In the Studio: Anna Aronson
last updated 16 January 2024
Anna Aronson is an illustrator born and raised in America’s dairyland - Wisconsin. She has always enjoyed making art and telling stories. Some of her earliest memories are watching Anne of Green Gables and painting for hours.
In her work, she likes to focus on the everyday happenings of people from both now and the past. She aims to bring to life the simple stories that make up who we are. Professionally she works in Procreate and finishes in Photoshop. While she works digitally at the moment - she loves to play around with traditional art supplies in her spare time.
Here, Anna talks us through her creative process and how she brought When We Had to Leave Home to life, written by Linda Ravin Lodding (Albert Whitman & Co.), which came out October 2023.
Some parts of my process stay the same no matter what I am working on, and certain parts have to change depending on the project. I want structure and organization to ensure I hit briefs, comments, and deadlines and adequately illustrate the text. But, I also owe it to each project to bring something true and beautiful into the world- and that requires a looseness and openmindedness within that structure. I have worked with some really amazing art directors and designers who have helped me figure out what I should be focusing on in each stage of the book illustration process.
When I first get a brief, I like to ask the designer or art director if they have any thoughts on the project. Before I begin ideating, I want to ensure I have all the information. I then read the text over and over, and most of the time, I will write it by hand several times. I really want it to feel second nature.
One of my very favorite bits of this job is the research phase. I am currently working on a book that takes place in the earlier half of the 20th century. At the beginning of the project, I spent days in the library and hours on newspaper archives online. I love to get into the nitty-gritty details of what things were like at a time and place - like what type of dinnerware this family would have used at this time. When I look at the objects I have in my house, I see a candlestick from my grandma, an inkwell from my grandpa, and an old drawing from one of my kids. The things we don’t even think about in our everyday lives can breathe such specificity and personality into our drawings, and I want to really know about the world I am illustrating so that I can give the characters and environments that same specificity.
While I am working on details and research, I am also usually thumbnailing. Toggling between the big picture in thumbnailing and the details of research helps to create balance so that I don’t get lost in either one. Thumbnailing helps establish the flow and rhythm of a book before I start actually drawing the details I have been researching
I like to move back and forth between traditional and digital in the drawing stage. I often draw on random pieces of paper while trying to figure out drawings and characters and tape them into a sketchbook later on. In the sketch phase, I am trying to figure out several things - I want to get the drawings to a point where they will be a joy to paint from and easy to communicate what is happening in them with others. I want to figure out consistency in characters and environments, and I also want to really get across the emotion of the story before I begin to add color. After I finish sketches, I revise and clean them up before moving on to painting.
Colour and Test Pieces
While I paint the finished book digitally, I move back and forth between the two throughout the process. I find that while creating digitally is much more efficient and easier to edit, sketching or painting test pieces traditionally really grounds my work. Similarly, I have recently begun mixing my color palettes traditionally- there is something about literally having every color available to me when I paint on the iPad that makes my head spin! I need to narrow the choices for myself. This also gives the final pieces a more cohesive look that I enjoy.
After I have been given the AOK on everything, I move into the finals. This stage is getting more and more fun as I get more books under my belt. I now know which questions I should have asked to make this stage as enjoyable as possible. Ideally, most of the hard work and thinking should have been worked out by this point. This is not always the case, and issues always arise as they do with everything in life, but this stage is generally really lovely.
When I am illustrating a book, I always want to remember that it will be a printed object that someone will hold in their hands. I would love to keep doing more non-fiction and narrative non-fiction books. I want to help kids learn more about themselves by learning about people from the past. Something special happens when you see someone go through something that, while not directly connected to your experience, helps open up your world and understanding. It is a big privilege to be a part of making something that will help shape a child’s mind and heart, and I am so excited I get to keep doing that!
To work with Anna, get in contact here.