Monday, October 22, 2012

WriWOPi: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a workshop or seminar or class taught by the lovely Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen do it! 

At the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in June I was able to attend Sudipta's session on Picture Book Pacing and I have to say, this "chick" knows her stuff!  She's a natural teacher. 

The Science World does not know what they are missing, but we are lucky to have her in the PB World with her gift of humor, her sense of style and her amazing stilletos!

I am honored to have Sudipta on the blog today as part of the WriWOPi series.

It’s my picture book. I don’t care what the names on the spine say. I don’t care that after my name, there’s another name, and that name gets a special designation (illustrated by) while mine is left out in the cold alone. It’s MY picture book.

After all, it was my late night inspiration. It was my careful chosen imagery. It was my inventive plot and hilarious details.
It’s MY picture book. Right?

W-R-O-N-G. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

When I started writing picture books, I truly believed it was MY book that I generously allowed an illustrator to work on. But the longer I do this, I realize that Hillary Clinton was right – it takes a village. Not just to raise a child, as most people remember about her 1996 book. Hillary was also right about this: “It takes a village to bring a book into the world.”
Not just one author. A whole village. Author, illustrator, editor, art director, assistants, copy editor, sales/marketing folks, publisher, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And while there are some in that village who contribute less and some who contribute more, there is no way for a sole author to claim to be the principal architect of a picture book project. When there is both an author and an illustrator involved, the resulting book is a true collaboration.
Which means it’s not MY picture book. It’s OUR picture book.

If you’re an author who writes without pictures, that realization might make you uneasy, or even sad. How can someone so easily give up creative control of a project she has brought to life? How can she agree to be relegated to co-creator instead of sole creator?

The answer has two parts:
(1)    If you cannot draw (as I cannot do), you have no choice. No drawings = no picture book. Therefore, get over it.

(2)    In the words of Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
In truly great picture books, the illustrations do not echo the text, nor do the words describe the pictures. In truly great picture books, the combination of text and art creates something so much better than either of the individual pieces. They support each other and enhance each other. They go together like peanuts and Paydays, like Marley and reggae.
Every time I write a picture book, I have a clear idea in my head about what the art should look like. And not once has the art actually looked like it did in my head. I won’t lie to you and say that that never leads to disappointment – at least initially. But I’ve been very, very lucky, and as soon as I can let go of my preconceived notions and view the art with an open mind, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised. Not because the illustrations show what I’ve written in the story, but because the addition of the art has added dimensions that I couldn’t have done with text alone.  Here are some examples…

In PIRATE PRINCESS, Princess Bea fails at a number of pirate ship chores, including serving as the galley cook. JillMcElmurry takes this passing reference of a failed stew and does this with it:
I wish “stinky fish” and “even more salt” had been my idea.

Look at the terror on the animals’ faces in HAMPIRE:
 All the words say is that “the critters braced for Hampire’s fangs,” but what Howard Fine has done is crystallize that moment of terror – and then heighten in with subliminal details. Look at all those sharp, painful farm implements in the background, each one capable of ripping a body to shreds – just like the Hampire can? Maybe?
I like to joke that CHICKS RUN WILD is my autobiography – the story of little chicks at bedtime who, every time Mama kisses them good night, proceed to run wild. But Ward Jenkins took this to a new level – he put our kids in the book. See the chicken drawings above the chicks’ beds? Each of those chickens was drawn by one of our kids, because each of those chicks is one of our kids.

Each of my picture books, well, it’s not MY picture book, no matter what I may have thought.
It’s OUR picture book, and it’s better for it. (And I’m so glad I can’t draw.)

You can read more about Sudipta and her upcoming projects on her website (, her FB page ( and/or her blog (


  1. Excellent points, Sudipta. I especially like #1. Thanks for showing us clear examples from your pbs! Thanks, Marcie, for sharing!

  2. What a great explanation of the relationship between words and pictures in this unique medium!

  3. Thanks Sudipta. Cute tidbit about the Chicks Run Wild book. Hope to someday be able to take one of your wonderful classes.

  4. Great post, Sudipta. I was just explaining this to a new writer today. Some authors who self publish say "I did not want to give up control", but for me, it's not about relinquishing control, it's about welcoming input. I know my book is better now because of my editor, illustrator and art director!

  5. Very nice post. I totally love how your kids drawings were incorporated into Chicks Run Wild. (a book which I totally love!!!!) That is the coolest thing!

  6. I love this post. Once we accept the fact that we can't draw, leaving it to the illustrator gets easier. In my case, my illustrations never crossed my mind till I actually saw them! I was so focused, I never thought past my words. But my little story became a real book when the pictures made it come alive.

  7. So true Sudipta! I just had the experience for the first time when I saw art for my app. An illustrator is always going to add a whole new dimension to a book, making it even better than before!

  8. What a wonderful post! I've had similar experiences, and only once was I truly disappointed when an illustrator and I really didn't seem to be working on the same book. I love that your little chickens made it into your autobiography :)

  9. So true Sudipta! This whole bit about not being in creative control over 'my' book is so well put here. And am glad I'm not the only one who feels this way:)

    And thanks Marcie for bringing this here! If it's okay with you, I'll post a link to this post on my blog...