Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Illustrating a book... Storyboarding.

Once the direction of the images for a book is settled, step one in the art-process of illustrating a kids' book comes with the storyboard. Some call these sketches "the roughs", but whatever they're called they are a whole bunch of things: style, format, continuity, composition, interpretation, character development, environment...

Early on in the process the first hurdle came from the publisher (Firefly Books) who wanted the book to not resemble Love You Forever. Of course we want no similarity to that book, the one that has crossed generations and sold a zillion-billion copies. Okay, I'll put my facetiousness aside, but I kinda have a style and I can't just stop drawing and painting in my style. I knew I couldn't morph into Dr. Seuss or whoever. Besides, I didn't want to; however, there were choices I could make to create a different flavor. First, I made the images all "floating" while Love You Forever's images are all full page and full bleed. Second, while we weren't there yet, I could make the colors warmer than Love You Forever whose colors I made deliberately cool to still the sentiment of the story.

The second challenge from the publisher was to make the child gender-neutral. Wha...!?How?!! The
illustrations for the story take place in the kidlet's bedroom. Is there a middle ground between pink walls, tutus, tiaras, and toy trucks, toddler sized tools and baseball memorabilia? I wasn't sure I could make this work. At that moment I was ready to make the characters bunnies, mice, worms, or dogs, anything that could be passed off as not pink, not blue. Finally... thinking of bunnies must have dug deep and I decided to put the kid in a purple bunny suit, then have him/her change into his/hers pj's. Crisis averted.

Storyboarding can be grueling. No one can see the untold hours of consideration that has gone into your rough sketches. Those in the publisher's offices who wait for genius to be visited upon them can't know the blood sweat etc that poured from an illustrator as we lay in bed or walked the floors in the wee hours wondering how to make this book even better.

Many artists do their storyboards as tiny thumbnails. I do thumbnails for myself to work out problems and form questions, but I do my storyboards; which will be seen by the publisher and their designer, to the size of the book, in black and white, essentially creating a dummy-form of the book. The storyboards are where everything shakes out for the illustrator and the publisher. In this case, I had problems with the order of the book because originally, on the first page, the adult put the child to bed. Soooo... if the kid is in bed and asleep, now what? A good illustrator will point these things out to the publisher, not just accept and fake it somehow.

So there I went, drawing a little kid in a bunny suit who is playing counting games and getting ready for bed with bathtime, storytime, playtime, and those drawings I made took me spiralling back to childhood, my kids' childhood, to the ritual of bedtime, the familiarity of the routine, whatever it is or was, or will be. The smells, voices, games, the repetition. And here's one thing I know... if you don't feel the story, don't do the book. If you don't feel the story, let someone who does feel it, illustrate it. Because here are coming along new little children dragging their binky and their orange bunny, saying "I love you three!"

Thanks for stopping by. A new follow-up blog on technique will follow soon... There will be some color in that post, no kidding!

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