Pictures for Words

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On our last day of the campaign, I thought you might enjoy hearing from designer and illustrator Stephen Schlott who will be illustrating “B in the World.”

“B in the World” will be your first illustrated children’s book. Tell us a little bit about your background. Professionally, I’m a graphic designer, and I’ve run my own studio for over 20 years, with clients in both the private and non-profit sectors. But I’ve always loved drawing and many of the projects I’ve worked on over the years have included venues like museums and gardens where families visit, often with children, so I’ve always had to be aware of speaking to a young audience.

What appealed to you about this project?
I’m truly thrilled with the prospect of creating illustrations for B. If you believe in the great goal of acceptance and diversity in our culture, then this story is necessary right now. Especially for children. Plus, I’m a proud gay father who embraces a non-traditional family, and a Seattle LGBTQ leader serving gay fathers and their families for nearly 10 years, most notably through my participation in the Gay Fathers Association of Seattle (GFAS). A lot of men in this group would have had a different story to tell if they had the support that B has early in their lives. So this project has a lot of meaning for me. So this project has a lot of meaning for me.

At the same time, the story brought back a lot of painful feelings from childhood. I think most of us can identify with some part of B’s pain. For me, it was a big touchstone in understanding and identifying with B, his friends and family.

How do you start concepts for illustrating a children’s book like this?
Usually, I illustrate nature (bugs and things) and statistics (how many people will fit in a boat) but this time just like anyone else, I start by reading the story and imagining what the characters might look like, how they might present themselves. From the first time I read the story, I could already visualize how B’s struggles would reveal in his face, when he has to look away, or how his arms might brace against his sides. Then it’s just a matter of working them out on paper.

What medium will you use for the illustrations?
I’ll be using a variety of media, both drawn and digital. The book design itself will complement the story and illustrations. When B is bullied, the pages will be dark, like the inside of his closet.

Is there anything special you have to keep in mind when illustrating for children?
I actually like the restrictions of drawing for a particular audience. In a way, it takes you out of yourself—all your efforts are concentrated on conveying these characters to a child in the most effective and entertaining way possible. With illustrating the characters and settings in “B,” I made the decision to use line and  color boldly, to help bring the reader into B’s world, make them more familiar.

Fortunately, in the story, I have the opportunity to illustrate a positive outcome. Because tomorrow can be different for children like B if we can only allow them to take to the stage and celebrate their uniqueness. By the end of the story, I want all the readers to want to be a mermaid, too.

You also create original art and photography of your own.
Mostly, I just draw and take photos for myself but I’ve launched a small shop called I’m Different Press, which offers cards, posters and graphics with a similar message to this book. Be yourself with pride. What you say matters. Some of our proceeds also support non-profit groups who are making headway in equality rights and protecting youth from bullying. I also have some edgy coffee posters… since Seattle is my home, where coffee ranks supreme.



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