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Illustrator Cortney Benvenuto Signs with KWiL: The Making of Picture Book Magic

Glee_400b“Glee” © 2017 Cortney Benvenuto

We are thrilled to announce that author-illustrator Cortney Benvenuto has signed with KWiL to illustrate Jim Nies’s Spring 2019 picture book Come On, Fish!

Cortney hails from the Pacific Northwest and continues to call Portland home, where she lives with her husband, two young children, and cat, Mayberry. Cortney graduated from Oregon State University with a BFA. She taught elementary school for six years and is an active member of SCBWI.

Benvenuto_Image

Cortney Benvenuto

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One of the great unknowns about picture book making is that unless a publisher is working with an author-illustrator, authors and illustrators work separately on their respective contributions to the book.

The process typically goes something like this:

  • Publisher acquires a manuscript and works for weeks, months, sometimes even a year, with the author on revisions.
  • However, from the first time the publisher reads the manuscript, a vision for the illustrations (and potential artists who could achieve this vision) begins to form.
  • When the contract with the author is signed and the manuscript is ready to share, the search for an illustrator begins in earnest, often starting from within the cadre of illustrators a publishing company loosely calls “its own.” Or, the publisher might search for new talent—either by attending conferences, scouting social media, or looking through portfolio submissions.
  • When the publisher finds the illustrator she thinks will be the best fit for the book, another round of contract negotiations begins; and if the publisher is unfamiliar with the artist’s work, the illustrator is often asked to provide a sample sketch specific to the project.
  • By the time the illustrator has signed, the manuscript is essentially “finished.” (Although very little is ever truly “finished” in picture book making until there is a book in hand.)
  • Now the publisher and the illustrator take the lead, working through a character study and mapping out each page of the book.
  • With a shared vision articulated, the illustrator works through sketches, final line work, and color. This process takes a year to a year and a half.
  • I have heard many people express surprise, and even doubt (Could that really work? Shouldn’t the author have more of a say?), when they first learn that authors and illustrators don’t work hand-in-hand.

But it is this unique process of blending two artists’ work that creates picture book magic.

What makes a picture book a picture book is that the illustrations do more than provide a literal, visual interpretation of the text. Rather, they play a part equal to the words in telling the story.

Leaving space for an illustrator in a project is why one of the most common pieces of advice editors offer picture book writers is, “Pull back.” Writers must leave room for the illustrator to bring her own vision to the story, often a vison that the author (and sometimes even the publisher) hadn’t anticipated.

Having Cortney illustrate Come On, Fish! is a perfect example of this kind of picture book magic. KWiL’s Creative Director, Sheri, had been following Cortney on Twitter, and so I began following her, too. On Fridays, when my feed filled with #colour_collective posts, Cortney’s work always caught my eye first.

Over the next few months Cortney and I started talking; and in September when I opened my inbox to see the sketches she had created for Fish, I knew that her work would take the book to a previously unimagined (and awesome) place. It was picture book magic. We already had a manuscript we loved, and now Cortney was enhancing it with perspectives unexplored, unique character portrayals, and a setting (enhanced by her use of a limited color palette) that was whimsical and nostalgic.

Although Cortney and Jim won’t be working side-by-side, their shared passion for water and the natural world will be palpable on each page through the combination of their words and art.

We hope you’ll check back often between now and the Come on, Fish! release in March of 2019. We will be sharing more about what this fish story is all about, and you will be able to follow Cortney’s process as she brings the book to life.

To learn more about Cortney, please visit her website.

Benvenuto_Deep“Deep” © 2017 Cortney Benvenuto

Wild_Cortney_Benvenuto“Wild” © 2017 Cortney Benvenuto

SPLASH_Benvenuto“Splash” © 2017 Cortney Benvenuto

3 thoughts on “Illustrator Cortney Benvenuto Signs with KWiL: The Making of Picture Book Magic

  1. Good comments on the illustrator’s role in a book. Often the art is the deciding factor in selecting books to read and purchase. One of the things I enjoy most about illustration is giving a visual presence to the words, making the story real to readers. Realizing that an author uses words and an illustrator uses pictures to tell a story means you’ll let them do what they do best individually and in the end both come together to make an interesting book. You’re correct in saying how people are amazed to learn that an author and illustrator don’t meet and exchange ideas but that’s what leaves us the freedom to create our best work!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Steven.

  2. beautiful work!

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