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.

visit and click KIDS' BOOKS

(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.
visit and click KIDS' BOOKS

(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.

visit and click KIDS' BOOKS

(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.

visit and click KIDS' BOOKS

(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 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

-turning a random doodle into a finished illustration

I love to doodleSure I scribble the usual mindless spirals and abstract shapes... classic "while on the phone" doodles that meander on the page (or any scrap of paper) and are intermingled with message notes. But I also doodle character's faces of all types, or little silhouetted figures riding fantastic bicycles, etc... whatever randomly oozes from my brain to my pen point. Many times though these doodles end up as visions of odd alien creatures. So many now, in fact, that I added a portfolio section on my web site just to showcase these alien creations. Click here.)

Because I am well versed in drawing, and because I have been making images for about fifty-one years now (I started in earnest at age 4), I've had A LOT of practice to hone my doodling skills! They can be quite sophisticated at times. Some people think, upon seeing my doodles, that they are images which must have required a light pencil sketch underneath to get things started, or at least some photo reference...  But I assure you I pick up an ink pen and just begin drawing without a thought as to what will develop. No preliminary sketch, no photo reference. I merely draw from my imagination... which is the absolute best way for interesting things to happen.

In this post, I show you the original raw doodle, and then all the stages involved in turning it into a more rendered and polished final illustration:

original raw doodle

close-up of raw doodle
(1) above image(top)- 
While I was watching TV one night recently, with a pad of scrap paper in my lap, I first started doodling a couple random partial faces (see left side), then I drew a half-figure of a fairy-nymph creature (see center right, upside down). Then I began drawing the central figure of a woman: I drew her complete face with a short hairstyle, then proceeded to draw her entire figure wearing a kind of peacock-feather gown and high heels. At this point I was intrigued, but hated the face I had given her, plus her head proportion was too small. So, immediately to the side I redrew her face again, much better I felt, and because I had already given her a peacock gown, for this new face I gave her a hat with an exaggerated full feather. At this point I felt this doodle of the woman had potential to become a more completely realized full image, possibly an illustration I would add into one of my portfolios on my web site. So next I consciously drew a side table with a champagne glass and little Henry Moore type sculpture sitting on top. I decided to give this elegant woman a companion dog, and in the upper right corner you see I began drawing the head of a dog, but it looked like a badly envisioned sea-horse! -so I quickly abandoned it and then drew the little bulldog seen in lower right corner.

(2) I then scanned the raw doodle into Photoshop.

isolating main elements
(3) above image-
In Photoshop you can see that I "erased" all the superfluous side doodle images, leaving just the main character (plus her extra head!), the side table, and the little dog. You will notice that when I initially drew the side table as a prop for the woman, I only drew one leg on the table... this is because I knew that once I had scanned the raw doodle into Photoshop, I could then "grab" and repeat the one leg to make two more legs... which would give the two outer legs perfect symmetry! 

moving elements into position
(4) above image-
In this step I have moved the elements, to begin to compose the scene I have formulating in my mind of the woman standing in a room. Plus, you can see that I have erased her original head and inserted the 2nd head I'd created with the large feather hat. (The faint vertical lines you see on the left side are actually lines of type bleeding through from the opposite side of the paper... because I always doodle on used pieces of paper.)

final line art stage

(5) above image-
Here, I have repeated the one leg of the table, to create a second and a third leg, obviously by flipping, manipulating, adding some shadow tones, etc... Plus I have "cleaned up" any little lines from the raw doodle which clutter or do not properly define the form. Compare the shoes in step 4 with the shoes in step 5 and you will see how I "cleaned" the line forms. I added bows to her shoes as well as an additional section of her gown at the bottom, by drawing them with a simple brush tool in Photoshop. Now that the line art stage is essentially done, I can move on to creating the room environment!

added background tone
(6) above image-
In this stage I merely added in a background tone... by scanning a piece of aged paper with a grayish-buff color. This is done by placing it in on a sub-layer under the line-art layer but changing the setting of the line-art layer from "normal" to "multiply" -which allows the line art to then look like it was originally drawn directly on the aged paper.

white skin tone
(7) above image-
I created the effect of a light skin tone simply by erasing out corresponding areas on the aged-paper layer, as well as for the champagne glass and the dog too. A stage like this takes about 20 seconds (note: at this point there is also a third layer in my hierarchy of Photoshop layers while creating this image. There is an all white layer at the very bottom, which is why you see "white" when I erased out portions of the aged-paper layer! Get it?

beginning to add color
(8) above image-
On a new layer (sandwiched above the aged-paper layer but beneath the line-art layer) I begin to add washes of color digitally using a variety of different brush tools. I "painted" her dress, hair, gloves, feathers, stockings, and the side table.

...more color

detail of completed color on woman
(9) above image (top)-
More color: varying the tones and density... you can see subtle coloring in her face and on the dog, and highlights forming in the dress. Plus I drew a leash from her hand to the dog using a brush tool. Because of the woman's pose, which I had not pre-planned during the initial doodle stage... I am now wondering what she is doing. It seems she is looking in the distance, but at what?

adding in background architecture elements
(10) above image-
In the background I have made suggestions of window frames, merely by creating the shapes while in the aged-paper layer and darkening the value. Then I selected the interior pane shapes and mildly erased out the aged-paper tone revealing the white layer underneath... so it begins to give the effect of window glass. Easy!

adding in shadowy tones and and a floor carpet texture
(11) above image:
With this next stage I have brought in a texture that I had painted with gouache on a rough paper... it was positioned on a new layer beneath the line-art layer and the color-layer. I then just erased most of it away, leaving some vague shadowy effects at the top and to the left side, but also creating a hard edge cut of the texture along the bottom too, to make the carpet allusion. Now this young woman is concretely standing in a room!

adding in drawing of a building outsdie the window
(12) above image-
I borrowed a portion of a line drawing I had previously created for another illustration... of a stately country estate, and simply faded the bottom edge of it a bit as well as reducing the entire value of it, so that the saturation of the line was much lighter than the line work defining the woman, giving it the impression of being off in the distance. 

adding color to the country estate in the background
(13) above image-
A new color layer... adding only limited palette, light color to the country estate in the background. Perhaps the woman is waiting for someone, and she is giving a sideways glance out the window?

adding mirror and deepening tones of floor
(14) above image-
I created a mirror on the back wall (ellipse tool) and deepened the floor tone. Done! So, my initial doodle becomes a rather handsome period-piece illustration... something out of Downton Abbey!
I added it to my portfolio on my illustration web site... and who knows, maybe I will get a book cover assignment to illustrate some classic literature because an art director sees this post. 

To see a larger view of this completed illustration, click here. (If it does not link properly, you can visit my web site and then select the showcase section at the bottom of the homepage, and click on "Miss Ralston Went Unaccompanied." -which is the title I gave this drawing.

Visit to see all my portfolios -for advertising, editorial, picture books... and be sure to see the NEW STUFF section.