Written by Jane Petrlik Smolik
Illustrated by Chad Gowey

I had the pleasure of working with Charlesbridge to illustrate Jane Petrlik Smolik's debut novel, Currents. Here are the  original watercolor illustrations I created for the book jacket and interior, along with some of the process sketches! 
Book Cover and Jacket Illustrations
Currents is a historical, middle grade novel that tells the stories of Bones, Bess, and Mary Margaret: three young girls from very different worlds whose lives are connected by treasures concealed in a bottle and set adrift on the ocean. There are three acts in the novel --- each telling the story of one of these girls --- so it was important to establish the three main characters, the novel's time period, and a sense of adventure as their tales are intertwined by a glass bottle traversing the Atlantic Ocean on the Gulf Stream. 
In early thumbnail sketches, single realistic scenes weren't quite communicating the parallel stories and history that the book needed, so I started looking into less representational options.
I found 19th Century book covers from the American Civil War era really inspiring: they combined ornamental elements, lovely typography, and interesting montages of portraits and scenes. Using this as a jumping off point, I did a sketch of the cover inspired by this period look and layout, incorporating three cameos with the girls' profiles, along with a vignette of the bottle at sea. This was exciting because it combined many of the elements we'd been looking for: adventure, history, and multiple characters tied together by this bottle. After some feedback, rescaling the cameos and making the portraits realistic rather than graphic silhouettes, we had an approved cover concept!
Initial Thumbnail Concept and the Approved Cover Sketch.
Completed front cover illustration.
As the front cover had ornate framework it seemed appropriate that the back cover should as well, so I ended up creating artwork for the full book jacket. The back cover vignette of the bottle needed to be fully scalable to accomodate different amounts of text. Rather than painting a separate scene, I built the front cover art in separate pieces: the background ocean scene and outside frame were painted together, and then the portraits and banner were combined digitally --- this way the background ocean scene was able to be easily repurposed for the back cover art. 
Interior Illustrations
In addition to the jacket art, I created full page and spot illustrations for the interior of the novel. Since these would be printed in black and white, they were all painted in black watercolor. Working in single color was a fun change of pace from full color illustrations --- it allowed me to explore more nuanced lighting and slowly build up the value of the paintings without worrying about staining or lifting up the watercolor pigment. 
To go alongside the Contents page at the beginning of the book, I created a map of the Atlantic Ocean showing the locations of all three of the characters: Virginia, the Isle of Wight, and Boston. This helped give a sense of just how far the Gulf Stream carried the bottle over the course of the novel.  
I created this chapter header image that was scalable so that it could be reused at multiple sizes throughout the novel: large on the title page, medium on each girl's introduction page, and small for each chapter page.
Chapter header illustrations.
For each of the three girls, there was a full page interior illustration to introduce them in the novel. Each piece needed to strongly establish a sense of place: Bones Brewster was an eleven-year-old slave on a Virginia plantation, Lady Bess Kent was a twelve-year-old daughter of a nobleman on the Isle of Wight in England, and Mary Margaret was a twelve-year-old Irish immigrant living in Boston, Massachusetts. I wanted to emphasize the unqiue landscapes of each of these locations, as well as how drastically different the lives of these three girls were.
Approved concepts for the interior illustrations.
Final illustration, "Bones --- Virginia, Autumn 1854."
Final illustration, "Lady Bess --- Isle of Wight, August 1855."
Final illustration, "Mary Margaret --- Boston, November 1856."
I especially want to thank Charlesbridge for giving me the opportunity to illustrate Smolik's fantastic novel and everyone who helped make this amazing book a reality!
And thank you for checking out my work! 
To order your own copy of the book, visit Charlesbridge or your preferred book retailer.


Cover and interior illustrations for "Currents" a young adult novel by Charlesbridge.


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