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Picture Book Illustration: Maintaining consistency

One of the biggest challenges in illustrating picture books is maintaining consistency from page to page.We have to make sure the character(s) look the same as viewpoints change. How do we do that? By drawing many, many rough sketches to develop the character, and by keeping it simple. Even though my paintings tend to be rich in detail, and showing volume, light and shadow, the characters are still cartoon-like and simple. Notice  Little Miss Muffet‘s face: Her nose is a little u-shaped stroke. Her eyes are basically two dots, with half circles over them. (click to enlarge)

Muffet bw and color spots

When I trace my sketch onto the watercolor paper and start painting, the challenges increase. Now, I have to maintain consistency in the colors and patterns. Much of this I do by eye. After many years of experience, I can usually match a color, but  it does make it easier if I jot down some notes. Often, I will do sample color studies, and then I will scribble some notes. I tend to get caught up in the moment, and am not very neat or systematic. In the image below, I made notes of the colors I used  as I started painting the finals. Sloppy yes, because I was painting and making notes simultaneously, but it does make  sense to me! Muffet color notes

The images below are from a book I illustrated for Eve Bunting- The Wedding. Lots of animal characters  in this one, and the brindle cow was especially challenging. Of course, I applied her spots somewhat randomly , but I did place some bolder ones in specific places to maintain uniformity:

Wedding- chipmunk scene

Though the angles change, the characters’ colors, features, sizes and accessories are consistent. There is no mistaking who’s who.

Wedding- animals singing

Consistency in setting is also critical. The shapes, colors, textures, details, light source, etc., all have to be as accurate as possible. And not only in appearance, but where they are placed. if a tree is to the right of a character in one view and on the next page the view is reversed, then the tree has to be on the left.

Same goes for architectural details. In my book, Froggie Went A-Courtin’, notice the window is to the right of the door here:Froggie- chipmunk leaves

In the following scene, I started to paint the final, showing the window on the right (as I had incorrectly drawn it in my dummy sketch.)  Luckily, I caught my mistake and redid the painting with the window where it should be- on the left:

Froggie- walks alone

It can get tricky, so I do have to stay on top of it. For my Haunted Party  book, which all takes place in a haunted house, I made myself a floor plan to make sure I had windows, doors, etc, properly placed. I can’t find that one to show you, but now I am working on an extension of  Old King Cole  (Fall 2015) and I made this little sketch to help me visualize the hall and to maintain architectural consistency. Again, it’s a quick, rough sketch, but it gives me an idea of where I am going.Cole- castle floor plan

To new illustrators submitting sample to publishers, the best advice I can give is to show some sketches of a character or characters in the same setting, but with varying viewpoints, sizes and perspectives. Make sure to maintain consistency in both characters and setting. This is not easy (for me, anyway :-)) but an editor and art director will want to see that you are up to the task. I would show both black/white and color samples. Before submitting, let your work sit for a couple of weeks or  longer, then go back to it. You may find errors or rough spots that you’ll want to improve.

And one more tip- do your sketches on tracing paper, or put them up to a mirror. If they don’t look right on the reverse page (or in the mirror) then something is wrong- the eyes are uneven, the ears too low, the nose off center, or something like that.

Be critical of your work and keep striving to improve. When you feel you’ve done your absolute best, then go ahead and submit your samples. You may see things wrong with them somewhere down the line, as you improve, but do feel that you have put in your best effort at the time of submission.

Again, please feel free to ask me any specific picture book making questions and I will be glad to answer them in a post like this!

You may also like: So You Want To Illustrate a Children’s Book?Book Art in ProgressInspiration for Budding Picture Book Illustrators, Picture Book Illustration: What Type/Size of Paper

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.

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34 Responses to Picture Book Illustration: Maintaining consistency

  1. CG says:

    Awesome advice! one question, why are they all pink? Is there a reason for doing it like this or just personal preference? Or is the paper just pink?

    • Iza Trapani says:

      They should not be pink. It all looks normal on my site. I am curious if others experience a problem, and I will check with my designer. Thanks for letting me know.

      • CG says:

        one more question, what size and type brushes do you use? i just bought a new set of rounds and flats (royal soft grip),recommended by a professional artist I know who uses these in England; also a Cotman Windsor and Newton size 00 and 1, very tiny for fine detail. I also have a fan brush and large Hake for washes. Are these similar to what you use?

  2. cindy wider says:

    Fabulous post Iza, thanks for the great information for budding illustrators. I also see the images as pink. I love the way you have shared the processes here.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thanks so much, Cindy! I think the pink issue should be fixed now. Please let me know if you can see clearly now! 🙂

  3. cindy wider says:

    Hi Iza, yes it is fixed now…so beautiful to see these images in colour. Great work!

  4. Oh BBF, I love the way you share the entire process with us. It is amazing for a non-illustrator like myself to see. I want to put a clay table in my office, since I cannot draw, I thought working with clay would inspire me. I love these images. Magnificent! Hope your Thanksgiving was beautiful.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thank you, BBF! I think a clay table is a great idea and I look forward to seeing your creations!
      Yes, we had a lovely Thanksgiving and I hope you did too. xo

  5. Hi Iza,
    Better to arrive late than not at all.
    I also like to study your illustrations, that’s my excuse.
    You shouldn’t apologize for your note taking process. I do the same thing so I don’t forget what colors I used.
    I’ve only every painted single illustrations and it does terrify me to know everything has to be consistent (i.e. faces especially).
    Do you get bored painting? If so, how do you rectify that so you don’t lose momentum?
    Thank you for the extra tips on what one should submit to a publisher.
    Another superb post, Iza.
    I’m saving this one too!
    Thank you.
    Tracy 🙂

  6. What a fascinating post! I am not an illustrator- but learning about how you keep consistency was so interesting to think about. I hadn’t ever thought about it. I like the tracing paper idea and can see how it would be helpful. Your illustrations are beautiful. 🙂

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thank you so much, Stephanie. I am so glad the post was helpful, and if you have any questions about picture book making, please don’t hesitate to ask!

  7. Helene Fiig says:

    Hi Iza,
    So many lovely drawings! I love the ones with all the animals on top of the cow 🙂


  8. CG says:

    What happens if you make a watercolor mistake, how do you determine if it is still ok, or you fix it as much as you can, do you still show the publisher? Especially if it is a piece you have put in long hours, a lot of people say only the artist can see the mistake as we are the most critical; still, the publisher may be even more so. In my own painting, some cupcakes did not turn out as I’d hoped, but I wonder could they be photoshopped later by the publisher, if the artist doesnt have photoshop? My main question is, do you re do the whole thing for one little area of a large painting or see if it can be salvaged via photoshop first?

  9. Iza Trapani says:

    Thanks for the question, CG! I will answer it in a post very soon.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      You are welcome! The sides of the watercolor paper are a little different. The back is usually a little smoother. There’s nothing wrong with using the back side. Try it to out to see how the paint adheres and how the painting looks. If you plan on doing several paintings to submit, then check if there are big differences in how the paintings look (front and back) and if the differences are significant then I would suggest painting the other scenes on the back of the paper as well to maintain uniformity.

  10. CG says:

    Iza, quick question about the dummies. From my research, publishers don’t want a finished book sent, as that tells the art directors you’re finished and not willing to work with them if they suggest changes; yet others say they want a professional looking dummy;

    So, do I just send them really well done line drawings of each page in dummy form, and a few colored illustrations to show style and art ability, or sketchy lines, say in pencil of each page to show how the story flows? I want it to be professional yet not give the impression it’s a ‘finished’ piece of work; I’m not sure how detailed it should be.

    I’ve visited multiple publishing sites and there is nothing in their submission guidelines regarding this. I know each are different..

    When you first started out, what did you send in? How finished was it, and was it just line drawings in dummy format and a few color tear sheets?

    Any suggestions would be great!

    Thanks again!!


    • Iza Trapani says:

      If it were me, I would send the publisher two pages of well done pencil sketches and one color page. Make them consecutive so they can see that you are consistent from page to page. Make the color page one of the b/w sketches so they can see how you go from sketch to final painting.And send copies- not original art!
      I may answer this question in a post, but I need to know if you are a man or a woman. I was going to paraphrase your question to something like: a reader asked if he/she should submit….?

  11. CG says:

    I’m a hen (bird crazy here, my book takes place on a farm with plenty of chickens and waterfowl 😀 )

  12. CG says:

    ah yes, forgot to add, i remember your post about no originals, not till you get the contract anyway..still sketching out the dummy. So dont send them the whole dummie, then?

    One of the publishers at Kane Miller books replied to me, said she would like the manuscript and line drawings; they want submissions by email. Ahhhh they all like something different. I think I will also take Childrens Writers/Illustrators Market book’s advice…finish the work as far as the line drawings and the few color ones, just in case I get more replies like the one at Kane Miller, where they want the whole thing…

    I never thought of that perspective, sending a line drawing and its color counterpart..I never thought of that! Yes, this way they can see how the book as a whole would be. Just love all your insight, btw, I’m the one that asked about the turkeys on facebook, I’m the goose whisperer aka canada goose 😀 I have some of my art for the book posted under the pictures.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Yes, most pubs these days want scans via e-mail, but if you do send a snail mail submission, make sure it’s copies, not originals.
      And yes, I replied to you on FB- that we have wild turkeys and even Canada geese in the warmer months 🙂

  13. I’m finishing up a little children’s book I wrote with illustrations. Many can be seen on the FAA site. I have a very hard time keeping the likeness the same. I try to use a bit of exaggeration or simplicity but it’s still rough. If you think they don’t look the same, let me know. Appreciate your help.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Lucille,
      I do agree with you that the likeness is not consistent. This is one of the biggest challenges in illustration- but it has to be done right. It’s important to compare each image and check all the features (eyes, shape of face etc..) for consistency. I would rework these until they are consistent from page to page. Good luck!

  14. Thanks. I did rework some of them and will do more but I think many of them are consistent, do you think?

  15. Yes, she does look younger in some. Thanks very much 🙂

  16. I have been interested in doing digital painting for my children’s books. Can you tell me what you know about this or if you recommend it? Is there a long learning curve?

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Hi Lucille, I know nothing about digital art, so I am sorry I can not advise you. Like in anything, I am sure there is a substantial learning curve, but some people learn quicker than others… You might check out Michael Garland’s work. He is an accomplished digital (and traditional) artist and picture book author/illustrator:

  17. Thanks very much 🙂 I wrote to him on facebook.

  18. When I typed in my question for google, your post come out on top! And I’m glad it did. Been having trouble with consistency and am hoping your tips will help. Thanks, Iza!

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I hope it’s helpful, Julie. Consistency is hard as viewpoints and perspectives change. I’m struggling with it myself. Maybe I should re-read my post! 🙂

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