* My idea evolved from a character study I developed for a drawing course. I wanted to show my students that realism study + animation and/or caricaturisation = character. I liked a particular character I had illustrated and hoped he would inspire a story. He did. I am adapting that character illustration to better suit the story.
* I have spent several months thinking over this picture book idea. I have learnt it is best to do a lot of mental organisation before putting it on paper. My note and sketch preparation have been more targeted. The sketch process and story notes invariably introduce surprises that can change the direction of the book.
* I am dedicating a sketchbook to this picture book process. It will contain all the preparatory work: manuscript development, idea notes and sketches, character development sketches, setting development sketches, storyboards, etc. I also bought a watercolour sketchbook to use for colour experiments. It will be easy for me to keep my work organised and taking up little space.
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.
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?
list goes on.
have probably heard some or all of these; and perhaps more objections.
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.
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
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.
NB: As I have blogged before, I only review products I like. I am not being paid to make any reviews. My apologies for missing October’s blog. Setting up business from home has been time-consuming.
These are my favourite Skillshare teachers so far:
Ana Victoria Calderon
I have learnt so much about picture book illustration from Nina. She is happy to share her knowledge, and has created brilliant on-line workshops.
These are the workshops I have done with Nina (though she has created others that I have not done yet):
101 Guide to Picture Books – Nina explains:
The importance of strong characters in picture books and how they need to portray action.
Determining the intended reader and if your characters appropriate for the age group.
Creating distinctive characters.
Producing a dynamic setting for the book (colour and mood, layout).
Storyboarding the plot.
Character interaction with the plot.
2. Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes
The title says it all. I had a ball during this course. It gave birth to a new and exciting style for me. I cannot wait to produce human illustrations now, but I have a lot of animal work, which will take me a while to complete, before I can do some ‘human’ work; however, this course can be applied to animals too!
Some examples of my course work (completed using Derwent Inktense pencils with Pebeo Aquarelle Fine Watercolours):
3. 101 Guide to Drawing Eyes
This is a must do course if you are planning to learn illustration or cartooning. I was gobsmacked how much expression can be relayed by just working on the eyes!
All of Nina’s course are hugely beneficial, however, this is one of the simplest lessons to learn and can revolutionise illustrations!
Emoji Me – the Art of Drawing Facial Expression
I loved this course, as it hit at the heart of my Achille’s Heel. Until this course, I had been excessively reliant on reference photos. I had my nieces and nephews acting and posing for me. The photos were not always that successful! I am a terrible actress, but with practise, I managed to ‘get’ what Nina kept saying. Draw from the inside out! Draw the emotion. By the way, the only time I have taken selfies was during this course! Here is a sample of my work:
If you are like me, and struggle to act (especially in front of a camera), these books may be useful. I am keen to add these to my library at some point. I saw another artist review them on Youtube, and they look very, very good!
This course covered what I already knew about facial proportion, but pushed into the different views (front vs. profile (side) view. I have always relied heavily on reference photos, but this course empowered me to draw without reference. Wow!
How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Two
This course pushed me out of my comfort zone, like no other! I have been reluctant to use modelling clay or polymer since my disastrous clay modelling project in Standard 2. I sculpted a pig, which exploded in the kiln and which looked more like a square sausage than a pig. Even though I did this course on one of the hottest days of the year, thanks to Nina’s brilliant instructions, I produced a model head I was, and still am, proud of. It is far from perfect, but it looks reasonably close to my sketch. Sadly, her tendrils have broken since the course.
I am keen to do more character modelling in the future. FYI, James Gurney also makes models for his illustrations. For more information about his models, check out his book ‘Imaginative Realism’ (this is one of the best books for illustrators, and one of my favourites!):
How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Three
This course is simply about using your model to draw the head from every angle.
Here is my effort (apologies for the poor photos – I will still trying to master my new phone!):
Draw a Circus of Characters – Exploring Body Shape and Body Proportion
I have read many books on figure drawing, and I have learnt a lot from each of them (I am planning a blog on my favourite figure drawing books for the future), however, none of them covered what Nina taught in this course. In fairness to those books, they were meant for realism studies, not illustration; but I learn so much from this course that has been invaluable to me. Since doing this course, I have been able to draw more interpretative figures (cartoons), and that has been a rewarding and exciting experience. Nina teaches using shapes to develop character figures, just as she did with the ‘Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes’ course.
Here is an illustration I did after doing this course:
I have loved every single one of Nina’s courses. Every course has taught me valuable and exhilarating lessons. However, this course and the next one on this list, were by far, my favourite and the most influential in my work. This is how I used shape for an illustration:
Draw a Circus of Movement – Simple Techniques to Bring Your Characters to Life
This course transformed my illustrations. As previously stated, I have always relied heavily on reference photos. My nieces and nephews were very accustomed to being asked to ‘do this’ and ‘do that’. I have applied this course information to my work and I love animating animals. This course doesn’t actually cover animals, but what you learn here can definitely be applied. I am planning another blog on this subject. After doing this course, I attempted my first picture of animal movement, that was not drawn from a reference photo. I made several studies of giraffe before attempting to animate them. This was the finished result:
Draw a Circus of Line and Gesture – Design a Picture Book Character from Start to Finish
This was the most relaxed I have ever been when designing a character. Before I was always in a perpetual state of either indecision or vacillating between possibilities and ‘tripping over my pencil’ in my haste to get something, anything onto the paper, and hoping and praying that it would appear magically and perfectly all by itself! And of course, it did not!
This course, and all the others, has made it possible for me to have a process to work under.
Having a process is very important to me, as I am one of those control freak people who need to have a step-by-step method, and stick to it assiduously…until I hit a problem. My day job, teaching brain training to people with learning disabilities, and my past role in the insurance industry, taught me how to ‘think outside of the square’ and find solutions to problems. These two mindsets have enabled me to finally make progress in my illustration work. I am so excited by this, that I want other people to have the opportunity to learn what I have.
I would like to encourage anyone who is an illustrator, anyone who wants to be an illustrator, anyone who is dissatisfied with their artwork, to give Nina’s Skillshare courses a go. I believe you will be invigorated and excited by what you learn. She will teach you step-by-step methods for developing your characters.
Currently, I am developing art courses that are cognitively (brain) based. I want to teach people to draw realistically, understanding colour, learning different media, etc, by unlocking your analytical and observational skills. I have found that once these skills have been honed, learning from passionate tutors, like Nina Rycroft, will be rewarding and fertilize the growth of your creative ability in ways you could never have imagined.
Thinking back to what I learnt from these courses was like reawakening a dozing dragon, and I am so thrilled. I am always hungry to work on illustrations, but reminding myself of what I have learnt, has made me voracious to create something.
I planned, at the beginning of this blog, to cover Ana Victoria Calderon’s courses too, however, my enthusiasm for Nina’s courses has been like ‘the magic porridge pot’ spilling over, and I will keep my review of Ana’s courses for next time.
Sure, I attended art classes at school, and those were more a chance to goof off and relax than learn fundamental art theory. I do not remember any of my art teachers giving us an insight into theory. We were handed media and instructed to prepare a piece based on a particular theme. I do not even remember being instructed in the media we were using.
When my parents started home-schooling us, Mum, a very talented artist, insisted that I draw from observation. I remember drawing anatomical studies of insects, and, for the first time feeling like I could actually draw. When I look at my old school sketch book, I see some illustrations that were not terrible, and others that definitely should be burned.
At seventeen, I illustrated a story, authored by my mum and hand-written by my sister. Neither of us could touch-type. At that time, I thought I would like to study art…or teaching. However, it was not to be. When I left school, I stopped drawing. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was too busy doing other ‘stuff’.
I was inspired to start again when my first niece was born. When Emily was two, she sparked in me a desire to write and illustrate picture books. I grabbed my high school sketching materials and dove in enthusiastically, and was very quickly and utterly disillusioned.
I spent about 2 years getting ‘my eye back’. It was an extremely painful experience. It was so tough seeing my awful artwork and hearing my Mum’s honest critique. But I am so grateful I went through all that.
I empathise with my students when they have a vision of what they want to achieve and come ‘crashing down’ to reality when they finish their sketch and it doesn’t look anything like the mirage lodged in their mind.
So many illustrator and artist friends identify with this frustration. The illustration is perfect in our mind’s eye, and so flawed on paper.
With constant practise, having developed a tough hide, anyone can become a competent artist. With constant practise, a very tough hide and gallons of passion, anyone can become an inspiring artist. Our world attributes ‘talent’ to those inspiring artists.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I have never had an art lesson, but I have learnt from a huge number of artists online and in books. I am not naturally a great artist. I have had to prioritise illustration work and practise, practise, practise…and practise some more. The practise never stops.
Here is a list of the artists I am inspired by and from whom I have learned so much:
Nina Rycroft – A friend, from writing group, met Nina at the IBBY Conference a few years ago. She invited Nina to speak to our group. I was so impressed by Nina’s passion for sharing her extensive illustration knowledge that I binge-watched her Skillshare tutorials during the Christmas school holidays, and as a result, grew exponentially as an artist. I intend to watch more of Nina’s courses during the next Christmas break. http://ninarycroft.com/
Ana Victoria Calderon– As a teenager, I painted with acrylics; but as an adult I have painted with watercolours for years. Despite many years of watercolour experience, I was feeling jaded and frustrated that my paintings were not crisp. I also binge-watched Ana’s watercolour tutorials on Skillshare. I have a very different style to her, but I learnt so much from her that has transformed my work. http://www.anavictoriana.com/
James Gurney– James Gurney has narrowly usurped Eric Kincaid’s long-held spot as my favourite illustrator. I think it is because I not only love his artwork (my heart beats fast when ever I think of Dinotopia!), but also because he has shared so much information in his brilliant book, ‘Imaginative Realism’. One day I intend to treat myself to ‘Color and Light’! http://jamesgurney.com/site/
Eric Kincaid– For three decades, Eric Kincaid was my favourite illustrator, and he has only recently been toppled from the top spot. I have loved his work ever since I was given his ‘Wind in the Willows’. Whenever I look at his books, my heart soars with the sheer beauty of line and delicate colour. I love that he illustrated everything so well – humans, fantasy creatures, animals, landscapes, buildings, etc. http://www.erickincaid.com/
Terryl Whitlatch– Anyone who has read some of my previous blogs will know my enthusiasm for Terryl Whitlatch’s work and her amazing books. I am seriously in love with her books and was excited to learn a week ago that there is a new book coming soon – flying creatures! https://terrylwhitlatch.artstation.com/
Barbara McClintock– Barbara McClintock is another favourite illustrator. I love the subtle colouring and inking of the illustrations. I also have a huge soft-spot for the charming stories that she illustrates. There is a ‘olde-worlde’ charm to her illustrations, that I haven’t seen in modern books for a very long time. Call me old-fashioned, but Barbara McClintock’s books have a timeless quality. http://barbaramcclintockbooks.com/
Rene Cloke– I owned a vast number of Rene Cloke books as a child. I loved them. I learnt that drawing wrinkles in socks can make all the difference to your character sketch! I love how she creates character in the tiniest things – timber is always knotted and gnarled, faces always have expression, colour is used effectively, etc. https://www.carleton.edu/departments/ENGL/Alice/Artistcloke.html
David Weisner– One cannot help learning a heap about illustration when ‘reading’ David Weisner’s wordless books. I love his illustrations, and his stories. http://www.davidwiesner.com/
Lisa Clough(Lachri Fine Art) – https://www.youtube.com/user/Lachri – Lisa Clough was the first Youtuber I started watching. Even though I do little in the way of fine art, I learnt so much from her (when I got past her lightning-fast manner of speaking!). If you want to paint animals, you can’t go wrong learning from Lisa or Jason Morgan. https://lachri.com/
Holly Exley– https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQRpKldwdkyBW3qgCVZNrMA One of my ambitions in life is to own a Holly Exley print (or hopefully, an original). My watercolour style could not be more different, but I love her work, and the fact that she communicates with her followers. Over the years, I have asked Holly a few questions, and she always answers! Like Kendyll, Holly is very happy to share her industry experience. https://hollyexley.com/
I have decided to quit while ahead – I cannot tell you about all my influencers, because there are too many. These are a few of a huge number. I would love to hear about some of the people who have inspired your work. I look forward to reading your comments.
Two weeks ago, I found out that the remedial learning centre that I work for, would be closing its doors within four weeks. My job, income, professional future, etc. were gone in an instant. Once the shock wore off, and the teachers had determined that we could not start another learning centre, I realised that my loss was actually a great gift. I will be tutoring my students in my home, and when I don’t have students, I can do artwork. My three beautiful fur babies, will be very pleased to have us at home with them. 😊 In addition, my good friend and writer of ‘The Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers’, Michele McConnochie, (https://www.facebook.com/pg/MicheleClarkMcConnochie) and I are going to collaborate on writing-illustration workshops in 2019. I am so excited to pass along to others, what I have learnt from the legends mentioned above.
For the next few weeks, maybe even until the end of the year, I will be nursing a fledgling business, and sadly, foresee little time for painting. I eagerly look forward to when things settle down and I can get back to my lonely paintbrushes!
Catch me this time in October. I plan to review three of my favourite art teachers. My intention is to make you drool over the amazing courses and information they offer.