During the research and development of Sardis and Stamm, a children’s book based on not only the natural history, but also the history of the Antioch Dunes, author Matthew Bettelheim, science illustrator Nicole Wong, and cartographer (map-maker) Brian Greer relied heavily on historical imagery of the dunes together with photographs of insect specimens from local museum collections to bring the dunes to life on every page. For the role of Sardis, Nicole Wong used a young stand-in to model the actions of Sardis as she moved throughout the story.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Sardis and Stamm evolved from storyboard to storybook…
After a conceptual design (1) was agreed upon, science illustrator Nicole Wong drafted a storyboard (2 and 3) roughing out the progression of the illustrations page-by-page. Next, a model was photographed by portrait photographer Sarah Anne Bettelheim as a stand-in for Sardis (4), providing Nicole with enough material to go back to the drawing board and revise the sketches (5). Then came the ink lines and watercolor wash (6 and 7), bringing the portrait of Sardis and Stamm to life (8). Several illustrations were considered for the book cover, but only one – this tender moment between young Sardis and Stamm – made the cut (9).
Illustrations of All Types
The scarcity of the Antioch Dunes’ fauna that make them so unique also added a wrinkle to the process of portraying them accurately on the pages of a children’s story. To illustrate the variety of plant and animal species featured throughout the pages of Sardis and Stamm, science illustrator Nicole Wong instead relied on photographs of type and non-type specimens from natural history institutes such as the Bohart Museum of Entomology (University of California, Davis), the California Academy of Sciences (Entomology), and the Essig Museum of Entomology (University of California, Berkeley), together with source material from scientific journals and original species descriptions. Through careful study of detailed photographs and descriptions, Nicole took pinned insect specimens and effortlessly revived them with ink and watercolor, capturing them at rest and attack, in flight and in flutter.
In an attempt to recreate the feel of a historical map, cartographer Brian Greer combined elements from U.S. National Ocean Survey (previously known as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey) T-sheets (T-4685-A) dating back to 1931 (at left) with the 1953 Antioch North USGS 7.5 minute topographic quadrangle map (at right). Brian used the T-sheet, a highly detailed topographic map, to identify historical structures (buildings, docks, transmission towers); the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway tracks and spurs; mining and quarry locales; and stands of oak trees. Likewise, Brian used the quad map to retrace the 10-foot contour lines to convey the elevation of the site’s historical dune system. Combined, Brian was able to capture a timeless snapshot of the Antioch Dunes’ troubled past.
Employing the subtle art technique of trompe l’oeil, science illustrator Nicole Wong took advantage of a postcard from the private collection of California brick collector Dan Mosier depicting the Holland Sandstone Brick Company’s brick yard to illustrate one of the spreads in Sardis and Stamm. The yard was located east of Antioch along the San Joaquin River waterfront on 42-acres at Holland Landing off Wilbur Avenue at the present day Antioch Dunes. The postcard depicts the sand-lime plant ca. 1906, where raw sand was screened and then mixed with lime and water before being pressed and formed into bricks. Next the bricks were hardened through a treatment of steam pressure and temperatures of as much as 300°F for 10 hours. The bricks were then stacked and shipped either by rail car along a spur rail line connecting the yard to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, or via a tunnel bored through the dunes to the riverfront to be shipped by barge. The Holland Company’s sand-lime plant operated from June 1903 until 1907, after which time the company reverted to sand mining until sometime around 1919 (source: California Bricks).