But while Staake
is the author and/or illustrator of over 36 books (mostly picture
books for children), writing and illustrating 'The Orb Of
Chatham' presented its own set of challenges -- though it
only took this artist known for his hyper-fast work ethic to
create the entire book in a mere nine days in November 2004.
working on about 15 projects at once", points out Staake,
"and I have a horrible attention span. Once I have an idea
that I beleive needs to be carried through, I have to work fast
and get it done -- mistakes and all -- otherwise it'll sit in
a filing cabinet and get moldy."
Orb of Chatham' is only the second book that Staake completely
finished before taking it to a publisher, forsaking the traditional
approach of writing the story, showing sketches for the book,
including a couple samples of final art -- and then hoping for
a contract and advance to complete it for a publisher.
a book without a contract", says Staake, "is a little
like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. You just hope
you hit a really leafy tree at that critical moment."
worked, however -- and he found the leafy tree. Unconvinced that
'The Orb of Chatham' was suited to one of his big mainstream
publishers -- from Random House to Simon and Schuster -- his
hunch was that the book was more suited for a small or regional
press. Researching houses with decidedly New England-oriented
titles, Staake was impressed with the work of Commonwealth
a publisher that had a surprise hit with a little book called
'Cottage For Sale'. He showed 'The Orb of Chatham'
to Commonwealth, and they immediately made an offer to publish
it -- and on a speedy timetable.
most shocking thing about 'The Orb of Chatham' -- from
cover to cover -- is the fact that the art is created in black
and white, rather than in Staake's traditionally vibrant picture
book palette. "I love color", says Staake from his
Chatham home, "but there was never a question in my mind
that black and white alone should be used to illustrate the 'Orb'."
art evokes a haunting aura -- and almost makes the reader feel
as if they have stumbled into a dream, watching in solitude as
the seven foot Orb-like entity meanders through the quaint seaside
village of Chatham, Massachusetts.
wanted to create an aesthetic", says Staake, "that
pulls an adult or child reader into those squares and makes them
feel as if they are alone with the Orb -- that they're quiety
observing it as it rolls along, unaware that it is being watched."
also essential that the visual style I used was somehow in sync
with the Depression-era period in which the story takes place",
Staake noted. "For that reason I considered it essential
to create the art in black and white and in an aesthetic highly
influenced by the American Regionalist movement of the 1930s,
particularly the meticulous paintings of Grant Wood. Other children's
book illustrators have been highly influenced by Wood, though
few give him the credit he so duely deserves."
art for the book is 100% digital, the visual manifestations of
his mental images -- and an Apple computer with Photoshop (for
technophiles, the artist still prefers to use Photoshop 3.0 --
and rarely works in "layers").
digital illustrators that I know", says Staake, " use
an art pad and stylus to 'draw' on their computer screen, but
I don't. All I use is a mouse and keyboard to drag, pull, tweak,
create and click the design that I'm after. It's a little like
trying to draw with a bar of soap."
illustrator, designer and artist who worked for years by soaking
his fingertips in paint and india ink, Staake firmly believe
that the computer is but a tool -- one that must be weilded expertly
to achieve the desired results.
of the computer sort of like a power drill", the illustrator
points out. "I can drill a screw into a piece of wood using
a normal screwdriver, but by using a power drill, one can work
more effectively. I use the exact same skills as a digital artist
-- form, design, composition, technique, style, etc -- as I do
as a traditional artist."
Yet there are
limitations in what Staake can do with his digital illustrations.
saw 'The Orb of Chatham' as a small book -- probably no
larger than 6" x 6"", he points our. "It
was only in my discussions with Commonwealth Editions that we
decided to make the book larger. In the world of Photoshop, it's
almost always better to work larger and then reproduce the work
smaller -- rather than vice versa -- but we had to 'size' the
smaller art up. That said, I'm very pleased with how the art
was able to be reproduced larger than intended in 'Orb'."
Even more revealing
is the fact that the illustrations for 'The Orb of Chatham'
were almost all entirely created by Staake with no photographic
reference -- and from his memory.
of those fortunate people", says Staake, "who has a
weird photographic memory. If I see something once, I can recreate
it in my head -- and then compose an image of it on paper. For
the scenes in 'Orb', I would create them from memory, and if
I wasn't quite sure about something, I might take a walk at night
to check out if I captured the scene correctly. For example,
I was able to create an accurate illustration of the First United
Methodist Church, but checked it out on a winter evening to make
sure that I had captured the lighting correctly. To my surprise,
the dramatic spot lighting I recalled hitting the tower at night
in the summer wasn't there in the winter -- so I had to dig into
my mental image of that light effect. In the end, any inaccuracies
in my mental image of the scene only add to the 'organic' nature
of the illustration. I like to make my imperfect memories 'work'
for me -- even though I might have been able to convince the
church to turn on the lights for me so I could draw a quick sketch."
Of the fifteen
illustrations in the book, Staake insists he has no single favorite
different images for different reasons", he says, "but
because it can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months for a book to
finally be published, when I first see it in print, I almost
always shudder -- because there are always about a hundred things
I would like to change. Maybe that will happen in a sequel book
to 'The Orb Of Chatham'.
But as elegant
and evocative as the monotone illustrations are in 'The Orb
Of Chatham', they go much, much deeper -- and contain a secret
code of sorts.
unlock the Orb and enter into its secrets, mystery and enigmatic
sub-text", says Staake, "a reader must have fo to OrbOfChatham.com,
hold the book in their hands, and then solve a series of clues
and riddles that hidden in the artwork itself. You simply cannot
solve the code without the artwork in front of your eyes."
(Note: If you have the book in hand and wish to unlock the orb,
synergy between book and website is something that Staake found
fascinating -- and was a way to develop significant buzz for
the book even before it was released.
can see myself doing more books this way", says Staake,
"because a web site can not only pick up where a books'
story leaves off, but it can continue down new sub-plots and
truly expand on its concepts and ideas."
'The Orb of Chatham' real?
believe in the story", says Staake, "but I'm more interested
in how readers perceive it. To me, 'The Orb Of Chatham'
is one of those truly democratic stories that empowers the reader
-- and makes them a critical part of the experience. Without
a reader becoming engaged, a book simply wilts."
-- Steve Jacobs
Art Of The Orb Of Chatham' was first exhibited at the Munson
in Chatham, Massachusetts. Selected illustrations from the book,
reproduced as giclees and pencil signed and titled by Bob Staake,
were displayed June 19 - July 2, 2005 to coincide with the release
of the book. If you are interested in purchasing one of these
unique pieces of artwork, please visit this page