Photo Courtesy By: Trevor Romain
Read the entire transcript from the latest episode from the Trevor Romain Podcast, Under the Big Sky. In response from a fan who was going through a creative crisis, you can now read the transcription while listening to the podcast.
My first book with a major publisher came out a good number of years ago.
I submitted that particular book to over 50 publishers, some big some small and was rejected by them all, before it was finally acquired by Harper Collins Publishers, in New York.
The initial version of the book I had sent them was illustrated in black and white because I wanted it to have the feel of ‘The Giving Tree’, by Shel Silverstein.
Harper Collins had different ideas. My editor, Simone Kaplan wanted it in full color.
I was excited, but petrified because I was at the beginning of my illustration career and was afraid that I was going to make a mistake when painting the color pictures for the book.
After freaking out for five minutes, I tensed up and painted the illustrations as perfectly as I could.
The publisher wasn't happy with my efforts. They were rather blunt about not liking what I sent them back.
I was devastated because I was so sure they were going to love what I did, but they didn’t.
I actually felt down about it for weeks. I considered throwing the whole project in the rubbish bin. I reconsidered my dream to be a full time writer and illustrator.
After I got tired of feeling sorry for myself, and wallowing in my own self pity, I tried again. This time I worked even harder to do the perfect watercolor illustrations for my treasured book.
They still didn't like what I had done.
I felt quite depressed to tell the truth. My big break was feeling rather broken.
After a number of calls and discussions, the publisher decided to get, what they called, a colorist to do a sample illustration using my line drawings.
I went through such mixed emotions at the time. Was I a terrible illustrator? Was I not cut out for the book business? Did that mean the whole projects was rubbish?
Talk about self doubt. I actually even felt ashamed for a bit, because perhaps I oversold my ability.
I felt like I let myself down and, in turn, let the team who accepted my book for publishing, down.
A week later they sent me a sample page of the colorist's work. A person who, in essence, was going to nudge me out of my own book.
Very gently, they suggested he do the coloring of my book.
I was very disappointed to say the least.
But, truth be told, which I wasn’t going to admit in public, I kind of liked the sample painting the colorist had actually done.
Then, after siting with it for a few days and staring it his version of my pictures, I had a revelation . “ $#@*, I bet I could do that." I thought to myself.
While having my weekly half-hour catch-up phone chat with my mother in South Africa later that day, I subconsciously messed with my paints and replicated the style the colorist had produced without even realizing what I had done.
My bruised ego suddenly peeked out from behind the dark cloud. I marveled at my own creation. “Hmmmm.” I thought. “It looks really good.”
I did a few more samples, and before any self doubting could creep back in, I quickly sent the new samples off to the publisher.
They loved it. And I was given the go ahead to illustrate my book. You can see the result in the picture attached.
I’m really proud of the way it turned out.
The book came out the next year and was translated into many languages. It even had the honor of being acquired by Yoko Ono for the Japanese market. Funnily enough, on the dust jacket of the book, to this day, is a picture of Yoko Ono, not me.
I also heard a while back that Yoko Ono was considering turning the book into an animated short film. (No news yet but I’m hoping that will come to fruition.)
The lesson I learned from the entire experience is that I was trying too hard to paint the perfect pictures instead of enjoying the process, having fun, and painting the way I normally paint.
I was trying so hard to create what I thought people wanted to see, instead of doing what I love doing.
The stress, angst, and pursuit of the perfect picture almost cost me the opportunity of illustrating my first major book with one of the biggest publishers in the world.
I often hear of people self-sabotaging their creative work by setting up unrealistic expectations for themselves. I have illustrated over fifty books since Under The Big Sky and once I started enjoying what I was doing, instead of trying to meet expectations, my creative process changed and my craft became my career.
Read along to the podcast episode #20 here.
Purchase the 'Under the Big Sky' book.
Watch the video ebook on our YouTube Channel here.
"The place where I grow ideas and create stories using words, illustrations and photographs." - Trevor Romain