The Process of Illustrating a Children's Book

August 5, 2015

I am an illustrator who works with self-publishing authors to create children's books. The process of collaborating with someone else to bring their ideas to life is fun, but also a little nerve-wrecking. I want to create something that the author loves and that I am proud of. So here is the process I go through to ensure that happens:

 

1) Speak with the author about what she is looking for

Before I get started on a project, I like to know the author's vision. I may or may not be a good fit. I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. If I feel an author will be better-suited with another artist, I'm not afraid to say so.

 

For example, if the author wants someone to create 3D digital characters for the book, this is not my strength. My strengths lie in colorful human and animal characters made in pen and watercolor. I also do digital work, but I do not have experience with 3D.

 

2) Read the manuscript

Once it seems like I could capture the vision of the author, I begin by reading the manuscript. I want to ensure that I personally align with the author's story. I particularly enjoy stories that address psychological and social issues. I would only turn down a manuscript if it had gore, zombies (I get nightmares of zombies), or some moral I didn't agree with.

 

3) Determine the Layout and Illustration Size/Number 

Before a contract is made, it is important to know the layout of the book. This helps determine the number and size of the illustrations. Here are some of the pertinent questions: 

  • What size will the book be?

  • Is the book square, landscape, or portrait?

  • Where will the text be in the book? On blank pages? Overlapping the images? Below the images?

  • How much of the page do the illustrations fill?

  • How many pages will the book be?

 

4) Create a Contract

The next step is to create a contract that specifically states the expectations of both parties. This includes how much I will be paid for each illustration (though some authors prefer to pay me hourly and/or work in a royalty on the book), how many illustrations, the deadlines for turning in artwork, what happens if I fail to meet deadlines, etc. It's a lot of nitty-gritty, but it protects both of us.

 

 

5) Make Character Sketches

Now the fun really begins. I start by creating pencil sketches of the primary characters in different styles. I then send these to author for review. To the left is an example of the piggie facial sketches I made for the book, "Ten Tiny Piggies."

 

The author has the ability to say, "I like the eyes from number 15, but the nose from number 9." Through her input, I then create the final characters.

 

6) Make Sketches for the Lay-Out of the Book

In step 3, the author and I already determined the rough lay-out of the book, but this step puts everything into stone. I make mini sketches of where I envision the text in relation to the image. Furthermore, this is when the author has to commit to what text will go on what page. This helps me for the next step.

 

To the right is an example of the lay-out sketches I made for the book, "Nervous Nellie." For this book, the author and I decided to not have the text overlay the illustrations.

 

 

7) Make Sketches for Each Illustration 

This is the step in which I really dig in and sketch what will be in each illustration. The sketches are drawn to scale, meaning they are the exact size that they will be in the book (though sometimes they may be a little larger so I can do a lot of detail and then later shrink it to the right size on the computer). I send every sketch to the author for revisions and approval. 

 

To the left is a sketch I made for the book, "Ten Tiny Piggies." The author wanted the illustrations to be full-bleed (meaning they go all the way to the edge) and 8"x8".

 

 

8) Complete Illustrations in Chosen Medium

After I receive the author's approval, I begin creating the illustrations in the medium they chose (watercolor, acrylic, digital, etc.). I send the illustrations to the author as I complete them. The author can make note of any minor changes they would like.

 

To the right is the completed illustration of the sketch that I made for "Ten Tiny Piggies."

 

9) Touch-up on Photoshop

Once all the illustrations are done, I take professional-quality photos (a fancy way of saying that I take high-resolution photos in the best possible lighting). I then upload the photos to Photoshop to do minor changes and touch-ups. If I made the illustrations larger (to ensure more detail), I shrink them back to the correct size. 

 

Some authors also ask me to add the text in (others prefer to hire a separate person to add the text and put the illustrations into book format). I also put the illustrations into book format (using InDesign) for authors that request it.

 

In this image on the left, I am editing my illustration for the book, "Grief is a Mess."

 

10) Send Final Illustrations 

I then send the final illustrations to the author. I usually drop them into Google Drive or some other cloud account because the file sizes are very large.

 

11) Spread the Word Together

This isn't an official part of the illustration contract, but is an aspect that I find both fun and important. I enjoy helping the author spread the word about the book. I do this through social media - twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogging, etc. I share pictures as I make the illustrations and invite people to see the behind-the-scenes aspects of the books I illustrate. I also can make tiny illustrations of the main characters that the author can use for marketing material. After collaborating with an author so extensively, I like to stay in touch and help in any way I can.

 

Overall Time to Create a Book

The length of time it takes to make a book is usually 1-6 months. The amount of time varies depending on the number of illustrations, amount of detail for each illustration, how quickly the author sends me revisions or gives me approval, etc. These aspects are taken into account when a contract is made and I always have the artwork done by the deadlines specified.

 

With every book project, my goals are to create illustrations the author loves, respond promptly to all communication, and meet every deadline (I take particular delight when I cna beat the deadlines). 

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