Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Christmas... behind the scenes

With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to post some photos I took while I was working on illustrating 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Candlewick, 2002). A lot of work goes into illustrating a book, and much of it takes places before the pencil ever hits the paper. Here's some of what I did to try to bring this story to life.

Every time it snowed during the winter of 2000-2001, I went outside and took pictures. To this day, when I see new-fallen snow, it's hard not to grab my camera. This one is of my backyard, back when I lived in Arlington, Massachuestts. Guess I forgot to put the patio furniture away...

I decided to set the story in Beacon Hill, in Boston, since the buildings in that neighborhood were from the right time period. I spent some time wandering around Beacon Hill, and settled on The Nichols House Museum as the perfect setting. For one, it's a beautiful building. Plus, it's a museum house, so it looks much the same as it looked back in the 1800's. And most importantly, there's a lawn outside! I realized that I needed a house with a lawn, because of the line, "When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter". 

One day I headed into Boston right after a snowstorm and got some great pictures that really helped me envision how I wanted my book to look.

This is the point of view I decided to use for the scene when Santa is landing on the roof.

Same view, different snowstorm.
They even let me inside!
 When I draw people, I usually find real people to pose for me. Oftentimes I pose myself, because I know what poses I need, and I'm always there. When I was trying to decide what the narrator should look like, I kept picturing him as my friend, author M.T. Anderson. So I asked him to pose for me, which he did. He was such a good sport about it, and he did an amazing job. This was back before he was a National Book Award winner. I bet he doesn't do this sort of thing anymore!

Tobin Anderson kindly posing as the narrator in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, while my then-girlfriend, now-wife Sarah works as lighting technician. I'm sort of the director at this part of the process.
I wanted to make sure Santa looked really good in my book, so I went right to the big guy himself. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to pose for me.  Fortunately he was at the mall, so I didn't have to go all the way to the North Pole (good thing, because I didn't have any money!).

My wife, Sarah, remembered that there was a barn full of old sleighs and wagons at the horse farm where she used to work when she was in high school. So we took a road trip up to Maine, and found this amazing red sleigh, which I used as the model for Santa's sleigh:

sidenote: I used a slightly altered version of this sleigh in Over the River and Through the Wood
I set up this fake Christmas tree in my basement, with nineteenth century decorations. It was up for about a year. It got really dusty.

Sarah and I were on vacation in New Orleans when I found this great model reindeer. Sure, I probably could have found it at a store in Boston, but I bought it. His antlers mostly survived the plane ride. I would hang him in front of my drawing table while I was drawing.

And my mother-in-law's cat, Oscar, kindly agreed to pose as the cat.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Thanks for reading my blog.



  1. Thanks for sharing, Matt. It makes me understand all the work that goes into illustrations! Jane

  2. Thanks Jane! Glad you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas to all the Foleys! (you'll get a card eventually... I ordered them too late...)

  3. Amazing to see how you created it all! Sue

  4. Never had such an exciting and interesting look at the work of an illustrator before. Impressing. Thanks for sharing, Matt. Merry christmas to you and your family!

  5. Thanks so much Dagmar! I'll make sure to post more stuff like this. There's plenty more where this came from. Happy holidays to you!