Illustrating The Examen Book: Behind the Scenes

Painting the illustrations for The Examen Book was such a delightful journey. I always love getting questions about the process of creating an illustration, and in honor of the book’s release six months ago today (!!), I want to share a bit of the “behind the scenes” process with you to show how the illustrations evolved as I worked on the project.

The “greeting” illustrations:

First sketch: The book starts with a greeting– “Hello there, my dear one!” and I knew I wanted to have kids in different places being greeted by a loved one. I decided that one of the characters lives in Chicago, so my initial sketch shows her being greeted by her brother in downtown Chicago (sort of in front of the Calder “Flamingo” statue?) and getting ready to get on the train together.

Later sketch: After a few revisions, I decided that this character would use a wheelchair, and I also wanted to show her and her older brother waiting for a bus together. (This one I imagined to be a stop on the Damen bus, near North Avenue.)

Final illustration: Time to paint! I was excited when I realized that I could put an illustration from Audacious Ignatius as the “ad” on the side of the bus shelter… Added some window boxes for the condo buildings, and it was done.

“Looking back in gratitude” illustrations:

First sketch: I started just by brainstorming some things I am grateful for… The upper left illustration was a self-portrait of what my kitchen looked like that day! The gardening scene was the only one of these ideas that made it to the final illustration, though the pelican at the beach did find his way onto page 8 of the book!

Later sketch: A cool thing about working with Paul is that as he revises the words, I revise the illustrations, and vice versa– the text and illustrations evolve together, and it leads to a cohesive whole (we share about this in an interview on the AMDG podcast, if you’re interested!) Paul decided to focus the gratitude reflection on the five senses, and so I adapted my pictures accordingly.

Final illustration: When I read this aloud, I like to ask the kids if they can match the picture to the five senses. Fun fact: the painting is a famous Seurat in the Art Institute of Chicago– do you recognize it?

“Choose just one feeling” illustration:

First sketch: I first imagined that Audacious Ignatius would sit with the reader as they reflected back on their feeling. However, as a continued to reflect, this didn’t feel true to the prayer to me– I don’t really imagine that I’m sitting with St. Ignatius when I do the Examen!

Later sketch: For me, the experience is more like literally holding a feeling in front of me so I can examine it more closely, and then offering that feeling to God. I tried drawing the feeling as a box or a gift, but ultimately, I liked the image of a ball of light.

Final illustration: I love to paint night scenes! Fun facts: the houses on the left page are inspired by the architecture in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago.

The entire illustration process, from first sketches to finished, scanned paintings took 10 months. There are 32 pages in a children’s book, but I made a lot more than 32 paintings– many paintings and sketches never made it into the book! It’s so fun to look back at the “outtakes” and see how each illustration unfolded. Thank you for your questions and comments about the illustrations– it’s so fun to share about the process!