Episode 68 of the podcast Escape From Illustration Island is an interview with Elizabeth Dulema, who has illustrated many books as well as Lula’s Brew, which was one of the first storybook apps on the iTunes store. Interviews with storyapp developers are pretty rare, so here are some of the most interesting points:

  • When going freelance after working for a company, it was necessary to discover her own ‘visual voice’.
  • Dulemba spends half her day marketing. “You have to.” She does postcards, but recently pulled out of contributing to other people’s portfolio websites because her own website was getting more hits than theirs.
  • Her coloring pages have been a really successful marketing project: Coloring Page Tuesday.
  • Constantly look at the work of other artists, in the same way you looked at other people’s handwriting when you were learning to write. You’ll end up with your own style.
  • Typical process: mostly digital now, Photoshop. Used to use Painter. Still draws by hand with pencil on most things, due to lack of that freedom you get with a computer but last book was done completely on the computer.
  • Dulemba tries to work out where the lighting is coming from, greying out an entire layer then creating a wedge, to work out where the light is coming from. Most artists have a default light source, for example top left, but one good way of adding something special to your work is to experiment with different sources of lighting. Perhaps the light is coming out of an open book, or from another unexpected place. (I do this too, but I usually choose a colour other than grey, and put a blend mode on it. It often stays there in the final product, with the colour unifying the entire picture. It makes a big difference.)
  • Next she lays in flat colour, these days making use of some excellent large spongy brushes in Photoshop.
  • It’s good to experiment with texture because this is harder to convey in digital media.
  • The perfect amount of time in which to illustrate a picturebook is six months. Any shorter and it’ll be too tight. Any longer and you might find your style evolves to the point where you have to go back and do the start of the book again. (I can definitely relate to this, having just spent one and a half years on Midnight Feast.)
  • Claim a name for yourself in one thing.
  • Differences between illustrating your own work versus illustrating for other writers: When you illustrate your own work you get full control. When working with others you have to bend a little bit.
  • Differences between a print book and a storyapp: In an app, large shapes work better. The ¬†typography has to be better. With the backlit screen the colours are more vibrant. Lula’s Brew actually started as a dummy for a children’s book, and before turning it into an app, had to zoom in on some of the pictures. Had to get rid of some extraneous details and leave more space on things. Big brushes in PS was great because she was able to apply colour really fast. Working in the small format actually sped her up.
  • The same issues are there with regular books: It’s much harder to get found. We’re all trying to get found.
  • She calls herself a ‘storyteller’ rather than a writer/picturebook illustrator. Apps are just another way of telling a story.
  • It’s a really easy time to become an expert right now, because everything is new and you can be one of the first. It’s really easy to come up with something no one else has done right now. That’s an opportunity.
  • Colour and drawing are two completely different skills. Just because you can do one thing doesn’t mean you can do the other. Some people are good at one and not the other.
  • Picturebooks are more sculptural more than anything else. They’re not finished until someone’s flipping through the pages.
  • In a children’s book there’s a rhythm, there’s something that builds, and you don’t have to explain the whole story in one image. Likewise, pictures in a picturebook are not at all like an editorial illustration, in which you take a big idea and squish it down.
  • The aim of a picturebook is to draw the reader in and make them want to be in the picture.
  • Stay on top of what’s out there so you can come out with something new and different.
  • Dulemba usually has about six stories going on at any one time. (Wow – I’m not sure how I’d go with that. So far I’m a one-project-at-a-time person, but this gives me confidence to try two at a time.) I’m reminded of this advice:Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from¬†something.

    GEOFF DYER

  • On the difference between picturebooks and MG work: She doesn’t feel like she’s doing the same thing at all. It’s a little bit of a switch. She reads upper MG, and therefore writes it too.
  • She has a separate blog which is more ‘cerebral’, whereas her picturebook website is about engaging younger readers with colouring pages and so on. (Is there a case for separate blogs for separate tones and audiences? I guess so.)