Bill Thomson goes behind the scenes of his new picture book,Fossil, about a boy who inadvertently brings prehistoric creatures back to life.
Fossil is a wordless adventure
exploring imagination and the love a boy shares with his dog. In addition to
serving as entertainment for children, I hope that Fossil will be used as a tool for beginning/reluctant readers, as a writing prompt for
older children, or to initiate discussions about science and prehistoric life.
When we were children, my brothers and I
discovered fossils in a creek in our backyard in Roanoke, Virginia. The thrill
of discovering ancient treasures that were hidden by time never left me, and I
wanted to share that experience with young readers. Using fossils as a catalyst
for an adventure, I developed a storyline weaving science and imagination.
I developed the story for Fossil by creating a sequence of sketches (shown below). To make
the story visually engaging, I vary the size, scale, and vantage point of
the illustrations so that every page is completely different. Because the book
has no words, the illustrations must be interesting while clearly telling the
characters in Fossil are a boy and his dog. The
sketch below was for an interior illustration and also used as the cover. The
extremely low vantage point is used to prominently show the fossil, but more
importantly, it emphasizes the shocked expression of the boy and his dog upon
making their discovery. I
use photographs as a visual reference for my paintings. This requires
carefully selecting models, finding locations, and building props. To make the
illustrations convincing, I have to coach the models' facial expressions and body language.
For the boy this was easy, but for the dog it was much more difficult. After I
discovered the dog’s love for Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins, some well-placed donuts
coaxed her into the positions I needed. I shot over ten thousand reference
photographs for Fossil.
the best parts of several photos, I create a drawing of the scene. Then I paint
the black areas using acrylic paint and tiny paintbrushes. I
tried to make the dog look apprehensive, a warning of things to come.
To paint the ground, I mask off everything except the dirt area.
Using a sponge, I applied paint and a medium containing actual pieces of volcanic rock.
When the mask is removed, only the unprotected areas have the rock texture.
While this three dimensional aspect of my painting can't be reproduced in the
printing process, it makes the ground look more realistic in my painting. I
also really like using real rocks in the illustrations of a book about fossils.
Then I painstakingly paint the characters and
their environment using acrylic paint and colored pencils. This is a very
time-consuming process and the illustration took over 125 hours to complete.
Although achieving this level of detail requires considerable time, it is a
labor love. Creating books for children is my greatest passion and I can’t
imagine a better use of my time and talent.
When children are reading Fossil, I want them to forget they are looking at a book and become
immersed in the story. By portraying realistic characters and environments, I
try to establish a familiar connection that will allow young imaginations and
curiosity to take flight. I also hope children will experience that same sense
of wonder that my brothers I experienced when discovering fossils those many