Just before Christmas, I got this advance copy of "Take Me to Your BBQ," by Kathy Duval, which I illustrated and which my wife Cynthia Wigginton designed. There it is above, photographed on our bedspread. It's published by Disney/Hyperion and will be released for this Spring 2013 season.
It seems like ages ago that I talked about this book at Icon 6 in Pasadena, when I was in the thick of developing the early stages of it. The book got some serious production delays in the meantime but in the end the green light came and it was time to go to final - exactly this time last January.
Essentially, the story is about a Texas farmer, a ufo, some aliens, Barbeque, a fiddle, and the mayhem that ensues. As one might imagine, I had a lot of fun researching for this book.
Huge kudos goes to the amazing editing skills of Rotem Moscovich and Tamson Weston, and the creative direction of Joann Hill and Scott Piehl. It always amazes me how much work from so many brainy, extraordinarily talented and sensitive people goes into producing a book. I feel extremely humbled to have my name called out on the cover - books are such immense team efforts.
The book originally had a working title of "I Think I See a UFO," which I always liked a lot, and which shaped some of my early thinking about the approach on it, but it changed to "Take Me to Your BBQ," which I liked even better. Here are some sketches, book map and color studies, trying to work it all out. It was decided early on that that there was room in the budget to fit in a gatefold - which is always a challenge, both visually and narratively - a challenge I embraced, as it would be a chance to make a good visual "punchline" for the finale. The book was also unusual in that it both opens and closes with two consecutive wordless spreads.
Doing the paintings was extremely fun and a bit nerdy. I ended up doing all of the finals in a really compressed two-month period. I'm very thankful that Epson invented their UltraChrome ink system, as it's allowed artists like me to print out bigger line art with which to work. Back when I used my trusty Xerox 5314, the maximum size I could print to was 10 x 14"; with the Epson I can go as large as 12 x (anything)".
Here, I've printed out my scanned and PS-honed scraper-board line art onto my favorite w/c paper, Fabriano 90lb hot press, then stretched it onto a stretcher board. The Ultrachrome ink doesn't bleed at all, but you must give it 24 hours first of cure time before soaking and stretching. I must thank and credit the most excellent Graham Smith for first turning me on to these new inks. Now, apparently, they are standard on newer Epson printers.
As I researched and developed the ideas for this book, I decided to use the famous Betty and Barney Hill "star map" from their supposed alien abduction in 1961 as a basis for the endpapers. This ends up being the route that the main character, Willy, flies to the alien world to open up his own BBQ restaurant. It's the only piece of art in the book that I created digitally, as I wanted it to have a precise, map-like feel. For the final design, Cynthia placed in the names of the stars; names like Tau Ceti, Gleise 42 and Zeta Reticuli - all real stars, and all stars that appeared on the Hill's "star map".
After back and forth testing of various stylistic approaches to the art, the look I ended up going for in this book was very much like a theater production; like stage designs. I tried to think of the color like spotlight color, going for a more rgb (additive) aftertaste, to get the weird ufo effect of light and science.
This approach also seemed to make sense as contrast with the rural Texas locale and late 50s residue of the theme. As a scene, every element shown would come into play in the narrative as it unfolded.
Here's the gatefold. For better or worse, I strove to make it work on both sides of the gatefold's surface. On the front, the star map as Willy escapes towards the alien world. On the page-turn, Willy's new BBQ restaurant on the alien planet, mid hoe-down.
And for those who make it to the end of the book and are feeling a bit peckish from it all, there's a Willy's Chili recipe at the end of the book.
This book was created in a period of my life when I was asked to join the faculty at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, to teach a class about illustrating Kid's books. This class has been previously taught by greats like Sara Gillingham and Henrik Drescher, so it was a great honor to be asked. I was recommended by Robert Hunt, and hired by then chairman Dugald Stermer. Teaching at CCA has since proven to be a really amazing addition to my creative and professional life.
Dugald passed away as I was making these paintings. I thought a lot about him as I painted them, as the school and the community were mourning his immense loss, with many conversations and reflections between. As picture book projects begin to wind up, authors and illustrators are asked what their dedications will be. I realized that he was, in heart, a cowboy with a big-big love of music, and of course art, illustration and design; so I decided it was appropriate to dedicate this book to Dugald as a tip of the hat for the opportunity.