plight of the forgotten middle child. Oh, and most recently, I’ve asked a donkey what it’s like to want to be a cow (stay tuned!).
I can’t wait to procrastidoodle-up what’s next!