Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Scarcity of Illustrators for children's books in Jamaica

Please correct me where I am wrong.

As a writer of books for children, especially for self- publishing, I have found that there are very few good illustrators for children's stories in Jamaica. And that those that exist are very expensive - as they should be. Scarce goods and services always cost more. But children's books do not sell in great numbers, and cannot be priced to accommodate the very high costs of illustrations.
It's not that our artists can’t draw. They do very well on ads and flyers and other commercial productions, but there seems to be a lack of interest in the much narrower area of illustrating children's stories.
Two problems I have encountered, in particular. First, the artists don’t have the time or are unwilling to invest the time in reading the story, so they often misinterpret. No matter how precise the art brief, it's in the story proper that one gets the feel for what the illustrations should look like. I have had to re-write sections of my stories to match the illustrations, where the artist will not or cannot get it right. (The stories I could tell you! Many arrogantly feel you should take what they give you.) 
I believe in giving the artist scope for their own imaginative input, so if I say a living room, at night, the characters have put a mattress on the floor and are eating snacks and watching TV; I expect to get a scene which reflects this - chairs pulled away, a picture on the wall, or a window, somewhere - snacks will include drinks etc.  Not a so-so bare room with the characters sitting stiffly on the mattress watching an isolated TV, with one bowl of something orange in it.
For one of my stories which takes place over a summer holiday, I had to point out that the girl would not be in the exact same dress every day. (A very old-time dress at that!) The artist couldn't be bothered to note or ask what a child would wear for exploration over the holidays. The boy also had on the same clothes all summer - I am not making a comment on that.
Second is we don't seem to be able to produce that magical quality that children find attractive. The illustrations often lack depth and that magical look of characters and settings.
When I go on the Internet, on facebook and on sites for writers and illustrators, there are many, many illustrators showing off their wares, many at reasonable cost as they try to break into the market. If I tell a local artist to check book covers on amazon, for example, and see what is being produced for children, I often get a look which says I have lost my senses. But, there would be instant criticism for using a foreign artist. Dare I say that our artists (too many of them) are unwilling to invest in the imagination - theirs and others.  Could it be that the majority are male and too macho to illustrate for children??
As usual, I don't have any answers to the questions I ask. Maybe your experience is different (I hope so). But right now we do not have many choices for good, affordable  illustrators for children's literature in Jamaica. Take a survey of illustrations for children's books on amazon, for example – not just the covers, but 'look inside' the ebooks as well. 
I am deliberately not putting up any illustrations. I would like you to research and judge for yourself. 
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