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Illustration

Creating a Picture Book – Part 3 (What to Consider When Creating a Picture Book)

Although I digitise illustrations for publication and manufacture, I prefer to work with traditional media. This blog is written from my perspective as an illustrator, using traditional media and how I decide on the mechanics of my picture book illustrations.

Consider:                                                                                                                                                                 a. What materials you will use for your illustrations? e.g. collage, or watercolour paints on watercolour paper, or soft pastels on sanded paper, etc.                                                                    

b. What paper do you need? How much will you need? What size should you use? e.g. hot-pressed watercolour paper vs. cold-pressed watercolour paper? Will you use individual sheets, a roll of paper, pads or blocks?

c. How large should the illustrations be? The same size as the printed book, or do you feel you need to work using a larger format that can be scaled down by the layout designer.                   

d. How many illustrations do you need for the number of pages, and are you illustrating the end papers, title page, etc?                                                                                                                              

e. How are you going to create the illustrations? Are you using mixed media, and in what order will you use each medium? Are you under-painting your illustrations, or are you using pen and ink drawings with watercolour washes?                                                                                    

f. How will scanning and printing affect your illustrations? Be aware that you may not be able to use a basic scanner, as certain colours are not accurately represented by these. You may need your work to be scanned or photographed by a fine art specialist. Perhaps you are creating 3-D collages. How will you get your work to the publisher?                                       

 g. Will your text and images work symbiotically to produce a cohesive and dynamic picture book? Remember, your illustrations should not repeat the text and the words should say what the illustrations cannot. If you are creating a wordless book, your illustrations have to be as readable as text. Just as with text, illustrations should be readable and give background information, and supply what would be adjectives and adverbs in text (illustrate these rather than write them). Aim to create illustrations that would be verbs in the narrative (showing action). If you do this, you will be SHOWING not TELLING.

Join me next month for the fourth part of this blog series: Creating a Picture Book – Part 4 (My Picture Book Preparation). I will discuss all the necessary background work to be done before you create your first illustration.

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 6: Meerkat Mail (Emily Gravett)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all have a blessed 2020!

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, London, 2006, 2015

The illustrations were created in pencil and watercolour.

This story is perfect for young children, aged 3 to 6. Be aware that 5 minutes will not suffice to explore this book! This is one of those special books that delivers each time you open it. It is one of my favourite picture books ever.

Summary:

Sunny is a Meerkat. He lives in the hot, sunny, Kalahari Desert. He wants to leave home.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Zoology – As revealed in the book, meerkats are members of the mongoose family. Children learn about these small creatures through cleverly inserted details in the story, and by the enticing features liberally showered through the book, by way of postcards and postage stamps. Apart from learning about the mongoose family, other creatures like the African Red Hornbill, scorpions, termites, snails, frogs, earthworms, insect larvae, crustacea, reptiles and insects are mentioned.
  2. Number concept – In several places, you can encourage your child to either count or estimate the number of objects, such as ants, meerkats, locusts, termites and chickens. This helps reinforce number concept – the understanding of numbers as quantities.
  3. Social lessons – Sunny appears to be equally fed-up living in a hot, sunny, desert climate and having to live at close quarters with his large family.
  • A story like ‘Meerkat Mail’ can be a great springboard for discussing family dynamics: Why family is important? How do deal with situations when we are irritated or frustrated with a family member or members? etc. Sunny learns that it is better to be smothered but supported by family than to be independent and without a support network.
  • Stranger danger message – although never mentioned by name in the text, Meerkat is being shadowed by a suspicious character. The children will infer that he is up to is no good, but you may need to point him out lurking in the background. We probably shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to remind our children of the ‘stranger danger’ message.

4. Humour – Although aimed at children, this book definitely contains humour that will appeal to the adult reader. One of my favourite moments is on the back cover: Manufactured by: mongeeses mongooses small mammals.

Humour often encourages participation in the book, and will usually result in the book becoming a family favourite. Depending on the child, some of the humour may need explanation.

5. Vocabulary development – most of the vocabulary is age appropriate; however, you may find odd words that need to be explained to children.

6. Geography – It could be a good time to pull out an atlas, or make use of Dr. Google, to show children the location of the Kalahari Desert, Liberia and Madagascar.

For writers:

  • Emphasis – Emily Gravett uses uppercase and enlarged text to emphasis some words. These words can be spoken more loudly.
  • Bite-sized phrases – there are pockets of text sprinkled throughout the illustrations. Text is also displayed in eye-popping ways: on the meerkat teacher’s chalk board, on a sheet of note paper, on postcards, on a banner and engraved on the sand-dunes. Look for ways to insert the text in non-block formats.

For illustrators:

  • Textural illustrations – the illustrations on the covers, end-papers and title pages are layered like a collage. It creates interest through its varied composition. This is also an engineered book with postcard flaps, concealing information that the child needs to see. Every available surface has been utilised to promote the narrative.
  • Static composition – All of the story illustrations are created in a forward, street view. They are, however, shown up close, so that the reader feels as though they are participating in the scene, not just witnessing it.  
  • Varied illustration formats – the illustrator utilises full page bleeds, framed vignettes and double page layouts.
  • Colour palette – is extremely limited, using neutral shades, except for pops of scarlet on items that add humour and promote discussion between the reader and the audience.
  • Simple illustrations – the beauty of these illustrations come from the simple, yet well-constructed design, accompanied by the strong portrayal of emotion and action-filled characters.
  • Text incorporated into the illustrations – Story text is displayed on the meerkat teacher’s chalk board, on a sheet of note paper, on postcards, on a banner and engraved on the sand-dunes.

About the writer-illustrator:

Emily Gravett is a British illustrator and has created many picture books.

https://www.emilygravett.com/

‘Meerkat Mail’ can be purchased:

https://www.bookdepository.com/Meerkat-Mail-Emily-Gravett/9781416934738

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meerkat-Mail-Emily-Gravett/dp/1405090758

https://www.booktopia.com.au/meerkat-mail-emily-gravett/book/9781509836130.html

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

This month, however, I am doing both blogs – a New Years bonus!

Happy reading!

Illustration

Creating a Picture Book – Part 2 (The Idea)

Since I am writing and illustrating my book, the blog will be written from the perspective of a picture book creator, not just that of a writer or illustrator.

You have an idea for a picture book, or maybe you don’t, but you want or need to write and illustrate a book.

Here is the process for becoming inspired and for working on the idea:

  1. Keep a notebook and/or a sketchbook handy – this is your idea library. Ideas fall into our laps from the strangest places: a conservation overheard between young children, a comical scene, something beautiful or fascinating, etc. Whenever you feel blocked or uninspired, your ‘idea library’ comes into play.
  2. Ideas cannot be forced. Even when you have an idea, sometimes it can take days or weeks to foment into a usable concept. I find concepts crystallise when I am walking the dog, showering, trying to sleep, trying to distract myself from brooding over my concept by reading a book, etc. Discussing your concept with a writing group can be helpful.
  3. Don’t try to produce a finished and perfect book at this point. Just note the ideas. Play around with them. Give the ideas a chance to speak for themselves – let them come to life by themselves.
  4. Don’t over contrive them. You want the scenario, characters and setting to be fresh and believable.
  5. Don’t fight change. Just because your initial concept appeals to you, does not mean that it must remain the same as it was initially. Concepts tends to evolve. Sometimes they taper down to something simpler, sometimes they develop complexity. I find my concepts often look very different in the end. There is a core of the original idea, but its end result is usually much better than its initial concept.
  6. Do your research and check your references. If your story is about elephants in the Okavango Delta, then read up about them and the location. Draw African elephants. Draw the Okavango landscape. These study sketches will not be in the picture book, but they will train your hands, eyes and creativity so that you can use what you learn to create the illustrations.

Join me next time for the third part of this blog series: Creating a Picture Book – Part 3 (What to Consider When Creating a Picture Book).

Until next time…

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 6: ‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ (Gemma O’Neill)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

Oh Dear, Geoffrey

Written and Illustrated by Gemma O’Neill

Published by Templar Publishing in 2013.

The illustrations appear to be collage and mixed media (possibly digital). There is no information in the book, so I cannot be certain.

This book will appeal to toddlers, but many older children will also delight in it.

Summary:

Geoffrey is a young, clumsy giraffe whose efforts to make friends, with his fellow animals, goes awry. Until he realises that he was looking for friendship in the wrong places.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Social messages – Sometimes we cannot be friends with everyone, but there will be someone out there who is just right for us. We just need to keep looking. The monkeys and birds reach out to Geoffrey, who is miserable at this point in the story. We can encourage our children to watch out for those who are lonely or needing a friend. This story can also be a comfort to those of us who are lamentably clumsy! I recommend this book for anyone who associates with Dyspraxic children. It can be extremely isolating if you feel that your clumsiness will get in the way of socialising, sport, games, etc.
  2. Vocabulary development – Gemma uses delightful words like: buckly, stumbles, bumbles, tangled, twitter, etc. These words are explained through the context of the story. They are often bolstered by synonyms, and the actions, both in text and illustrations, reinforce the definition of the more advanced vocabulary. Because so many synonyms are used, this introduces children to the world of using alternative vocabulary for simple, basic words. Often young children delight in using ‘grown-up’ language while conversing.
  3. General knowledge – Different animal species are introduced in the story. Most children are fascinated by animals. Animal stories have a universal appeal, and this story will be popular for many years to come.
  4. Reading with expression – The text is arranged in bite-size pieces, so the reader can relish the rhythm it creates. Emphasis and volume can be employed when the text is enlarged. Reading with emphasis helps children maintain concentration as they are receiving auditory stimulation. It brings the story to life.

For the illustrators:

  • Illustration format – Since giraffes are such tall creatures, most illustrators would probably select portrait orientation for their illustrations. Geoffrey is only fully seen once (the final illustration). Gemma O’Neill has opted to zoom in and focus on particular features, like the head, legs, etc. Illustrators should not feel that they need to draw the entire character, especially when pace and tension may be improved by showing less.
  • Dynamic illustrations – Gemma only illustrates background when it is essential to the story. She always grounds the characters (they are not walking on air!). This is a smart move, as the foreground of every illustration is packed with detail and texture.
  • Animation – At no time are the characters static. Their faces are expressive, and their actions explode off the pages.
  • Colour palette – Is earthy, with the only deviations being the turquoise birds and pink flamingos. This scheme ensures cohesion throughout the book, and is only interrupted by surprising pops of these other colours.

For the writers:

  • Gemma O’Neill takes advantage of every page she can – the publisher’s details are printed on the back cover.  
  • The text is not laid out in traditional blocks. It is symbiotically arranged with the images. The font size also is enlarged to add emphasis.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gemma O’Neill is an illustrator from Northern Ireland. She illustrates books, has her own greetings cards range and creates artwork commissions.

https://gemmaoneill.bigcartel.com/about-gemma

‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ can be purchased from:

https://www.amazon.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/dp/0763666599

https://www.booktopia.com.au/oh-dear-geoffrey–gemma-o-neill/book/9780763666590.html

https://www.bookdepository.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/9780763666590

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Illustration

Creating a Picture Book – Part 1

Maurice the Magnificent

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.

How

Having been advised not to share the manuscript and illustrations (apparently the publishing industry frowns on ‘spoiler alerts’), I will be blogging about:

  1. My process for creating a picture book.
  2. Why I am following this process.
  3. The initial preparation of a picture book.
  4. Lessons learned during the process of creating this book.
  5. And hopefully, the journey from creation to publication.
  6. I will share some of my preparatory sketches, but nothing that may be published.

Time-frames

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.

Process

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 Steps

  1. 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.
  2. 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…

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 5: ‘A Year in Our New Garden’ (Gerda Muller) and ‘Earnestine’s Milky Way’ (Kerry Madden-Lunsford)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

We will be looking at two picture books in this blog.

The repairs to our home are progressing, so I have been able to retrieve my picture book collection. The two books being reviewed this month, however, are library books. I simply couldn’t resist them.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

A Year in Our New Garden

Written and Illustrated by Gerda Muller

Published in English by Floris Books in 1988, 2016 (first published in 1988 in German as ‘Ein Garten fur Kinder in der Stadt’.

The illustrations appear to be done in pen and ink and watercolour.

This book will appeal to junior primary-aged children.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Comprehension and memory skills – Prose is an excellent pathway for teaching comprehension skills. Feel free to ask your child questions about what you have read. Not only will the child have to retrieve information (memory skills), but you will also have an opportunity to determine whether your child has really understood the story or information conveyed. You are also able to share additional information or explanation.
  2. Visual perception – Discuss the pictures. Sometimes picture and story books will contain a sub-plot that is only apparent in the illustrations. Although this book doesn’t quite do that, it does show some lovely instances that are not mentioned in the text. For example, the title page displays a sparrow bathing in some rainwater in the drain; or when the children are gardening, Anna has her doll resting in the vegetable garden beside her. Encourage the child to see all the untold story that is shown in the pictures. They will learn to notice/observe and understand and infer through what they see.
  3. Sequencing – The story travels through a year. It explores the sequence of the seasons. See if you child is able to name the seasons in order. If they remember the story, it will make it easier for them to remember the seasons in the right order.
  4. Vocabulary development – Many plants, gardening implements, creatures etc. are discussed in this book. Your child may become interested in learning the names of plants in their own garden. Books like this are great aids in developing general knowledge.
  5. Activity – Reading this book may encourage an interest in nature and/or gardening. It may just foster, in your child, a life-long hobby or a career in botany or zoology.

Additional lessons that can be learned from this story include:

  • Friendship – Benjamin and Anna become friends with their upstairs neighbour, Louis, who is in a wheelchair. At least in Benjamin and Anna’s eyes, Louis is as capable as them.
  • Facts – Although a vast amount of information is delivered throughout the story, the final couple pages are devoted to teaching the facts about pollen, sowing seeds, roots and types of plants suited to growing in very small spaces.

For the illustrators:

  • Dynamic illustrations – there is a mixture of formats, including aerial view, vignettes, plans, diagrams, thumbnails, full-bleeds, with and without background. As a result, the illustrations are attention-grabbing.
  • Colour palette – is consistent throughout the book and tends to more neutral colours. They are realistic and detailed without being cluttered.

For the writers:

Written in prose, this book has more than 32 pages and is more of a story book than a picture book. The word count definitely exceeds 500 words. Though story books are now considered old-fashioned, I believe there is still a place for them, as they present a bridge between average picture books (containing approximately 500 words) and chapter books. Please comment if you know of any publishers who welcome story book submissions.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gerda Muller is a Dutch children’s book author and illustrator. She has illustrated more than 120 books for children and her books have been translated into many languages. She is best known in Britain for her Seasons board books and A Year Around the Great Oak (all published by Floris Books). https://www.florisbooks.co.uk/authors/gerda-muller.php

‘A Year in Our New Garden’ can be purchased:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/a-year-in-our-new-garden-gerda-muller/book/9781782502593.html

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Our-New-Garden/dp/1782502599/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=%27A+Year+in+Our+New+Garden%27&qid=1567066808&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Year-Our-New-Garden-Gerda-Muller/9781782502593?ref=grid-view&qid=1567066827540&sr=1-1

Ernestine’s Milky Way

Written by Kerry Madden-Lunsford and illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books (imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC), New York, 2019

The illustrations were created using ink and watercolour.

Keeping with the theme of gardens, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.

This story is perfect for young children, aged 3 to 6. It could be a quick read, but I lovely how much can be unpacked from the text, illustrations and general context of the book.

The story summary:

Ernestine and her mother live on a farm. Since her mother is in the late stages of pregnancy, Ernestine volunteers to carry milk to the neighbour’s house, but the journey is fraught with danger.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Botany – Like the previous book review, this book offers an enrichment experience. Who wouldn’t be curious about Googling plants named ‘doghobble’ and ‘devil’s walking stick’?
  2. Astronomy – In a charming and informal manner, children can be introduced to learning about constellations, galaxies, etc.
  3. History – This story is set during World War II, in the rural Great Smoky Mountains of the USA. It is a reminder of days past and of a lifestyle few of us can fathom. This book presents a lovely opportunity to discuss the differences between the era in which the book is set, and our own time. Also watch out for the colloquial dialect. If you can mimic the accent, your kids will love it.
  4. Zoology – The majority of children are fascinated by animals. This book mentions creatures that your child may not be familiar with (wolf, skunks, panthers, whistle pigs, mockingbirds, black bear, raccoons). In New Zealand, we have many birds, reptiles, amphibia and insects; but not native animals. How exciting for children to learn about wildlife from other countries!
  5. Vocabulary – I feel it is always a privilege to help expand a child’s vocabulary. This book introduces words like: hollered, springhouse, constellations, shanty, pail, barbed-wire, Venus, lavender, thicket, passel, glistening, pell-mell, straddled, etc,
  6. Emotional and social lessons – Emily Sutton’s folksy illustrations support the text so well. They bring alive a story set in a time when more people lived off their land and had to co-operate with others to exist. So many of us now live an ‘island’ existence – struggling through on our own. This story reiterates that we need to be there for other people, and they will be there for us.
  7. Map – The simplified map gives the child an opportunity to relive the story and recite it back to the adult. The grown-up can then be sure that the child has correctly sequenced the story, and adequately remembered it.
  8. Hobby – the writer provides a recipe for the corn bread mentioned in the story. You might find yourself living with the next Jamie Oliver!
  9. Background – this story is loosely based on the life of the author’s friend. The Author’s Note, at the back of the book, makes interesting reading.

For writers:

  1. Onomatopoeia – Ernestine hears noises as she walks to the Ramsey’s shanty house: snuffa-snuffa-snufflin, grunta-grunta-gruntin, scratch-scratch-scratchin. Onomatopoeia teaches children auditory and phonological discrimination – the ability to understand sound, which is so important when they are reading and spelling.
  2. Increased anticipation is induced when reading about Ernestine’s wariness when hearing the animals around her. First, she said, then called, and then yelled.
  3. Recurring phrase – several times in the book, Ernestine says, ‘I am five years old and a big girl!’. When a phrase is repeated multiple times, children often memorise it, will recite it at the correct moment in the story, and will often make it a catch phrase during play, etc. Memorisation like this helps children to remember other things too; and helps them to pick up and use phrases in their everyday speech.

For illustrators:

  1. Colour Palette – Emily Sutton kept her colour palette very simple: warm brown, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and greys. Her palette only deviates slightly for the illustration depicting the early morning, and is painted in cool shades of brown, green, blue and mauve.
  2. Textural illustrations – Instead of heaps of detail, the illustrator has created the illusion of detail by using pencil texture marks. It works extremely well.
  3. Dynamic composition – It is very easy for an illustrator to use just one kind of ‘viewing angle’ for illustrations; for instance, a direct street view. However, Emily Sutton uses different angles and winding curves to create the impression of distance and danger. She also illustrates at an elevated angle (looking down) and gives the idea that she is either following or leading Ernestine in the scenes, a little like a camera man.
  4. Varied illustration formats – The illustrator utilises full page bleeds, vignettes, double page layouts and even a simplified map. Both the composition and format maintain visual interest throughout the book.

Ernestine’s Milky Way’ can be purchased:

https://www.amazon.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/dp/1524714844/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Ernestine’s+Milky+Way&qid=1567067245&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/9781524714840?ref=grid-view&qid=1567067252451&sr=1-1

https://www.booktopia.com.au/ernestine-s-milky-way-kerry-madden-lunsford/book/9781524714840.html

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Illustration

Setting Up a Print on Demand Store

Store header

The last couple of months have been hectic. Unfortunately, in all the chaos, I forgot to blog last month.

Better late than never!

Please note: I am not being paid to review print on demand platforms. All comments are my personal opinion and are formed from my experience.

Stepping Out and Setting Up a Store

I am one of the most risk-averse people on the planet; however, thanks to Nina Rycroft (during her ‘Project Portfolio’) and her guest, Nic Squirrell, I was encouraged to set up my first Print on Demand store.

By setting up a Print on Demand store, I hoped to make, at least a part of, my living. Like many artists and illustrators, it is necessary for us to have multiple sources of income.

How Did I Decide On Which Platform to Use?

I read the FAQs on well over a dozen print on demand (POD) sites, and created a spreadsheet on which I could easily see the similarities and differences of the platforms, then googled reviews on these sites.

I decided to start on one of the smaller platforms, Redbubble.

My First POD Store

Since I was a complete POD newbie, I watched several Youtube videos and read a few blogs before setting up my Redbubble store.

To my technophobic delight, I found Redbubble to be a simple, intuitive site, easy to navigate, and in no time, I was uploading my artwork to my new store.

One of my favourite aspects of Redbubble is that you upload your illustration / design ONCE, enter the design description, and then you either:

  1. De-select the merchandise items your design is not suited to, OR
  2. Manually edit your image to make it appropriate for the merchandise items.

Save, and ‘hey, presto!’, a new design, and many new merchandise options have been added to the store.

What is the Hardest Part of Using Redbubble?

The most challenging and time-consuming aspect of creating POD merchandise doesn’t actually occur on the store platform.

The hard work takes place in the scanning and digital editing (digitising) of the illustrations.

I use GIMP, and am happy to report that this software is not only free, but can do everything that I require for editing illustration images.

I have watched many tutorials about GIMP on Skillshare and Youtube in order to get up to speed, but it has been totally worth it.

I am not a digital artist. I work with watercolour and coloured pencil (and occasionally ink). The next couple of paragraphs are about what I experience when I scan and digitally edit my traditional media pieces for use on POD platforms.

It can sometimes take a couple of hours to get rid of the background paper texture from an intricate, filigree-type illustration, but it is time well spent, when you see how good the images look on the merchandise. This extremely necessary step guarantees brilliant results. If you do not delete the paper backgrounds, the images look grainy and unprofessional as the paper background is printed onto the merchandise.

Be aware that the software cannot always differentiate between the background paper and the colour yellow or other pale shades. To those who use Photoshop, please comment if yellow is a problem for you when cleaning up artwork. I am interested to find out if this is just a GIMP issue or if it is a yellow issue.

I have theorised that my yellow watercolour paints are very transparent, and that other very pale shades are super transparent too, which may be why the software cannot detect a difference between the paper and the painted areas.

Please comment if you have some knowledge about this.

Another word of warning, if you use a cheaper scanner, although the scan will still be clear, you may find that the colour is either weaker, or that certain shades simply do not scan accurately. I love using Bright Opera Pink, and it makes the most gorgeous shades of purple when mixed with different blues (and amazing bright oranges when mixed with lemon yellow); however, my scanner does not read Bright Opera Pink. Any areas painted with this colour show up as an extremely pale, icy pink. I have to digitally touch up any work done with the more luminous shades. My scanner doesn’t even represent Quinadcridone Violet or Magenta accurately.

One day I will invest in a better scanner.

Your merchandise images are only as good as your scanning and editing. In a way, digital artists have the edge over traditional artists when it comes to reproducing work.

What Do I Like About Redbubble?

I have already mentioned why I like the Redbubble system.

I also like the product range, which is smaller than some other platforms; however, all the items are well-priced and, I think, popular.

I like how clean the set-up is and how easy it was to learn to use it. It is very logical, and not technical.

So, Am I Selling Products?

Yes! My store is new, but I have made sales – long may that continue!

My Second POD Store

I am currently setting up a Zazzle store.

Zazzle is a very different beast to Redbubble. It cannot be compared to Redbubble as it is a considerably larger platform in every respect. I will give you the pros. and cons. as I see them.

Pros.

  1. Massive number of merchandise options.
  2. Huge variety of merchandise options – you can specialise, if you choose. For instance, you may decide to only create stationery items, or clothing and dress fabrics, or only household items. Or, like me, put your merchandise on the products you like and believe will sell – eventually! Quite a lot of people selling on Zazzle only sell t-shirts, or coffee mugs, etc. For those designers, Zazzle is a simple and easy tool.
  3. There is a great range of goods at different prices. You can purchase small, cheap items; or large, speciality items that cost a bit more.

Cons.

  1. I found that Zazzle was not as intuitive and simple to use as Redbubble. Redbubble is so easy to use that I initially felt very frustrated with the Zazzle system. Having stuck at it for a while now, I have accepted it for what it is, and am coping with the system and its requirements.
  2. It is not as straight forward as Redbubble if you wish to put your designs on a greater number of items. Although you upload your design once, there is no really quick way to create merchandise. For items that are in the same range, for example, badges, you can upload your design and it will automatically be available on different shaped badges, or badges made from the same material. You can decide whether to turn off this option. If you upload your image to a badge, it will not be available on t-shirts or tea-pots until you upload it to those items.
  3. Zazzle is a much more time-consuming platform to work on. I believe the system is this way because of the necessity to set up SEOs (search engine optimisation) for the products. Apparently, you can create product templates, but I was confused by the information as it did not seem to apply to the kind of work I was doing. As previously mentioned, technology is not one of my strengths, so if any of you know how to help me out with time-saving methods, I would love to hear from you.
  4. Description data is required for every merchandising item you choose. I have a system, and now am pretty efficient as I work; however, it takes many hours to create all the merchandise options that I may wish to use. Redbubble takes about 10 minutes!
  5. Redbubble has more colour options available for merchandise items. Only a selection of default colours is available on Zazzle, whereas, Redbubble has custom colour options for the majority of items.
  6. Because I am not American, it was a NIGHTMARE wrapping my head around the IRS tax form. God bless the New Zealand IRD – their tax forms are so much simpler to fill out!

I have chosen to continue building my Zazzle store because I consider it as time invested in passive income. I won’t need to do this again. I also remind myself constantly: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Hopefully people will start to see my merchandise and like it enough to buy it. It will be worth the hard work.

I have sold only two items so far, but hopefully sales will increase as I add more items and designs.

Are You Thinking of Setting Up Your Own POD Store?

Nic Squirrell recommended that artists put their illustrations on as many platforms as possible. That is my goal.

After watching other POD artists, the general consensus was:

  1. Keep producing new work – this encourages repeat customers.
  2. Update your stores regularly.
  3. Upload to as many different POD platforms as you can.
  4. Upload your designs to as many merchandising options as you can; however, don’t be tempted to put your designs on all options, as not everything is suited to a particular design. Choose items that suit your work, and delete any merchandise you are not happy with.
  5. Advertise your stores. I try to share my store items 5-6 times per week. Apologies to my Instagram and Facebook followers who feel ad-bombed. I am just trying to catch that one person who is trying to find the perfect birthday gift for someone who has everything.

What is So Great About POD?

One of the best aspects of print on demand platforms, is that the artist does not have the expense of producing merchandise. Instead you upload your work, choose your products, sell them to the public, and receive royalty payments. The platform manages the manufacturing of the goods, shipping to the customer and the payment to you.

The royalties vary between platforms, so take the time to check all of them out.  

So, What Can a Print on Demand Store Mean for the Shopper?

These print on demand platforms are a great place to find gifts. They cater for everyone.

And Now…

For the time being, however, I am content maintaining my Redbubble store, and developing the Zazzle store.

Please Check Out My Stores:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/auntiebetty

https://www.zazzle.co.nz/store/auntie_betty

Even if you are not interested in purchasing anything, please feel free to like the designs and follow my stores. This helps move my store through the ranks, which hopefully will mean some sales.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the merchandise items, please keep an eye out for the sales. There are regular sales on both Redbubble and Zazzle.

If you purchase items, please feel free to email, message, Facebook or Instagram me with a review and a photo. It would be lovely to ‘meet’ my customers.

A Shout-Out:

I have a shout-out two Instafriends, who also sell their amazing artwork on print-on-demand platforms.

Please check out their stores too:

  1. Lise Holt Art: https://www.redbubble.com/people/liseholtart
  2. Squibble Creative Services: https://society6.com/squibble

This is my recent experience of setting up print on demand stores.

I have heard very good things about Society6, so hopefully, one day, I will start a Society6 store too. Some of the other POD platforms are: Threadless, Bucketfeet, Design by Humans, Spreadshoes, Bags of Love, Sunfrog, Café Press, Teerepublic, Spreadshirt, Teefury, Vida, Art of Where, Be Smart, etc.

Please comment if you have a POD store, and if you would like to contribute to any of my thoughts.

Please join me this time next month when I review a couple of lovely picture books. Until next time…