Illustrating YA Fantasy Fiction: The Legend of Rhyme Series

Author Jaime Lee Mann’s The Legend of Rhyme middle grade fiction series from Blue Moon Publishers features the hallmarks of a unputdownable fantasy novel: magic spells, mythological creatures, and daring adventures. Adding to the fantastical elements of the series are Sarah Marie Lacy’s striking illustrations that bring to life its imaginary world. Author and illustrator duo Jaime and Sarah walk us through the process and challenges of translating words into visuals.


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Author and illustrator team Jaime Lee Mann and Sarah Marie Lacy share the process behind the illustrations in the popular Legend of Rhyme series. Images below by Sarah Marie Lacy.  All Lit Up: How did you begin working together to create the illustrations that populate the Legend of Rhyme series? Sarah Marie Lacy: Jaime and I had already worked together for several years in a business capacity. I adore Jaime and she knew my art pretty well, so when she asked me if I’d be interested in illustrating her series of books, I jumped at the chance.Jaime Lee Mann: When I first imagined having illustrations created for the Legend of Rhyme series, my mind immediately went to Sarah. I loved her style, I knew she had a childlike imagination, and having worked with her before, I knew I could trust her. 
 ALU: What comes first: the words or the pictures? Do the illustrations ever shape your writing, Jaime, or does Sarah draw her pictures based on your text? SML: The words almost always come first. It’s my job to take Jaime’s words and translate them into a visual interpretation, and I really love that process. Her writing is so beautifully clear that I can almost always instantly envision what she describes, and so far, we have an incredibly intuitive and easy author-illustrator relationship. I am always so thrilled and humbled when I draw something and Jaime says, “Yes! That exactly!” It’s so much fun.JLM: The only instance where the art changed the writing was with the illustration for a mermaid called Blue. I wanted to give Sarah some creative liberty to draw what she imagined an ice mermaid to look like.  ALU: Have you ever disagreed about how a character should be portrayed? How did you reach a compromise? SML: I don’t think we have.  A couple of times I’ve misunderstood what a character looks like, but it’s Jaime’s vision first—I’m just really dedicated to making her vision come to life. We just go back to the drawing board (literally!), I make some tweaks, and then we usually hit on what she’s looking for. We have such a great working relationship that changes like this are so easy.JLM: At this point, I feel like Sarah and I both know the characters and the lands, so it’s really a beautiful partnership. 
ALU: What do you feel the illustrations add to the Legend of Rhyme series? SML: I always loved illustrations in books as a child, and I read fantasy novels voraciously. I think illustrations add an extra dimension to the books, helping to flesh out an imaginary world and make it come to life for the person reading it. And we so rarely see illustrations in chapter books anymore that I think it makes the series extra special. I’m honestly just thrilled to bits to be a part of it.JLM: I grew up loving the Chronicles of Narnia, and I would adore flipping to the parts where there was a sketch to help me visualize the story better. I wanted the same sort of thing for my series. I feel that Sarah’s art has helped to give the story an added layer of depth that you don’t find in chapter books much anymore. And I believe these illustrations are extra special because they are all done by hand, on paper, the old-fashioned way. Not with any digitization except for scanning them in for the printer. I feel like it’s a style that truly suits the fairy tale I’ve written. I hope the art helps the reader make the worlds that I’ve created come alive even more in their minds.  ALU: Sarah, what is the biggest challenge regarding illustrating this series? What aspects come the most naturally to you? SML: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that I do the characters and storytelling justice, but it never feels like a trial. I really enjoy the whole process of taking Jaime’s world that she’s created and bringing it to life. I think more than a challenge, it’s the part of the process that I care about the most: I want Jaime to always light up and say, “Yes! That!” when she sees a drawing, and I will always work at something until we hit that magical place. So sometimes it takes a couple of iterations, but it’s so worth it. I think once I can see in my mind’s eye what it is that Jaime sees, it’s really natural to create that world— I find I hit my stride and the drawings come together easily. I used to draw all of these kinds of characters as a kid, so drawing the characters themselves comes naturally to me because it’s like visiting old friends in a lot of ways. 
ALU: Jaime, is there a large degree of trust needed to pass your characters on to an illustrator to bring to life? Did this come naturally, or was it something you had to build and work towards?
JLM: This came naturally with Sarah. It’s my favourite part of the process, really, to give her the words and see what she comes up with on the page. Nine times out of ten, it feels like she actually was in my brain.  *  *  * When Jaime Lee Mann turned nine, she decided she would be an author when she grew up. Many years later, Jaime’s children begged her to tell them stories at bedtime. The girls loved one of her magical stories so much that Jaime decided to write it down, and it become Elora of Stone, the first novel in the Legend of Rhyme series. Jaime lives in Prince Edward Island with her husband and daughters. She writes every day and will do so as long as people love to read her words.Sarah Marie Lacy is an award-winning Ottawa-based artist and teacher who makes art about humanity and grace. She works primarily in oil and pencil, and is fascinated by the stories our bodies tell and works from life as often as possible. She trained in France under master artists and is part of a 500 year lineage stretching back to Renaissance Italy. She has been in solo and group exhibitions across Eastern Canada and has won international awards for her portraiture work. She currently runs The Drawing Room Studio, an atelier in Ottawa that teaches classical figure drawing and painting. *  *  *Thanks so much to Jaime and Sarah for answering our questions and to Talia Crockett at Blue Moon Publishers for connecting us. The newest book, Stir of Shadows in the Legend of Rhyme series is available now.