Start to finish: creating the illustrations for "Robobaby"

Seira Wilson on September 24, 2020
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Start to finish: creating the illustrations for

David Wiesner is a Caldecott award-winning illustrator and author, who's work I've long admired. Tuesday, Art & Max, and Mr. Wuffles! are some of my favorites among his many books, and the latest, Robobaby jumped straight to the top upon its release and we made it an editors' pick for the Best Children's Books of the Month: Ages 3-5.

Robobaby is a delightful picture book about a robot family who is getting a new addition. Only, there is some assembly required... Daughter Cathy is kept out of the fray until the grown-ups finally throw up their hands and let soon-to-be big sister Cathy dive in and put her baby brother together. 

Whether in books or film, many of us like getting a look behind the scenes, to see the steps leading up to the final feature that has captured our attention so completely that we want to know more. We asked Wiesner if we could take a look at his sketches for Robobaby, and pry a little into his process of creating this visual treat. And Wiesner kindly obliged, sharing the notes and sketches below.

I begin in a sketchbook, making loose drawings to determine their basic shapes. Then I try to get a feel for their posture, how they move, and how they look from different angles. This process begins to reveal the personalities of the characters.

Robobaby2a.jpg

With the basic designs determined, I write the story. Many of my books are wordless, but some have text - Robobaby is one of those with text. But regardless of whether there is text or not, I write my stories in pictures first.

Robobaby2b.jpg

While I know the basic look of the characters at this point, I don't labor over their design as I'm working on writing the story - they are rough drawings. Often very rough.

Robobaby3.jpg

As I drew the family, I adjusted the sizes and shapes of their heads and facial features until they felt right. When it was time to paint, I had to decide what they were made of. The family, relatives, and friends are varying combinations of brass, bronze, copper, steel, and cast iron. This gave me a range of colors, not just grays.

Robobaby5.jpg

If you have heard me give a talk or have read my website, you will know how influenced I am by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Late in the movie, there is a scene in a room where the light source is in the floor. I have long wanted to make a book with lights in the floor. Robobaby is that book. These are my models on my light table.

Robobaby6.jpg

Here is the final painting and the image with text. This is where Cathode first meets her new baby brother - Flange!

Robobaby7.jpg


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