The Making of Dasher by Matt Tavares
My new book Dasher comes out today! To celebrate its release, I thought I’d share a little behind-the-scenes look at some of the work that went into making the book.
Every picture begins with a sketch. For this book, I did all the sketches digitally, mostly because at this part of the process I like being able to move things around and try out different ideas, and it’s easier to do that on the computer than it is on a piece of paper. Here’s one of my sketches.
Once my sketches were approved, it was time to start the real illustrations. Somewhat inconveniently, I reached this part of the process in October of 2017, during a stretch of time when I was traveling quite a bit, promoting Red & Lulu, which had just come out. But I was really excited to get started on my final art for Dasher. So I got pretty good at drawing in hotel rooms.
One time, I even set up a little studio in a hotel lobby, because my room wasn’t ready yet.
For this part of the process, all I needed was a pencil, some paper, a copy of my sketch, and maybe a few reference photos, so it was pretty easy to be portable.
Next, I went over the pencil with ink.
Now I was ready to paint. Once I got to this part, there were no more makeshift hotel studios. I really needed to be back in my studio, with all my stuff (paint, brushes, blow dryer, masking tape, paper towels, sponges, etc., etc.).
I taped my drawing to the board (so the paper would stay flat and wouldn’t buckle when I soaked it with watercolor), and I was ready to go…
But then I ran into a problem. About halfway through the book, I fell into this weird rut where I somehow forgot how to paint night skies. And there are a lot of night skies in this book!
It was awful. The paint just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. I thought maybe I had gotten a defective batch of paper. So I bought new paper. I bought new brushes. Nothing worked. I kept starting a new illustration, destroying it with a terribly-painted night sky, and having to start the whole thing over again.
Here’s that same illustration at its “ruined beyond the point of no return” stage:
I needed to take a break. I needed some inspiration. So I looked through some of my favorite picture books, searching for really good night skies that might help me get out of my rut. I was flipping through David Wiesner’s Caldecott Medal-winning masterpiece, Tuesday. So many night skies, and they were all perfect.
Then I remembered that when I met David Wiesner a few years back, he mentioned that he sometimes posts stuff about his process on his blog. I had never looked at it before. I decided to check it out.
And there, amazingly, was a post entitled “Oops!”, about the time when he was working on Tuesday… and he forgot how to paint night skies!
This blew my mind. I was so stressed out, and feeling like such a failure. But to discover that this same exact thing happened to three-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner, and to know that it happened while he was working on one of my all-time favorite picture books? Wow. Suddenly I felt like I was going to be okay.
Soon, the paint started behaving again. Here’s how that one turned out. It’s still not perfect, but I like it.
By that point, I only had a few night skies left, so I decided to paint them all at once (in case I forgot again)!
I guess the point of sharing this is to remind people that this stuff isn’t always easy. Even for those of us who get to make books for a living, there are days when the words don’t come. And there are days when the paint doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Even after two decades of writing and illustrating books, I am reminded of this with each new project.
But then there are days like today, when I get to take a story that has been a part of my life for so long and finally share it with readers. It may not be perfect, but I poured my heart into it, and I’m proud of how it turned out. After all the good and bad days of writing and drawing and painting, here it is.
Dasher is now available, wherever books are sold.
Matt Tavares is the author-illustrator of Crossing Niagara, Henry Aaron’s Dream, There Goes Ted Williams, Becoming Babe Ruth, and Growing Up Pedro, as well as Zachary’s Ball, Oliver’s Game,and Mudball. He is the illustrator of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, Over the River and Through the Wood, Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappaport, The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup, and Jubilee! by Alicia Potter. Most recently he wrote and illustrated the modern Christmas tale Red and Lulu. Matt Tavares lives in Ogunquit, Maine.