Nancy Vo, author and illustrator of The Outlaw, gives us an inside look into her artistic process and her notebook.
It’s hot and dry as I write this. Hot and dry are not adjectives typically used to describe Vancouver or the Northwest Coast.
Westerns, however, are often set in hot and dry places. When I look back on the notebook that I kept while making, The Outlaw, I can see that I was trying to capture a sense of place for the story.
Since The Sisters Brothers inspired my story, I began my research where that story took place – Oregon City in the 1850s. This image of Willamette River, Portland, Oregon helped to anchor the story’s beginning and ending:
UO562 3 of 3 Panoramic stumpscape of 1870 Portland Willamette River Oregon USA photos historic
Carleton Watkins copy horizontal bw SW SE
These quick sketches were made in the notebook, followed by a rough ink, and a finished spread:
The finished spread does not have a lot of colour, and this decision to limit the colour palette was decided early – indigo, quinacridone gold, burnt umber. At this point, I was also looking at typeface and fabric patterns. I did not use the typeface shown in the sketchbook but settled on Clarendon for body text.
For the title, Michael Solomon (Art Director of Groundwood Books) suggested a deboss through letterpress – a fancy way of saying that you can feel the imprint of the type on the paper. I found a local print shop, Black Stone Press, and they found old wood letters that were perfect for the job.
The original cover on my dummy was rather minimalist and Michael suggested having a person on the cover. I went away and made a couple of versions with the Outlaw on the cover. His advice was spot on and I am much happier with the final cover.
I did a lot of things in this picture book that I wouldn’t recommend as far as process. For example, most people have rough thumbnails before they start work on their dummy. I decided that I wanted to see how the spreads looked all on one page after I had finished the dummy. So, I printed these to have a look. Seeing it like this I’ll say that the scene with villagers could have been varied.
The Outlaw by Nancy Vo:
In this spare and powerful story set in the Old West, people in a small town live in constant worry of another visit from the Outlaw. Then the Outlaw suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Time passes, and one day a stranger rides into town. He takes it upon himself to fix everything that is in disrepair — the clapboard schoolhouse, the train station platform. He even builds a horse trough. But when someone recognizes him as the Outlaw, the crowd turns on him. It takes the courage of a small boy to change the course of events …
The subtle, beautiful mixed-media art with its nineteenth-century textural references perfectly complements this original story from debut author and illustrator Nancy Vo.