ILLUSTRATION FEATURE The Commissioning Process (Part 2)

In the concluding part of Sally Rowe's interview with designers, Ness Wood (David Fickling Books/Orange Beak Studio) and Nghiem Ta (Walker Books) look at artwork delivery and post-production.

For part 1 of this interview, covering briefing and sketches, click here

4. Final art: What deadlines or timescales do you plan? How do you prefer artwork delivered? Are there common issues/problems?

Both art directors schedule the final art deadlines based on various factors including: the illustrator’s own timings/timescales, sales material requirements, and publishing date. Deadlines are then agreed by all parties.

Case Study: Near final art for Bear Moves by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyüz, publishing February 2019 by Walker Entertainment
"Final art can be delivered physically or as digital files," Nghiem told us. "Physical art will need to be delivered according to advice given by the designer who would have considered how the art will be printed. A special printing technique may require the art to be generated in a specific way. Digital art should also be delivered as advised by the designer. This would mainly take into account pixel resolution, canvas size and colour specification/profile. Walker Books supplies a pdf document detailing artwork requirements."

She added that there are common hiccups:
  • Digital artwork supplied in RGB format
  • Digital art supplied at a low resolution for print. Minimum is 300 pixels per inch for a 100% scale printing. The use of ‘heavy blacks/dark tones’. Specifying a 4-colour black swatch does not mean using 100% of all four colours (equaling 400%). Most printers will only process images with a maximum of 300% total ink specification, so your black could be, e.g. C 80, M 80, Y 100, K 40. The reason for this is mainly to do with ink absorption with papers. Re-specifying the black colour can often cause hours extra work and change the dramatic natural of the image. For black and white images in fiction titles, the ink limit could be 280%.
  • Physical art painted with colours that are difficult to scan… fluorescents, metallics
  • No bleed art. Sometimes an extra 15mm is required

"Sometimes it’s worth discussing the possibility of an early test proof, to reassure everyone of the creative process but also as a chance to iron out any technical problems."

Ness agreed that communication at the beginning of the project was vital. "Before the illustrator starts on final artwork, we will have discussed colour and their palette so we have an idea of what to expect. As soon as a piece of digital artwork is produced we would get a test proof done to see how the colours reproduce. If the illustrator is not happy with the colour then they will need to adjust their files accordingly. With physical artwork, we do not need to do a test proof, as the artwork will be scanned and can be colour-corrected at the proof stage."

Inside cover proof / front cover proof / spot UV guide (© Ness Wood / David Fickling Books)

PDF grid for setting up the covers (© Ness Wood / David Fickling Books)

5. Post-production - galleys, printing, etc: To what degree is the illustrator involved with design and proofing? 

"The illustrator is less involved at this point," Nghiem explained. "However, if possible, we do invite illustrators to come into the office to review physical proofs. Any advice they give at this point is considered and valued."

A printers' plotter proof for Bear Moves. This is not for colour checking but to make sure all printed content is present and the book will bind correctly.
Left, a correct colour proof from the printers. Right, a rejected colour proof. Same files, different printing specifications.
The approved colour proof. The printers will use this a guide when printing the final book.

The approved colour proof of the cover. This has been laminated to demonstrate the affect on colour.

Ness also acknowledged that it depended "on who the illustrator is, some are more involved than others. Some illustrators are happy for their files to go to a designer and the next they see is a PDF for them to sign off on-screen. Publishers still get proofs but a lot fewer nowadays, so the illustrator may be sent one set to see but they may have to return them or they may have to go into the publishers to look at them. It varies on budget as to how many proofs are produced."

Hardback copy and underneath a stapled BLAD (advance sample booklet) for Sarah McIntyre's The New Neighbours (© Ness Wood / David Fickling Books)

PDF to check on screen after the initial proof (© Ness Wood / David Fickling Books)

You can see the staples in the middle. (© Ness Wood / David Fickling Books)
"The aim is to bring the best out of the illustrator and to create the best book possible. The art director and editor work together to make the book as good as they can, and follow all of the steps with the illustrator from roughs through to proofs. The illustrator is or should be involved as it is their artwork which is so very key to the project."

Our enormous thanks to Nghiem and Ness for going through the processes, and for the use of copyright images.

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Nghiem Ta designed the phenomenally successful Ology series at Templar, which sold more than 17 million copies worldwide, before moving to Walker Books in 2015.

Art Director Ness Wood has worked with Faber & Faber and David Fickling Books. She co-founded Orange Beak Studio, tutoring and mentoring illustrators.

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Sally Rowe illustrated her first children’s book in 2017. She also coordinates the Wokingham SCBWI Writers’ Critique group.

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