| 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.
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 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.
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.
to move on to the dummy (please see Sarah Brannen's article,
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?
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.
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!