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