Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Characters for new children's picture book...

Thus far in my career I have illustrated twenty children's picture books... My first illustrated picture book was released back in 2000, Chicken Chuck -written by Bill Martin Jr., and my most recent picture book released just this past June by Disney's Hyperion Books is BOOM! -written by Mary Lyn Ray. (I've also illustrated three of my own titles, Coco the Carrot, Little Tumbo, and Harry Hungry!)

To see a list of all my published picture books, click here. To see a post on the making of my most recent picture book, BOOM!, click here.

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(above: the main character, Margot)

The usual process when working on a children's picture book is that a publisher obtains a story from an author, and then they (the editor, the art director, or design director) may feel my illustration style is a good match, so they contract me to illustrate the book. Once the contractual negotiations are settled, I get started with creating all the character sketches, and scene sketches for the entire story. Once I get approval on the final sketch stage from the publisher I proceed with creating all the final illustrations, cover art, etc... The entire time from when I first see the story, settle the contract, and complete all the sketches and final artwork is usually about six months... though I am working on other projects at the same time. Then the art director/designer may take another six months designing the book... In all it probably takes about 18 months from when an editor obtains a story to when the physical printed book actually becomes available in stores and on-line.
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(above: three of Margot's friends, Roger, Vincent, and Otto)
Not only am I always available to be contracted for picture book projects when editors are lining up author's stories with just the right illustrator... but I am also always writing my own stories and submitting them to the small circle of editors I have worked with at various publishing houses over the years. 

I recently had submitted one of my stories to a certain editor... a very minimally worded story, with just one sentence per spread. Rather than just submitting a text manuscript only to the editor (which I normally do) in this instance I sent a pdf of the entire story illustrated with my sketches. I did this because the images drive the story line, and for the text to make sense the editor had to see visuals too. And because my intention for the book is to have very minimally conceived images (just simple black line and one color) the sketches I provided were quite close to how the finished illustrated book might look.

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(above: Margot's friend, Melinda)
Long story short, the editor loved it.... but with a very big caveat. They were questioning the essence of the plot. They felt it was too thin and did not have enough depth. In other words, "we love it, but can you change it?" I felt the editor's concerns ultimately were valid, so I did change the plot. I rewrote the story, adding a significant plot twist. There is now a visual "surprise" to the plot which is important for the reader to not see coming... And to know if this "surprise" in the story will work effectively, I decided to not tell the editor ahead of time about any of the changes I was making to the story plot, so that when I re-submit the story again, they can experience the story in the same manner a young reader would. I felt this would be a terrific litmus test for the editor to experience.

So, right now, I am on the verge of presenting this "new" (revised) story to the editor. But rather than submit a pdf with the text and sketches again... I made the highly unusual decision to go ahead and fully complete all the final illustrations. I have no contract from the publisher, no advance payment... I just felt that for the editor to best be convinced that this book should be published, seeing the actual final look of the picture book via the final illustrations will (hopefully) impress them to do so. 

I did about 45 black crayon final drawings of all the characters in their poses for all the various scenes in the story. I am now scanning all these drawings into Photoshop, finalizing all the scene compositions, and adding one color digitally, plus the story text too. Next I will print out all the page spreads (I have a 9-color, large format printer in my studio) and will collate them into book form, so the editor will receive a "dummy book" of my story, but rather than containing mere sketches, it will have all the final illustrations.

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(above: the dog Buddy)
Posted here are some of the final crayon drawings of all the characters in the story, well except for one character... seen out of their scene context, and without the final added digital color. It is because of this very simple black-line and one-color approach for this one particular story that I went ahead and created all these final drawings... I never would have even attempted creating all the final art if the story called for more fully rendered and fully colored final illustrations as it would require far more unpaid time than I would be willing to commit to! As it was the simple final drawings I created for this speculative book project of mine took me a month to complete. Sure, it's going way out on a limb to spend the time making all these final drawings when I do not even have a firm contract at all... but I feel it is worth the effort and will ultimately work in my favor.

Note: I have purposely left out any description of the story plot, to keep it all under wraps until the day it hopefully sees the light of day as my next published children's picture book, #21.

To view all my images for kids, visit and click on the kids' books section 


Audrey said...

I love these sketches--good luck with the submission. Hoping to hear great news soon.

theartofpuro said...

Great sketches:)