The Blanking Page - Part I
   Debora Dixon
   Elspet Vance
   Kathy Manchip
   Kristie Anderson
   Lauren Francis
   Lisa Kopelke
   Meghan McCarthy
   Michelle Metty
   Sarah Brannen

The Illustrating Process
By Kristie Anderson

We writer/illustrators face a unique challenge. Not only must our writing be engaging and well done, so must our illustrations. The most common reaction from publishers to those of us who attempt to write and illustrate our own stories is that either the writing or the illustrations are not up to professional standards. More often than not, it's the illustrations that are lacking. That said, if you are a professional artist, or yes, even a talented amateur, you can get your books published with a little homework, practice, and a few guidelines.

There is nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank sheet of paper with brush in hand and not knowing what mark to make first. As with writing, it helps greatly to have a plan. What gets your creative juices flowing — doodling on a napkin? A walk in a peaceful garden? Experimenting with a new medium? And you can't beat spending time in the library thumbing through a variety of picture books, not only for ideas, but to see what various publishers are looking for. There probably is no one answer. But whatever has worked for you in the past most often might be a good beginning when you need a kick-start.

A Picture is worth 500-2000 words..
Sometimes a great idea for an illustration sparks the story. Maybe you thought of a funny picture when your kid picked up the box of Toasty-Flakes this morning, or when the dog stuck his face too far into the water bowl. Is it clever enough to build a story around? You might find yourself writing and illustrating at the same time. At this phase, it can be rough thumbnails, just enough to get a feel for the flow of the story and the variety of illustrations possible.

Dinner Before Dessert
When your story is basically finished, it's time to flesh out your words with the illustrations. Now you can let your readers know what color hair or eyes your main character has, or if the day is blustery, the oatmeal steaming, or if the bear has that greedy glint in his eye. But first, let's get the basics taken care of.

1. Though page counts can vary somewhat, let's say your book will come in at the standard 32 pages. Discounting the front material of 2-4 pages, this leaves you 28-30 pages for your illustrated story. Determining your page breaks is the first step to developing the illustrations.

2. Is the action or things left unsaid sufficient on each page to support an inviting illustration? Tweak now. Then get on with the drawings. Though you've no doubt mentally thumbnailed most of the illustrations as you went, or have some rough sketches, it's very helpful to work up a simple storyboard. An easy way to do this is with an 11 x 17 sheet of copier paper, ruled up with 30 double blocks to represent the spreads, a single block at the beginning and end, and number the pages (you can copy this sheet for a few extra blank slates as needed for this or future projects). X out the pages that will contain front matter, and sketch in your ideas for the rest of the book. These can be stick figures or scribbles that only you can decipher – you just want to work out rough scenes and placement at this stage.

3. Look at the storyboard overall. Do you have a sufficient variety of angles and perspectives? Close-ups and distance shots? Attention to these seemingly small details are what will give your work that extra spark of life and interest that editors— and your readers— are looking for.

4. Time to move on to the dummy (please see Sarah Brannen's article, "Dummies for Smarties" in the Tutorial section for further information on layout and style development). Now you can illustrate your scenes and characters in more detail. While these drawings can still be very rough, the characters should be recognizable and the scenes fleshed out. It's helpful to work in the size you envision the printed book, and to paste the text in before you start drawing (hint: use repositionable tape for easy changes). This step helps ensure you are leaving plenty of white or light space for the text. Check for consistency and interest. Do the images work as well full size as they did in the storyboard or thumbnails? Are the characters easily recognizable page to page?

5. Dessert time! Once your dummy is completed, move on to the finals. Most publishers want to see only 2-3 pages of finished art, so choose exciting or colorful scenes that represent your characters best. If you've worked out your preliminary sketches cleanly and in finished size, it's an easy step to trace the outline onto your support (a simple light box can be very handy here). It's also helpful to work out your basic colors before you get started. Many of you will do this mentally, but it can be very helpful to work it out on paper. If you have access to a copier, an easy way is to make reduced images (saves paper, drawing, and coloring time) of your dummy pages and use colored pencils or markers to scribble in rough color.

6. Tempting though it may be when you're on a creative roll, don't do more than the 2-3 pages until you have a contract. Chances are, the editor will suggest changes in your text that could affect the illustrations, or the art director may want you to consider a different view or expression.

Remember you are unique. Your ideas are precious, and how you move them from your mind's eye to paper or canvas will determine your success. You may need to research, practice, or take some classes, but whatever your skill level is, with enough determination there is a solution to get your skills honed and your picture book sold. Don't forget to look elsewhere on this site for more helpful information and links. Good luck, and above all— have fun!
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