When we first seriously considered publishing Sinxay as a book, one of our major challenges was who would be our illustrator. Whether we ever considered having just one, I don’t remember. Over two or three years we explored a lot of possibilities, and of course a priority was to have a Lao artist if possible. We ended up choosing Khamla Phanyasith, as our Lao artist, an art instructor at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Vientiane who’s conveniently married to Bai’s sister. He paints a lot of the murals in different wats, and if you’ve ever been in Vientiane and looked inside the sims on temple grounds, you know the kind of style he’s most comfortable with. He used a similar style in the illustrations he did for our book.
But at the same time I wanted something more, something with more depth, something on a grander scale, something worthy of Sinxay. I wanted to work with an artist who would listen and be easy to communicate with, who was capable of making adjusments depending on our feedback. Ha, ha, ha, easier said than done. To make a long story a lot shorter, we ended up going through Elance, and as they say on their website, they are “The World’s Leading Site for Online Work.” It’s fun in a way when beginning to use a service like this. You write a description of what you want, choose a category that the job will fit in and then have it posted (all for free).
There are a ton of artists/illustrators around the world and within 24 hours we often would get over fifty replies. Almost all the freelancers have a portfolio and reviews of previous work on Elance, but still it’s extremely hard to judge who might be just right. We had a few misses, but that’s to be expected.
I think to our advantage in working on Sinxay these last ten years is that Bai and I operate under the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson who wrote “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” We persevered (one of the themes of Sinxay) pursuing the “perfect” artist and finally connected with Nick Bowen, a young fellow living in Idaho/Utah. We’ll write a post about him late, but really we know very little about him as almost all of our communication (hundreds and hundreds of messages) focused on the illustrations he was working on.
We worked with Nick over the period of about one year, with one illustration leading to another. It was like an addiction, and we kept coming up with scenes in the book that would be perfect for one of his illustrations. Thankfully Nick always agreed to taken on additional work, though he was often busy with other jobs.
The image you see here at the top of the post is the double spread illustration that we had him adapt for our cover. This was the first illustration Nick did for us. We always provided him with as much textual information as possible, plus images that might help clarify his own vision of the scene. What was fun to see develop was his growing interest in Sinxay and how he began to intuitively draw people, objects and landscape details that made it seem as if he knew the story of Sinxay as well as we did. More on this particular double spread in the next post.