Book Trailers: Avoiding the suck, Part II

Quick recap: In Part I, I posted ten tips for those interested in creating short trailers (or other animated videos). In this post, we’ll focus on the art used in the Backwards trailer, and artist’s Kari Lennartson’s creative process.

If you’ve seen the book trailer for Backwards then you probably know that the art is amazing. What you might not know is that over 40 images were created to make this one short video.

Cras Cras!

Cras Cras!

Below is a brief interview with Kari Lennartson, the artist who did the drawings for the trailer. Kari is an incredibly talented painter and illustrator, who does both abstract and representative work. She teaches painting at Colorado State University, and she also teaches Art at Ridgeview Classical School.

Me: So what are some of the challenges of illustrating and depicting characters in a book, and how have you learned to address these challenges?


"Leading Lost" --some of Kari's narrative art (this painting is sparkly in real life)

“Leading Lost” –some of Kari’s narrative art (this painting is sparkly in real life)

Kari: I guess the challenge here is not dissimilar to what a filmmaker might face when adapting a popular book into visual form for the first time.  Often the first thing you’ll hear people say is “It’s not what I imagined in my head.”  I think we all do this when we read a book- we generate pictures in our brains based on the author’s verbal descriptions of places or people; and of course these versions will vary from one person to the next based on one’s own set of personal experiences and preferences.  We OWN those images- no one sees what we see. As such, as an illustrator you have to both understand this, but at the same time maintain a certain degree of independence, knowing full well that your images will not please everyone nor adhere to the millions of possibilities out here.  Your images need to be accurate to the precision of the text but outside of that they will inherently carry a piece of your own relationship to those words and stories.

Shapeshifter, by Kari

Shapeshifter, by Kari



Me: Why did you decide to use black and white sketches for this project? What sense where you trying to create with the drawings? What inspired you?

Cat painting

Cat painting in her secret house.

Kari: I recently had the pleasure of seeing an exhibition of the South African artist and filmmaker, William Kentridge at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Kentridge develops these richly emotional short films by animating his black and white charcoal drawings. There is a real tactile quality about using hand drawings in this form- as opposed to computer generated imagery. Consider our sensory response to hand kneaded artisan bread versus Wonder Bread- they look different, smell different, taste different (obviously!), but I would argue that we respond to this difference in a visceral, physical way- there is something unconscious at work- we are literally connecting to another human being through the bread. As film Kentridge’s work functions like this, and I also saw this book trailor project as an opportunity to create something very accessible and tangible in this way.SecretHousesmall


Me: What techniques or suggestions do you have for developing sequential art/narrative art? How is this different or similar to the way you approach paintings?

Kari: For storyboards & narrative art:  Do your research.  Study the narrative closely. See out inspiration from others whose work you admire. Use your imagination.BackwardsFireSmall
My recent body of paintings are narrative in nature;  however, they do not follow any one narrative, but are rather inspired by stories I have read or been told, films I have seen, art that has lead to me dream, along with my own memories. The “story” that evolves in my painting has something to do with making sense of this diverse range of “input”, using visual symbols or clues to communicate the way in which I disseminate information, observations, and feelings.  The paintings are like anthologies representing my present mental state, a record of who I am at the time or where (from an emotional/ mental standpoint) I’ve been. The other day I ran across a dream journal that I had started keeping about 15 years ago, long abandoned. As I reread some of my entries, it shocked me that I absolutely remember having had those dreams, and the clarity of the imagery in my head was so crystalline. I’m hoping that the paintings I’m doing now will function in the same way as that dream journal.

Me: What’s your creative process like?
TR Jumping from the radio tower.

TR Jumping from the radio tower.

Kari: For me art is work, but work I love. I always tell my students this as well- that’s why we call it our artwork. That said, as unromantic as it may sound to the non artist, I really just show up to work and start working. Can you imagine if your doctor needed to feel inspired to practice medicine? Or if the airline pilot needed to be inspired to fly the plane safely to your destination. As ludicrous as this might sound, we need to look at people doing creative work in the same way. The creative process begins simply with a dedication to earnestly begin, to take your work seriously, to put in your time, and to follow through.

Me: Finally, what tips do you have for other artists (those working on narrative projects like this, and/or artists in general)?

Kari: Being flexible is key- not being too in love with your own ego to listen to the advice and criticism of others. Collaborative projects like this depend on parities communicating and working together, yet at the same time being open and supportive. Believe me I know- we artists are a hubris-driven lot- but keeping it in check is important. No one has the corner market on ideas. 

The Rider jumping from the tower.

The Rider jumping from the tower.


Many thanks to Kari for her work on this project. If you want to see more of Kari’s work (or purchase a painting), check out her website:
And if you haven’t seen the Backwards trailer, click here.


Backwards is now available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.


  1. […] stay tuned: In the next few days I’ll post more on trailers, including interviews with the artist, Kari Lennartson, and filmmaker, Tim […]

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