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Book art in progress

Hi! Please come into my studio and see some art from The Bear Went Over the Mountain, on which I am now working.

While writing the  story, I started off with a very quick, thumbnail storyboard. Here’s a sample from it:

I then went on to do a slightly larger, but still rough storyboard

Then I started on the dummy.  I went through almost two rolls of tracing paper, working out the scenes and the bear character. Here is one of many revised sketches:

Here is a final, approved sketch:

Then I began painting. Using a light box, I very lightly traced the sketch onto my watercolor paper. I always start on the hardest areas first. In this scene, the sky and the ridge/valley separation presented the most challenges. I wanted  to create a mood of daybreak, and I didn’t want a dark sky. As for the ridge, it needed to pop out. I thought a some bright grass and rocks might do the trick:

That didn’t work at all – not enough separation and color too similar to the greens below.

Next I tried leaves and dirt and a dandelion.


So then I opted for a rocky ledge. And here is the final painting (still pending approval once all art is submitted):

Over time, I will share more sketches and paintings with you. I would love to hear your impressions, and please let me know if there is anything in particular that you would like to see or to know about.

In the meantime, here are a couple of printable coloring pages for the little one(s) in your life to enjoy!

Bear Coloring page 1 pdf

Bear Coloring page 2 -pdf

Keep in touch and have a great weekend!  Iza







About the author

Iza Trapani I am a children's book author and illustrator, fan of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, lover of big dogs, aspiring yodeler. When not in my studio, I spend time outdoors and have climbed over many a mountain to see what I could see.

50 Responses to Book art in progress

  1. Ania Krasinski says:

    very cool to look at the work in progress…….

  2. Susanna says:

    It is so interesting to see your process. As a person who cannot draw to save her life, I find this amazing. Thanks so much for sharing – I’ll look forward to future glimpses!

  3. Hi, I came across your site looking for illustration information and techniques. I just stared writing short stories for my boys and thought that I would try to do the illustrating myself.

    I have no idea of what I’m doing 🙂 but I’d like to try.

    You have great information here, and I shared your site on fb.

    Thank you.

  4. bianca says:

    I really loved your illustrations 🙂
    One day i would like to illustrate children’s books, too. I try to learn the tricks and i have so much to learn.

    I have a question. Do the sizes of the paper of rough sketches, tracing paper (dummy book) and the watercolor book matter ? How do you decide which size to use?

    Thank you 🙂

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Bianca! Thank you for stopping by and I am glad you like my illustrations 🙂 Many books are in the 8.5×10″ range , but they do vary. Some books are wider than taller. There are bigger books and smaller ones. The art director and illustrator decide on a size that fits the story and art. Go to a book store with a tape measure and look at some picture books that would be a nice size for your art and choose a size. You can work full size or proportionately larger- but do not go smaller. Hope this helps and don’t hesitate to ask me more!

  5. cindy wider says:

    Hi Iza, I have really enjoyed seeing the process of story boarding that you shared with us here. Your illustrations are gorgeous and make me smile. Thankyou so much. warm wishes Cindy

  6. CG says:

    Hello, I am new to all of this and am currently writing and illustrating my first story book; I would like to know more about your process on creating the book, such as the tracing paper; why is it used? how do you get an image thats on the tracing paper onto the regular watercolor paper? Is it traced on the back of the tracing paper as well and gone over again from the front?

    I’m not sure how to use the tracing paper and what other techniques are involved. Also, how did you do the color images? was it strictly watercolor?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I would like to learn as much as i can, and in Uri’s book it does not go over the techniques too much. i only got out of it how to make the dummy and story boards, which i have done. As they will need editing and I change things as i go, the tracing paper technique sounds like it would come in handy, but i have no idea how it is done. Please let me know when you have time, as i’m sure you are very busy with your book

    Good luck on that, and keep us posted on its progress. I love seeing the step by step aspect of things. Please write back when you can, and thank you for your time,


    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi CG. I use tracing paper in my early sketch because i make lots of changes and will often trace over and fix parts of previous drawings. But you can use any kind of paper you want. I buy the tracing paper on a roll so it’s more economical.

  7. CG says:

    one more question, what size paper are you working with, there? I am currently a veteran on disability and my income is limited; i can only afford the sizes offered at the stores such as fred meyer, walmart, ect; they are all about 11×14 at the largest. Are yours even bigger than that? The books I am working on are intended to be small, rather like Beatrix Potter’s original ‘little books’ were, to fit in small hands.

    Of course if i had the $ for larger watercolor paper I would use those as you can do greater detail the larger it is. Unfortunately I have what I have to work with. Would this size be sufficient for color panels for a book about 4×5.5″? I take a digital picture of it and re size it on the computer. Is this how you upload your examples to the blog?

    Sorry for all the questions, I am eager to learn all I can. As for the tracing paper, I found I can tape the original sketches on the window and trace them onto the watercolor paper, so I dont have to buy a big light box, at least for now. Would be neat to hear how you do yours as well.

    Hope to hear from you soon and sorry for all the emails, but you seem so down to earth and willing to teach on your blogs, I feel comfortable asking. If you would like to see any of my sketches (there aren’t many yet as I just started, though I do have the complete story board done), I’d love to share them with you. Thanks again!


    • Iza Trapani says:

      I buy my watercolor paper in bulk (25 sheets sized 22×30) and I cut it to the sizes I need. Most of my books are roughly 8.5 x10″ trim size and I work in that size to make my original paintings. My examples on the blog are images I scanned and resized in photoshop.
      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad to be of help so don’t hesitate to ask more questions!

      • CG says:

        What scanner do you use to scan in large pieces? I have an HP printer scanner but the platen size is standard, not very big. Do you take a digital photo and scan it in that way? Thats how I’ve been doing it. Also, how much larger are your original paintings vs what is printed in the finished book? My book will be very detailed, so the bigger the easier to do that, sort of Jill Barklem style.

        And one last question for the night, where do you buy your sheets in bulk? Where is the cheapest place? So far I’ve used Dick Blick art supplies and Aarons, but both are a bit pricey. How much would the 25 sheets at 22×30 run? I have all my other supplies, just the paper left to get.

        Thank you again for responding and getting back so soon!


        • Iza Trapani says:

          I use my HP or my xerox scanners- both are 8.5 x14 size. Like I said, I work no larger than that. I scan one page at a time, then join them in photoshop. But that is only for blogging purposes or to keep a file of my art. My art director/designer handles all the typesetting and scanning of my paintings for the books.
          I get my watercolor paper form Daniel Smith. Here is a link. If you are working small you may be better off just buying a few sheets of the 2×30 paper and then cutting them to the sizes you’ll need.

  8. CG says:

    Do you send them your original art for them to scan in? From my research, its not recommended that the artist sends originals, is this only when starting out and sending them the photocopied dummies? I plan to print out a few dummies at the library once they’re done and send them to various publishers that have books similar to mine and my style. Is this what you did when you first began? Or do you live near the publishers and only have to hand carry them in?

    btw, thank you for the link, what brand paper do you recommend? I was thinking the Canson 100’s? For a slightly smaller book than yours, how pages could you get out of 2 of the 22×30’s? Because my books will be small, probably 7 x 5.8 or so, I need to paint much larger, so it can be shrunk down later. For the dummy, I am using standard paper of 8.5 x 11. I wonder how many of those I can get out of a 22x 30?

  9. CG says:

    what pound size Arches would you recommend? Also, should hot or cold press be used? didnt realize how many types of Arches white they had!

    • Iza Trapani says:

      CG, that is up to you. I experimented with lots of different watercolor papers to see how they differ. I personally prefer Arches cold press, but you should decide what YOU like.

  10. CG says:

    Also, could you post more of your dummies and story boards? I love how you follow Uri S’s recommendations in his book, I’m also doing the same thing. Its neat to see other authors’ work in progress, helps me to know what to do and what not to do 🙂

  11. CG says:

    Hi Iza, I know your very busy, but I wanted to ask you for any tips for painting grass in watercolor. I have your book about the mulberry bush, your best work as far as grass and greenery goes. How do you get those individual blades? Do you use a sharp object to make them while the paper is wet? I thought of that but dont want to tear the paper. Do you put down the light colors first then the dark, and work in a negative painting technique? Or do you carefully work the dark colors around the lighter shapes?

    Sorry for the questions, but I love your work, and grass and green veggies are the hardest for me. Hope to hear from you soon, I will post on your blog in case this email is out of date,


    • Iza Trapani says:

      Again, I arrived at my techniques through trial and error and many years of practice. I work in typical watercolor style, starting out lightly then glazing with additional washes and going darker. I sometimes use an exacto knife once the paint is completely dry and scratch in thin lines for blades of grass or other details. I use it very sparingly… You should play around and see what works for YOU! I would also recommend that you go to your local library and check out some books on watercolor technique, or if you can, take a course. It’s a demanding medium. Acrylics are more forgiving.

  12. CG says:

    Thank you so much for your advice, i know your very busy but i love your art and style, I have lots of cheap paper i’m practicing with. Also, I’m working on the cover for my new book, if you have the time, I would very much like to email it to you for a critique? Its just a practice run, theres a couple things I will change in the final. Just want to see what your opinion is and if its something publishing houses would like. I should be done with it tomorrow. Let me know if its ok with you, I know you’re busy, whenever you have an extra minute. Thank you again!


  13. Hi Iza,
    I feel like I’m back at school again. Studying your process is going to be so helpful. What happens if after you’ve completed the painting and the publisher wants to change it? Only answer when you have time…or you could save the answer for another blog post.
    Thanks again,

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I might do a post on that, but to answer you here, it doesn’t happen often. They spend a long time going over the sketches, and that’s when I make the most revisions. My paintings are very true to the approved sketches so they are usually happy. Occasionally, I may have to make a little tweak to a painting- I had to change a ladybug’s wings once. They sent me back the painting and I lifted out what I had painted and re-did it. It was easy. Sometimes they may fix a little something in photoshop. Rarely do I have to do a whole painting over. And if I do, it’s not the worst thing. I don’t get too attached to my work. I often redo paintings on my own. I once spent 55 hours on a very complex scene and I ended up redoing it. 110 hours!- but it was much improved.

  14. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Storytime with Iza Trapani and Little Miss Muffet

  15. Oh my! 110 hours. I thought I spent a lot of hours on one piece. Thank you again for sharing. 🙂

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I hate to work that long. In my heart, I really want o be a minimalist- but that , I am afraid, won’t happen 🙂

  16. I’m the same way. 🙂

  17. Hildegard says:

    Very glad to have found your website, with this most helpful information to get me started on the right foot. After seven attempts at one particular face resulting in seven different personalities, I realized I need professional help! Tracing paper, light box, patience, and practice it is! Thank-you for sharing your insights so freely. I enjoy your style – pictures, writing, and “about the author” (and am wondering how the yodeling is coming along 🙂 ).

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Haha, Hildegard! I love your sense of humor. Sadly, I will never be a master yodeler, but I do use the technique when singing bluegrass tunes- which is why I wanted to learn it. As for your portraits, keep at it. I find that in illustrations for children’s books it’s best and easiest to keep characters simple (cartoony) with easily identifiable features- a mop of red hair, a round nose or big ears, etc. Doing lots and lots of loose character sketches, gesture type drawings really helps the character to evolve. Thanks so much for stopping by. I also checked out your website and your new book looks lovely! Good luck and keep in touch!

  18. CG says:

    In regards to the light box and tracing, I dont bother with the tracing paper at all; I do my final sketches on the size of paper the watercolor paper is, then, with my make shift light box (it’s a fishtank light upside down with clear plexiglass over it), I put the sketch on the bottom and the water color paper on top, and the light shines thru even the thickest paper, I do my tracing. This way I’m not having to draw the same detailed illustration twice, no tracing paper involved, will save the illustrator SO much time this way; I dont have a store bought light box so i have no idea how powerful the light is, but this way really saves on time. Just wanted to share this trick 😀

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I like your makeshift light box! Just to clarify, the tracing paper I use is actually a thin sketch paper called Sun-Glo Thumbnail- for architects, engineers illustrators. It comes in a roll and I buy it at my local art supply store. Regular tracing paper is ok too. I like to use this paper because it’s easy to erase on and I can lay previous sketches under it if I need to re-sketch something. I then take the tracing paper sketch and put it on the light box, put my watercolor paper over it and trace. There’s no extra step- no need to draw the illustration twice.

  19. CG says:

    good idea! esp when sketching a new illustration and playing around with the composition, lots of changes to be made. my aunt is also an artist and sent me a roll of that tracing paper, i may try it out; and i like how you only have to do it once 😀

  20. Dani womack says:

    Im 14 but I’d really love to publish a childrens book. I have an Idea and know what I want to do.
    Do you have any advice on how I can start.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Dani,
      You say you have an idea, so the next step would be to turn your idea into a story. If it’s a picture book, it needs to be 500 words or less and written very well. I assume you have been writing for a while and have studied lots of children’s books. That’s very important. If not, you should. Remember, it’s not just about getting published- it’s about the journey. Put in the time to make your words shine. If you are planning to do the pictures, the art needs to be strong as well. Do it because you love it! I hope this helps. feel free to ask me more questions if you’d like. Have fun and good luck! 🙂

  21. linda S justice says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have written a couple of children’s stories that I wish to illustrate. What I am wondering about is, is it hard to keep all the characters looking the same throughout the story? Are there any tips you can share? Thank you, Linda Justice, NYC

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Linda, Keeping the characters (and scenery) consistent as viewpoints change is definitely a challenge. A simpler, cartoony style might be helpful. Have you been drawing a long time? Are you planning to self publish or seek an agent to help you find a publisher? If it’s the latter, and your art isn’t as strong as your writing, then seek out an agent and submit just the manuscript. The publisher will select an accomplished illustrator for you. Your chances are much greater. Good luck!

  22. Tracie says:

    So, we are self publishing and new at this. Trying to figure out if the illustrat d picture that’s drawn and colore scan be scanned and used. Or do we need to go through adobe illustrator?

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Tracie, I know very little about the production process, as my publisher handles that end of it. A good print shop should be able to advise you. Off the top of my head, I can say that it will need to be a good quality, high res scan. Again, a print shop can advise and do the scans for you if you don’t have a high res scanner. Good luck!

  23. Marie Machos says:

    Hi Iza, I am ready to buy some Arches 300# cold pressed paper & can’t seem to locate size 8″ x 10″ (or approx. that size). Smallest that I found was 22″ x 30″. Where can I purchase a smaller size OR do you recommend illustrating on the 22″ x 30″ and reducing?

    Sincere thanks,


    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Marie,

      I’m not sure if Arches has smaller sheets- other than the watercolor blocks. Your most economical method is to buy the paper in 22×30 sheets and cutting it to size. I usually get 2 double page spreads and a single page with some left over for other projects. Make sure when you cut, leave a margin. You will need at least 3/8 inch of bleed around the art and then a bit of white paper around it (1/2 inch or so.) Hope this helps. Happy painting!

      • Ruth says:

        You said, “You will need at least 3/8 inch of bleed around the art and then a bit of white paper around it (1/2 inch or so.)” What does this mean? I’m beginning my “journey” of writing and illustrating my own picture book. If your page is 8×10, are you saying that you’ll need a 1/2inch border around the artwork, like a frame?

        Thanks for the clarification – I found your sketches awesome to look at and this was a great way to view your thumbprints – didn’t even think about it!

        Thank you

        • Iza Trapani says:

          Hi Ruth, sorry for the delay. I got very busy and forgot to reply…When you lay out your sketch on whatever paper you will do the finals on, just add an extra 3/8th (or up to 3/4 inches all around) and extend your paint or whatever you use into that area. That will give you or the designer some wiggle room in case you didn’t measure exactly. The white space all around is just so you don’t have to paint to the edges of the paper.

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