I illustrated my first picture book when I was 17 years old. The illustrations were for a story my mother had written when we were quite small. The tale was a gorgeous epic about garden creatures. We loved the story. Because we enjoyed ‘Spinky Sparrow’s Garden Adventure’ so much, we wanted to share it with my younger cousins. My sister wrote the story in a sketch book and I created illustrations. The illustration bug had truly bitten!
As with many other aspiring children’s authors and illustrators, I was strongly counselled to find a different occupation. Some of the arguments against my preferred career were:
- Illustration is a boom-time business. What happens if the economy is bad and you can’t get work?
- It is almost impossible to break into the business.
- Your work isn’t up to the standard (and ‘you might as well quit’ was the unspoken insinuation).
- There is fierce competition. Are you sure you are up to it?
The list goes on.
You have probably heard some or all of these; and perhaps more objections.
Nobody advised me to keep illustrating, be patient, work hard and illustrate part-time while having a job to pay the way.
I eventually figured that out for myself. That is also the advice I will give everyone else, and ‘Keep at it!’
For about ten years, my art supplies were exiled to the wardrobe, and I slogged at my day job.
My now almost 11-year old niece re-awoke my passion for illustration when she was about 2 years old.
But I had to relearn to draw – or at least, work very hard to get my drawing skills to where I knew they needed to be. At least for me, it was several YEARS of drawing and painting to arrive at the point where I felt I could have some success illustrating.
The irony, of this journey, is that no matter how much I improve; I can still see how much further I need to go!
I have illustrated 3 picture books in full; and created concepts for a few more, but none of the work has been published. I am not feeling sorry for myself, as experience has taught me why my work wasn’t then suitable for publication. It is with those lessons in mind, and embracing my arsenal of writing and illustrating tools learnt along the way, that I prepare to embark on my new picture book.
Having been advised not to share the manuscript and illustrations (apparently the publishing industry frowns on ‘spoiler alerts’), I will be blogging about:
- My process for creating a picture book.
- Why I am following this process.
- The initial preparation of a picture book.
- Lessons learned during the process of creating this book.
- And hopefully, the journey from creation to publication.
- I will share some of my preparatory sketches, but nothing that may be published.
I am looking at this project taking about 2 to 2.5 years (perhaps longer, though I would love to think that I could do everything in a fraction of that time).
Many illustrators have other jobs apart from picture book illustration. I tutor children and adults with learning disabilities and my illustration work includes blogging (about illustration work and reviewing picture books for cognitive elements), teaching drawing and painting and creating illustrations for customers, my online stores and my portfolio.
Recently, I was also invited to enter artwork in to the 2019 Semarang International Illustration Festival. I had ten days to conceptualise and complete an exhibition piece. I loved producing the illustration, but it meant dropping other illustration work. Very few picture book illustrators can focus solely on picture book illustration.
Over the years, I have taken picture book writing courses, done illustration courses and read countless books on writing and illustrating picture books.
Here are some of the books I have found useful:
- Illustrating Children’s Books, by Martin Ursell
- The Picture Book Maker: The Art of the Children’s Picture Book Writer and Illustrator, by Karenanne Knight
- Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz
- Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication, by Martin Salisbury
Please comment if you have come across other useful books that may be a help to our community of picture book writer-illustrators.
With all my other picture book projects, I approached them with the naive eagerness of a puppy, threw myself in and swam in square circles. I thought my enthusiasm would steer me straight, but my sentimentality drove all logic out, leaving the manuscript and illustrations with gaping holes.
After doing a project management course (which had nothing to do with literature!), I realised I needed to change my approach. Distilling all the information I had gathered over the years, I designed a process through which I intend to produce my new picture book.
I now believe that equal parts of passion and deliberate, strategic design will be the better method for moving forward.
In other words, I am trying to move away from being fully Marianne in ‘Sense and Sensibility’, to being a little more like Elinor – controlled passion.
- The idea – I already had the idea.
a. This step involved thinking through the idea and figuring out how it can be transformed from idea into a usable and logical picture book concept. I used a couple of sounding boards – my long-suffering mother, and my much-appreciated writing group. The feedback was positive, but more importantly, constructive. With their support and advice, I decided to proceed with the current idea.
Many of my dog-walks have been spent mulling over possible plot scenarios and the narrative arc. I have never considered the narrative of any of my previous works half as much as this one. In my future illustration blogs, I will run through the steps taken to help consolidate the story.
Remember – you have to have gallons of passion for the book and characters, as you are going to be spending a lot of quality time with them. If you are not excited to do so, that is the first sign that this book is not for you.
b. This step also includes coming up with an idea if you are suffering from a lack of inspiration.
I keep a notebook and sketchbook. Whenever I have an idea, hear or see something that appeals, I make a note of it. When you are in the proverbial ‘inspiration desert’, consult your notebook and sketchbook.
- The rough stage – this is a massive stage. It involves:
a. Writing, rewriting, editing, re-editing, assessing, reassessing, rewriting the manuscript. You get the idea.
b. Doing research (if necessary).
c. Drawing ideas to later develop into character sketches and settings.
d. Story boarding.
e. Creating characters (concept).
f. Creating settings.
g. Making dummy books.
h. Drawing new storyboards and dummy books until the pictorial narrative flow works.
3. Submissions – sending out the manuscript, dummy book and concept art to either agents or publishers, and hoping one of them has the same vision, or is willing to work with you to create a mutually-accepted vision.
4. Book development – amending the concept to the publisher’s requirements and creating the final artwork.
5. Kicking the ‘baby bird’ picture book out of your ‘nest’, pointing it in the direction of the publisher and their team of experts, who will coax it into a printed book, and finally seeing on the shelf of the local book shop.
In my next illustration blog, I will discuss the IDEA PROCESS. At this point, I would love to invite you to join me on this adventure. Please feel free to keep me company as I develop my picture book and would be so pleased if you would share your experiences with me. If you are keen to create a picture book at the same time, maybe you can share your progress too.
I am in for the long haul. If you are too, ‘Bon Voyage!’
Please join me this time next month when I review a couple of lovely picture books.
Until next time…