I planned on posting this on Tuesday…
…but somehow, suddenly it’s Thursday!
How did that happen?
When you’re illustrating your own story, you have a general idea in your head about how things are going to look. For the projects I’m working on, the pictures come to me first, with a general idea of the words and story. However, illustrating another author’s story is a very different experience. And, it’s highly personal. The author has a general idea of what he wants the characters to look like, as well as favorite illustration styles. The illustrator immediately starts seeing pictures in her head as soon as she reads the story. Picture books are interesting creatures themselves. They have very few words… usually under 1,000… and sometimes have no words at all! Somehow, with an extremely tight, precise manuscript, the author and illustrator have to come to the same idea as to how this thing will look.
In our beginning steps, author Jeff Byington sent me some e-mails of artists’ work that he liked. Not so I could copy their style, but to give me a general idea of what he was thinking about. And I sent him a few more sketches of what I thought he was thinking about!
Then we “paginated” the story, by breaking it down into illustrations. A typical picture book is 32 pages long, with a few empty pages reserved at each end for copyright, publishing info, and end papers. In a typical children’s storybook, the characters are introduced in the first few pages, and then a few pages later, the “problem” comes into play. Around mid-book, the characters are really struggling with the problem, but they begin to work out a solution. Finally, in the last few pages, the story comes to a climax and the problem is resolved. In picture books, it’s important to space out the story just so, and to create illustrations that will make the reader keep turning the pages.
The pagination process included making thumbnails for each illustration. Thumbnails are something Mark really stresses in his course. I’ve been an artist for a long time, but neglected the idea of doing thumbnails. Believe me, they are a HUGE help when it comes to planning an illustration! Since they start out as just a little scribble, you can easily play with layout, values, character placement, and expressions without putting effort in a finished drawing. And when you have 30 or so pages of drawings to do, that really makes a difference!
Jeff was very good at expressing his ideas for the illustrations. We actually tried a couple of versions of the story before we settled on a storyboard that we both liked. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous to illustrate for a complete stranger, but by the time we accomplished this beginning step, I knew we would be able to work together well!
Tip for new illustrators:
Only work for Really Nice Authors!
In the next post, I’ll show you what we did with those thumbnails!