With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I embarked on the next step of the journey. I knew that if I was going to self-publish Slow Down Sarah!, I’d have to find an illustrator who could create on paper, the Sarah who had been getting clearer and clearer in my mind. But I had no idea who that would be, how on earth I would contact them, what the legalities would be, or anything else involved in commissioning an illustrator for a book!
The first thing I did was determine that I would work it out! The second thing I did was to start searching for the illustrator who I thought would be able to best bring my story to life. As I’d been writing and re-writing, I could see in my imagination the kind of illustrating style which would accurately capture who I felt Sarah to be. I knew that I would soon realise whose style could carry it off, if only I saw the right one. You know, the old ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ feeling. So I started looking at illustrations everywhere, searching for the illustrator who just might be the right one.
My search led me to many places: The Childrens picture books in our home, the library, online bookstores and the online stores of various book publisher, and to The Style File website at www.thestylefile.com. This is a website showcasing many different illustrators and with a huge cross section of different styles, I was sure I’d find someone I liked.
I was right. I’d already seen some of Chantal Stewart’s work on a publisher’s online store, but seeing her style on The Style File was another confirmation. I did more research, and had a good look at a cross section of her books, copying and pasting images of her work to compare to others. Here are some of her many picture book covers:
Star of the Circus particularly grabbed my attention and gave me confidence that Chantal could indeed be my chosen illustrator, as it showed me that she could depict a farm (her chooks were gorgeous!!!!) and I loved her rendition of the little girl and thought she could do a great job of creating Sarah.
By the end of this process, I had shortlisted my search to two potential illustrators. Chantal worked from within Australia; the other illustrator was American. Yes, it would be easier to work with an Australian illustrator, but by that point Chantal had also become my favourite choice. The last remaining tests were a) whether she would accept my proposal; and b) whether she could create Sarah.
Thankfully The Style File website had Chantal’s contact details, so I set to work drafting up a proposal to present Slow Down Sarah! to her. While there were many times during my 5 years of university that I couldn’t stand the thought of writing another business proposal, at this point in time, I was glad I knew how to do it! So I created a proposal which was dependent on my approving her character sketch of Sarah, sent it off, and prayed for the best.
You can imagine my thrill when she accepted my proposal! Now the next step was just to be sure that we could see the same ‘Sarah’. Because there was history behind this story, my children and I spent an afternoon gathering photographic reference material. I also didn’t know how much experience Chantal had with rural living, coming from Melbourne, so we included photographs of the area, cattle, and horses. There were also photos of my original red motorbike on which the story was based. And I always felt as though my daughter Miriam looked the most like what I imagined Sarah to look like – long blonde ponytail flying out behind her! So Miriam became my model and we had a lot of fun capturing photos.
Chantal put pencil and watercolours to paper and before too long an e-mail came through with her image of Sarah attached. As I double clicked to open it, my heart was pounding. What would she look like? Would it look like the Sarah I had known and loved? Would we have to go back to the drawing board? Would she be everything I’d hoped for or would I be disappointed? The screen opened…
The day I saw Sarah with my own two eyes for the first time, was a thrill beyond thrill! She was beautiful… she was perfect… she was everything I’d hoped for! Even the bike was perfect! I was elated!!!!!!
This now meant generating an illustration contract – another thing I didn’t know how to do – but I didn’t care! I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to see the rest of the illustrations! I did have to wait a little while because Chantal’s other commitments meant she was not available to begin for another six months, but I knew they would be worth waiting for! And they were!