Before I wrote NEIL ARMSTRONG’S WIND TUNNEL DREAM, I’d never seen how illustrations come together for a book. It’s a process! I found a great illustrator in Cole Roberts, but I also found myself with no experience evaluating his art. YIKES!
The first set of sketches came in red. I don’t know why, but they did. I worked with them, but I printed them in black so they’re clearer for you. In this first set, I looked them over to make sure I understood what’s there. The first two images are clearer than the others because Cole wanted a firm idea on how the book would start.
Chapter 1 – I wanted an illustration of how Neil got rid of his extra planes as a kid. He threw them out the window and watch them crash. Why? He wanted to build better airplanes.
Chapter 2 – It was about gathering the materials together. Cole wanted to show them in a notebook. It fit, by middle school Neil had lots of notebooks full of wind tunnel notes.
Chapter 3 - It was about building the tunnel so Cole suggested putting the materials together on a table with Neil trying to figure out how to put them together.
Chapter 4 – Neil's tunnel wasn’t working. This was the only chapter I asked for a change. I thought kids would think it looked like a geometric design. It’s a plane hanging inside the tunnel.
Chapter 5 – The tunnel was done, and it was time to show Mom. Neil’s wind tunnel blew off her housecoat and threw his plane smash-crash through a window.
Chapter 6 – Neil, age 16, told Mom he was going to Purdue. She was thrilled, till Neil said he’d be flying fighter jets by the time he turned 18. That’s when she dropped a jam jar on her foot. OUCH!
Take a quick look back and forth between Set 1 and 2. The first 2 chapters look the same. So do the last two. The biggest difference is in the middle. The setting for Chapter 3 is coming into focus. Neil’s in the basement looking at his materials. This is one of the biggest mistakes I made. I didn’t notice all that wood! I wish I had. Wood was never on Neil’s supply list.
Chapter 4 is so much better! You can see the plane. It’s clearly in the middle of the tunnel where it’s supposed to be, but I asked for one small change. I wanted the rod to run across the tunnel from side to side. In Set 2 it went from front to back. I didn’t think the real wind tunnel worked that way. Part of the problem was trying to imagine how Neil built the real wind tunnel. He didn’t leave detailed instructions!
Chapters 1, 2, and 3 look pretty much the same in Set 3. It’s interesting to look back at Chapter 3 now – I can see the wood. In my head I thought the supplies from Chapter 2 would be there, but I was wrong. Hindsight is always 20/20! It’s such a pity, but, you can’t know what you don’t yet know.
On Chapter 4, I love, love, LOVE the plane and how it sits in the tunnel! It’s perfect, and that’s what I told Cole. Every time he sent a new set of thumbnails, it was my job to look them over, then send an answer to him either the same day or the next one.
If we agreed, it was easy! Cole moved ahead to the next set of thumbnails. If we didn’t, we had a conversation via email about how to proceed. At this point, it was easy. Chapter 4 was the only place I needed corrections, and Cole understood what I was asking for in both Sets 1 and 2.
BTW – I sent him a copy of the book after we both signed the contract. I also sent him another copy, autographed, after it was published.
Next up, Set 4! Stay tuned to see what’s up next with his illustrations!
Set 4 is where the wood hit the fan. Not literally, but it felt like it!
This time I saw wood in Chapter 3, then again in Chapter 5. We were near the end of the thumbnail process, but I had to ask Cole to make a change. The reason – wood was never on the supply list, and I spent hours researching it. I came up with the four supplies show in chapter 2 – stovepipe, electric motor, rheostat, and fan blades.
BTW – Neil needed a rheostat so he could set the speed to high, medium, or low on the fan blades.
Fun fact #1 – The fan blades aren’t from a fan. They came from an airplane. Really!
Fun Fact #2 – The wind tunnel you see in Chapter 5 was based on the research notes I sent Cole. Did you know that Neil Armstrong modeled his wind tunnel on the one the Wright Brothers built in 1901? Without that wind tunnel, their plane wouldn’t have got off the ground.
Cole understood, and I appreciated it. When you’re this far into the process, it can be hard to back up the train. Cole did! As for the other chapters, they looked great! Until – I discovered something new. YIKES!
When I started writing about Set 5, I thought it was the first set of ‘tight lines,’ but now I think Set 4 is too. Either way, I’d never heard of tight lines before. If you compare the first 3 sets of illustrations to the last 2, the lines look way different. The first 3 are sketchy. The last 2 look tighter, more like the lines you see in a coloring book. At least that’s how I understand tight lines.
Look at Chapter 3, 4, and 5. HOORAY! No Wood! The illustrations match my research and my words. In Chapter 3, Cole used the supplies I wrote about, plusa few common tools like screwdrivers. I forgot there was wood in Chapter 4, but Cole changed the focus in both chapters to show only the tunnel. Brilliant! It was an easy fix, and I was grateful for it!
In Chapter 6 I discovered a new problem. I wanted the illustration to show Mom dropping a jar on her foot. I thought the scene took place in the kitchen. It didn’t! While Cole was working on Set 5, I double checked my research, and I discovered a mistake. The scene really took place in the basement. YIKES!
I was so embarrassed ! I apologized to Cole and asked if he could switch the setting. Cole took it in stride. All the way through it looked like the kitchen sink. With a few small changes Cole turned the sink into a cabinet. I was so grateful! The hard work was all done. The final sketches were approved. All that remained was shading in the images.
Chapters 2 and 3
Chapters 4, 5, and 6
This is a copy of the last set of images I got from Cole. I lost the original file. I submitted them in my manuscript, and IngramSparks rejected them. My error message told me to convert the illustrations to grayscale and to 300 dpi.
I didn’t know what to do. I emailed Cole, but he doesn’t work with the interior files. Thank goodness one of my critique partners did. Rick is a tech guru! He solved both problems.
DPI’s are Dots Per Inch, and 300 dots per inch makes great pictures. Grayscale is a series of shades between black and white. There are 256 different shades. I can believe it, looking at the images above.
Rick emailed the changes, and I pasted them into my manuscript. I resubmitted them to Ingram, and they were accepted. Hooray!
Cole’s final illustration is below, the cover art. It went through the same basic process as the black and white ones did, but it went much faster with only one image. Here’s a screenshot of the final cover.
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!