I was recently looking through some of my stencil related books and decided it might be fun to learn what goes on behind the scenes in producing such books. I pulled Stenciling Kids’ Rooms: Creative Designs for Bedrooms, Play Spaces, and Nurseries down off of my shelf and contacted one of the contributors and fellow decorative painter, Merilee Sawusch. Merilee is the long time owner of Merilee’s Murals, Etc. and lives in Libertyville, IL.
Merilee’s contributing project, “Pocket Pals Organizer”, appears on page 48. I found this book at Barnes and Noble, about 1 year ago, in the Bargain Bin for under $10. It truly is a bargain at that price, with its complete instructions and ready to use stencils, for 20 projects. This book is geared toward the beginner and comes with excellent tips and demonstrations.
I was very curious to know just what went into the whole process, so picked Merilee’s brain a bit! Here is my interview with Merilee:
Painter Girl: How did you become involved with this book?
Merilee: We were contacted thru e-mail by the publisher (Publications International, Ltd.) who said they were going to publish a new stenciling book and were looking for members of SALI (now IDAL) who would be interested in participating. Since it was a company based about 45 min from me, I responded.
Painter Girl: Did you have to interview?
Merilee: They asked if I could bring my portfolio down and meet with them. I did that and at the time I could not imagine one more book on stenciling, plus this was all new to me and wasn’t sure if I would know what they wanted. I was impressed with the quality of the books they published though, so for the first book I told them that I couldn’t commit the time to design for it, but since they wanted someone locally who knew how to stencil, that I would do the photo consultant job. I also told them that if they needed any painting or stenciling done to let me know. They had stencilers already committed to do the projects who were, for the most part, people with their own stencil design companies.
Painter Girl: Did you suggest the idea of doing a Pocket Pal Organizer or did the publisher already know what projects they wanted included in this book?
Merilee: They told me they wanted a design that would go on the shoe organizer and they wanted it to be colorful and for holding Beanie Babies. There were to be 6 designs and they had to all fit on 1 1/2 pages for the stencils.
Painter Girl: Did you design any other projects for this book that they did not use?
Merilee: That was the only one designed for that book, but there were many more projects that I actually stenciled and painted for the book.
Painter Girl: Did you design the stencils for this project yourself or are they from another source?
Merilee: This one was to be totally designed by the artist due to copyright issues. The projects done by stencil artists who owned companies, were able to use their previous designs for their projects.
Painter Girl: How was work submitted?
Merilee: Along the way work came back to them, and some of it either was unacceptable, or in one case, the designer quit. I redid some or totally did a few. They sent multiples of each project and by that time had edited the directions so that they would tell me to prepare the stenciling to a certain stage, then that’s where the photo would be taken. At the end, we also had to submit a completed stencil which would be photographed on the page for the usable stencil.
Painter Girl: Where was your finished project photographed?
Merilee: All of the books were photographed at the Sterling Silver Studio in Cicero IL. It was so cool to go down there and work. It’s just a huge warehouse space and there were walls that were like rolling screens that they would move around or decorate as needed. For instance, the ones for the books were papered or painted or stenciled and then used for the photos. Every single thing in them is fake. No windows, sunlight etc. The publisher shipped all of the elements to them for the shoots. In other words, if there were toys, they either belonged to the editors or were purchased. I didn’t need to work on the large finished project, but sometimes the walls that were used were also used for the step by steps.
Painter Girl: Did you have to photograph the step by step pictures yourself?
Merilee: For the step by steps I had a script to follow that was made up from the directions written for the project by the designers. Sometimes these were changed as they were set up, for clarity. I would get the project to the stage needed then show the hand model how to hold the brush and then they would shoot the photo and we’d look at it on the computer. If it wasn’t right we’d do it again. The instructions in the front of the books have some of my stenciling tools included in the photos. I actually had to bring my stenciling supplies to each shoot. The step by steps usually took 1 -2 weeks to shoot all of the ones needed for the books.
Painter Girl: How long did this project take, from the time they hired you, until the book was out in the stores?
Merilee: I honestly can’t remember the actual timing but it seemed like we had a couple of months to get the projects designed and ready, then a month for the photos, and the finished books were out about 6 mo. later.
Painter Girl: Was it a fun experience?
Merilee: I actually loved working on the books. It was very low pay, but I learned so much about the process, and it really made me stretch to be exact with the design and the finished pattern, etc. Besides, if I hadn’t been involved in these books, I never would have gotten acquainted with so many of the other wonderful artists who worked on this book series! I was involved with 3 of the 4 books, plus the only stencil designer for 4 of their children’s stencil books.