The Extraordinary Adventure of NESCBWI16



“Rue Des Voyages Extraordinaires” or “The Avenue of Extraordinary Voyages” 

I just got back from the fantastic whirlwind of NESCBWI16 (the New England conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and I’m still pleasantly reeling. There were tons of inspiring workshops (led by fabulous authors, illustrators, editors and booksellers, including Nancy Castaldo, Deborah Freedman, Dan Moynihan, Brian Lies, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Calef Brown, Celia Lee, Elizabeth Bluemle and so many more), as well as great keynote speakers and the gorgeous Portfolio Showcase. Overall it was awesome to reunite with other authors and illustrators for a whole weekend of nerding out about making pictures and stories.

One element of the conference that I really enjoyed was the Illustration Challenge. This year, the prompt was “reinvent Jules Verne for the 21st century.”  I dove into a bit of research and was immediately impressed by the number of well-known books he’d written that are still vibrantly alive in popular culture (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYs, of course, but also FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, which was hugely inspirational for the George Melies silent film “A Trip to the Moon“, as well as JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON). His stories have been reinvented so many times that I was initially a bit overwhelmed about what to pick, until I realized that I didn’t actually have to choose just one story – I could try to address his overall “Extraordinary Voyages” collection.

I flipped through my sketchbooks for inspiration and found pages of neon sign sketches – I love the vintage appeal and saturated color of neon.

In fact, my desktop image for the past 10 years (across 3 computers) has been a photo I took at the Neon Art Museum in L.A., where I first got a close-up look at the artistry required to bend thin tubes of glass into intricate letterforms.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.13.33 PM.png

looks just like my computer!

I decided that my reinvention would be a Vegas strip of Jules Verne titles, to convey the awe of a person discovering his many works for the first time.

Since Jules Verne was from France, I chose to stick with his native French and to create signs that hinted at the books through design. Here are some early variations I tried for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (aka TOUR DU MONDE EN 80 JOURS):


I ended up creating each sign as a separate PSD file and then placing them as smart objects in the overall image (really loving that aspect of CC15).


After they were all placed and transformed to fit into the perspective of the scene, I rasterized the separate layers and locked transparent pixels to repaint the separate elements into colors that worked for the overall composition. Once the base colors were set, I played with a ton of layer effects and some filters to get the neon to glow.

Here’s the image from thumbnail sketch to final:


At some point in the future, I think I’ll try making some of the individual signs into gifs themselves, complete with bright flashing lights as well as the subtle flicker and hum of real neon signs.

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes – I know I was inspired by seeing the different processes of illustrators I admire at NESCBWI this past weekend!



2 Comments on “The Extraordinary Adventure of NESCBWI16

  1. Hey, Sarah, this is a great post. The GIF works so well to show your process. FYI, on Writers Rumpus there’ll be an interview with Brian Lies (not David Lies), who you mentioned as one of the good presenters, this Friday. I love your concept and process. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you for catching that!! Just fixed the typo; I think my brain is slightly melted from all the excitement. Will definitely keep an eye out – it was the first time I’d seen his beautiful work, and his workshop on worldbuilding/adding detail to illustrations was magnificent!

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