It all began with this wonderful email from Anne Hoppe, editor at Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I’m delighted to attach STEWART’S BEST PEN for your consideration. This is the engaging story of a boy whose best friend is also his pen (something many artists and creative kids can relate to). This is a light-handed look at friendship, the challenges of distance, and the ways that new friends—in this case a pen —can help us hold onto old ones. Succinctly told and funny, the book contains just the right amount of non-saccharine heart to resonate with a young audience.
How could any illustrator resist that introduction?
Written by Stephen W. Martin, our hero is a boy named Stewart, ho-hum, but it was the pen, a character named Craig, that was the fun part. Here are some initial character sketches after reading the story.
What about relative size between Stewart and his best pen?
Oh yeah, there is a pencil character too. To make him more endearing, I gave him the proportions of a chubby baby.
What about the technique, line quality, skin color? I experimented with different skin tones that reflect the mix of children I encounter in my own life. I played around with diffferent media, papers, backgrounds, and textures. I tried transparent washes of watercolor, and flat digital color. I was looking at Latin American woodcuts, 19th century chapbooks, and some of my favorite European illustrators.
Too many choices for now, so we started to lay out the dummy (the pages in sequence, and sketches).
Back and forth with Anne, and slowly the characters began to take shape. At last, here are some of the final illustrations. Who knew that a pen could have such personality? Stewart did.
So did Anne. She’s pretty sharp.
Our first review! Kirkus reviewed the book in August. The book will be out December 11, 2018. Check it out and don’t forget to write your pen pal. There is nothing like a hand written letter..