Saturday, September 20, 2008

Emma: A Widow Among the Amish

Emma Stutzman was married to Tobias, an Amish man with an entrepreneur's spirit. The book for which this illustration was created tells the story of her challenges and the role her faith plays in raising 6 children by herself after his untimely death in 1956 at age 37.

This is book cover number 3 I've completed for Herald Press, and my favorite of the bunch.

Before I decided illustration was my desired career route, I studied graphic design at Iowa State University. One fine morning, as I was noodling diligently with an x-acto and a glue stick harboring little shards of paper from projects gone by on its lumpy surface, my college professor, a booming man who commanded attention, piped-up and said, "Graphic designers are the smartest people, because they know a little bit about everything." I'll admit, I might have thrown in that "smartest people" bit, but the latter half of that quote is accurate. Since they create layouts covering any number of topics, she or he needs to know a bit about the topic so as not not to create some unforeseen faux pas.

I will say, the words "graphic designers" can be interchanged with the word "illustrators," because the same challenges hold true. And, they certainly did, with this illustration. Clothing, hair style, head-wear, colors...buttons vs no buttons...everything needs to be taken into consideration, because if you are intimately familiar with Amish traditions, any inconsistency will be über-apparent.

The assignment was, obviously, to depict Emma with two of her children in the garden, a central part of the story. Rounding up models and clothing is always an interesting feat. It so happens, that weekend I was off to Iowa to visit my parents. My mother is always a willing participant in such craziness. Being a resourceful sort, she happened to round up a 5-year old gregarious girl who loves the camera and was willing to pose as both children.

Before I make the trek northward, I sift my way through every thrift store in a 20-mile radius, netting me a few plain dresses, which I (wash and) bring with me to the frozen tundra of Iowa. Except, it is now July, and the frozen tundra turns into the bloody-hot-and-humid of Iowa, which becomes a new challenge.

So, on a lovely Saturday morning, I, my mother, and my illustrator's assistant father head over to my grandmother's house, just a couple doors down from the little girl, who gets to pose as both the boy and the girl, in button-up shirt and slacks, and a nifty dress from my sister's younger days, respectively. I plan the shoot for the optimal sun position, but before it becomes too hot, to get some good light and interesting shadows. It's late-morning, and approaching the mid-80s. Gotta make the girl's turn quick before she looses attention, and so she doesn't start melting in the sun.

We play all kinds of fun games, including "walk around the patio, pick up the plastic fruit and put it in your bucket," and "name the plastic fruit as your Mom hands it to you and put it in your bucket." She is an excellent sport and gives me a load of terrific pictures. Furthermore, she loves the dress, and takes it home with her to wear the rest of the day.

Then, my Mom gets to play all kinds of fun games, like "walk around the patio, pick up the fruit..." well, you get the idea.

Sifting through the photos is fun and tough at the same time. I like to shoot a mountain of pics, when I can. You see, I work by playing the odds. If I take 1,000 photos, the chances are good that at least one photo will not totally stink.

After sending the sketches, it turns out Emma needs to look a bit younger, so an artist friend of mine happened to have access to a young, photogenic, willing participant who would pass as an Amish mother.

Voilá -- Emma.

The easy part is illustrating it -- which I did, and the art director, editor, and author were pleased with the I was, too.


larry said...

Great job! the warm shadows in the foliage.

I have a basement filled with chromes of all the outtakes from the hundreds of photo shoots I've done. I love shooting digitally now, it saves on the storage!

jax said...

so so true Allen. I an really relate as i am both a graphic designer and artist. It takes a lot to really compose an illustration that is beautiful and speaks with its own voice. I think this is one of my favorite of your pieces. I love the glasses on the woman. Was that a personal choice?

Allan Burch said...

Jackie --

Actually, Emma wore glasses, so it was important to depict her with them.

I totally agree -- we illustrators are designers first and foremost. I think that skill shows in your illustrations.