I’m happy to link up with Stasha at www.northwestmommy.com for her wonderful Monday Listicles! Please go check out her site. There’s some great reading – and, bloggers, you may even want to join in!
Since I was a kid, I wanted to make books for children. My dream came true! This summer I finished the illustrations for my twenty-second picture book. Illustrating children’s books is thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and fulfilling. It’s also hard work that involves planning, research, organization, decision-making and plenty of re-working. I do not work digitally. All my art is done in pencil followed by watercolor, with a bit of colored pencil and ink for details and contrast. Below are some tips I have compiled based on my experience:
Tips for New Illustrators:
1- Read! – Read lots of picture books and pay special attention to the illustrations. Examine how the art and words work together.
2- Plan- Do rough, thumbnail sketches laying out the text and pictures on a storyboard (a blueprint for the book where all the pages are drawn on one large sheet of paper). Then do a more detailed dummy (a full-size mock-up of the book with pencil sketches). This is all described in detail in Uri Shulevitz’s book listed at the bottom of this page. (details below)
3- Communicate- The purpose of pictures is to clarify and enhance the text. Be clear about what you are saying with your pictures. Stay focused and don’t add more than the text calls for.
4- Composition- Have a variety of single and double page spreads and spots (vignettes). Follow distant scenes with close-ups, quiet scenes with lively ones and vice-versa. Vary perspectives. Keep in mind that he text is part of the overall design and also make sure there is enough room for it. Maintain a good composition despite the problematic gutter (where the pages join in the center). Make sure you don’t put anything too important near it. Each page relates to the others so consider the book as a whole. The storyboard is where you work this all out.
5- Characters- The story will suggest the characters, whether they be people or animals and if animals, whether they should be natural or anthropomorphized (with human characteristics, wearing clothes). If you do choose to humanize the animals make sure it’s an appropriate choice. In a story with wild or farm animals you would probably not want to dress them, but if the characters are to represent children then, of course, put them in outfits.
6- Perspective- Dramatic perspective and foreshortening can be visually exciting but use them appropriately- when the scene calls for it.
7- Consistency- Make sure your characters and scenery are consistent from page to page. Maintain a likeness in the characters as they appear in the different scenes. Plenty of preliminary sketching of the characters in various poses will help with that. Also pay attention to the scenery as viewpoints change. If a front view of a house shows a tree on its right, a back view would show the tree on the left. This is a very simple example. In complicated scenes it can be tricky.
8- Details- Details enrich the illustrations but too many can be distracting. Use them wisely, keeping the focus on the main action and character(s) in the scenes.
9- Foreshadowing- This adds to the continuity of a book. An example might be a mouse hole as a clue that a mouse will be appearing on a following page. It’s also a good way to set the stage for the book when used on the title, copyright and dedication pages.
10- Style- The style and media are your choice, but remember that your main purpose is to communicate the story and to engage the reader. Have fun and good luck!
On the process: (To see some images of my work go to: Book Art in Progress)
Storyboard- This is the blueprint for the book and the first step in designing it. On a large sheet of paper you will lay out all the pages of the book. Keeping in mind that most picture books are 32 pages, draw 17 small rectangles. Then draw a line down the middle of each rectangle. Put a large X on the left side of the 1st rectangle. That will represent the end sheet of the book, which has no print on it and is usually a solid color or white. The right side will be page 1. Continue numbering the pages until you reach page 32 which will be on the left side of the last rectangle. Put a large X on the right side to represent the other end sheet.
The first 3 to 5 pages of the book are for the front matter: Traditionally, page 1 is the half title page (shows just title of book). Page 2 is the copyright page. Page 3 is the dedication page. Pages 4 and 5 are the full title pages (listing title of book, author/illustrator and publisher). The story will begin on page 6 or 7. Alternately, the half title page can be omitted and replaced with the full title page, in which case the story will begin on page 4 or 5. There are other formats as well, but this is a common one.
Now begin the design process: Indicate what text will be on each page and draw some quick, thumbnail sketches to accompany it. Keep it simple and rough. The goal here is to determine the flow and pattern of the book. Seeing all the pages at once makes this easier. Strive for a variety of spots (vignettes), single and double page spreads.
Dummy-Now that you have a rough layout in the storyboard the next step is the dummy- a mock-up of the book. Take 10 sheets of drawing paper and fold them in half. Cut these folded sheets to whatever the trim size of the intended book will be (such as 8×10). Unfold and neatly place all the sheets together, then fold again and staple along the length of the folded edge. A heavy-duty stapler works best for this. Number the pages then begin drawing more detailed sketches based on the storyboard plan. You will also cut and paste the text onto the pages. Vary the placement of the text as well as the scenes to keep the book visually exciting. Follow close up scenes with distant ones, quiet scenes with lively ones. Vary perspectives and use them appropriately. For example, the scenery would be much different from a mouse’s point of view than from a horse’s. You may want to do some of the more difficult sketches on a separate piece of paper then transfer them to the dummy once you’ve worked it all out. In any case, plan to resketch until you are satisfied with the results. Then be prepared to revise again after the dummy has been reviewed by the art director and editor.
Finals- When all the revisions have been approved you can proceed to the final art. The medium is your choice. Illustrators use various media from watercolor to oil, pastel, acrylic, colored pencil, ink, collage, printmaking, photography and computer art among others. I work in watercolor along with ink and colored pencil. Using a lightbox I trace my approved dummy sketches onto sheets of watercolor paper that have been cut to size (with an inch or two extra all around). I keep the tracing light as I may make minor changes along the way and will ultimately want to erase the pencil marks.
Redo art that you are not satisfied with but also know when to stop. We artists are often our own worst critics. That is what keeps us striving for improvement, but there comes a point where doing something over does not necessarily make it better. As soon as I finish a painting I see things that I might have done differently. I have to recognize when to re-paint it and when to let it go. The most important thing is to know that I’ve done my best at the time. Good luck!
Suggested reading- (in addition to lots of picture books! Crucial)
Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz
Bookmaking: Editing, Design, Production, Third Edition by Marshall Lee
Children’s Book Illustration: Step by Step Techniques: A Unique Guide from the Masters by Jill Bossert
You might also check out: So You Want To Write A Children’s Book
Artists, is there anything you’d like to share? Aspiring illustrators, is there anything you’d like to ask? I’m here. Talk to me!