Friday, October 13, 2017

A New Picture Book Project: Ruth Asawa

About celebrating the little things and the BIG things, like getting another book illustration job.

Ruth Awawa: A Sculpting Life cover sketch by Traci Van WagonerRuth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler and illustrated by me from Pelican Publishing

I realized that I haven't shared the good news that Pelican Publishing hired me to illustrate another book. Yay! In February of this year, Kevin, Pelican's Art Director, emailed me with a different type of manuscript about a real person with which he thought I could have some fun. I read the manuscript, a biography about an artist I'd never heard of before, Ruth Asawa a Japanese-American artist. With a little web research, I was hooked. Check out my pinterest board where I've collected a ton of images and research on Ruth and her work. It's stunning.

I emailed Kevin with my terms and schedule, and guess what? A few days later...

Yipee! celebratory art by Traci Van Wagoner I got the job - Yippee!

So, I did this quick celebratory illustration and sent it to Kevin.

Here's a run down of what I've been doing and the progression of this project.


The Contract fold from Pelican for the new picture book job, Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life for Traci Van WagonerI got contract and initial payment and the researching began, starting with Ruth -- amazing information and images. I also found David Zwirner gallery. I sent an email explaining the project and asking if they had any information they could provide, and/or sculptures to see in person.

Prep for text dummy for Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler to be illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

I completed a text dummy and dove into more research.

Sketching begins on Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler being illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner
Sketches began where I explored and learned more about Ruth and got to know her and her work. And then I needed more in depth research.

Color Final for Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner
©2017 Traci Van Wagoner
I painted the first color sample in which I established the painting style and basic color palette.

They loved it.

Final sketches in progress for Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Traci Van WagonerIt was time to finish off the sketches. Oh yeah, and more research for the nitty-gritty details of all the scenes.

As I was finishing off the sketches, I heard from Jonathan Laib, the curator at David Zwirner. Earlier this year the gallery became the executors of the Ruth Asawa estate. They were preparing for an opening featuring Ruth's work, and he graciously offered to show me some of the smaller sculptures before the show. Laura, his assistant, called a couple days later and invited me to the gallery for a private showing of a few of the smaller sculptures. It was amazing! (Thank you, Laura and Jonathan!)
Photo taken by Kurt Keller of Traci Van Wagoner at David Zwirner Gallery with Ruth Asawa sculpturePhoto taken by Kurt Keller of Traci Van Wagoner and Jack McDowall at David Zwirner Gallery with Ruth Asawa sculpturePhoto taken by Kurt Keller at David Zwirner Gallery of Ruth Asawa sculpturePhoto taken by Kurt Keller at David Zwirner Gallery of Ruth Asawa sculpturePhoto taken by Kurt Keller at David Zwirner Gallery of Ruth Asawa sculpture

(photos by Kurt Keller, Ruth Asawa sculptures at David Zwirner with Traci Van Wagoner and Jack McDowall)

I was totally mesmerized when I saw these in person. The photos don't do the sculpture justice. There is a magical quality when you see them in person with the looped wire interacting with itself and the air.

“My curiosity was aroused by the idea of giving structural form to the images in my drawings. These forms come from observing plants, the spiral shell of a snail, seeing light through insect wings, watching spiders repair their webs in the early morning, and seeing the sun through the droplets of water suspended from the tips of pine needles while watering my garden." ~ Ruth Asawa

With a renewed energy after seeing some of these amazing intricate sculptures in person, I finished and sent the final sketches.

While waiting for approval, I was thrilled to be able to go to the gallery opening at David Zwirner where I had the opportunity to see a couple rooms filled with Ruth Asawa sculptures,* and I was able meet Jonathan. He is open to the idea of having a book opening there next fall when the book comes out. Stay tuned for updates on that.

The sketches were very well received with only a few minor revisions needed, and I got wonderful and encouraging comments from the author. I love it when what I'm doing and trying is well received and understood.
"Thank you for choosing Traci Van Wagoner to illustrate Ruth Asawa’s story. Her story sketches cover my dining room table like a gift, complimenting my words with her illustrations. Traci’s research flows throughout her illustrations. Her creativity and designs fit Ruth’s story well.

In looking at the format of the book, Traci incorporated many different structures on the pages from double spreads to vertical and horizontal styles, and to lovely looping with illustrations within the curls. The size variations of framed illustrations add subtle dimensions, showing the reader the diversity and range of Ruth’s art too…always trying something different, exploring, and experimenting. The double page spreads interspersed in the book are a treat for the reader. They focus on important pages. The four-section page with the train has a real sense of movement. I enjoy the subtle passage of time through the sun and moon." ~Joan Schoettler
Thanks Joan! You made my day!

And I got some wonderful kudos from Kevin: Traci Van Wagoner – That girl is the bomb!

I completed the revisions and sent that over. Pelican decided to send the sketches to Ruth's daughter to make sure we got everything right. She had a few changes and suggestions, but overall she loved what I'm doing. I have one spread to rework, and then I'm set for painting.

Now you are up to date. Be sure to check back for more updates as I move into the painting phase of this project.

*The Ruth Asawa show at David Zwirner runs from September 13 through October 21, 2017. If you're in New York, I would recommend checking it out.