Posts Tagged ‘picture books’

Not ‘woes’, as in I can’t, but just wondering how you ever make a picture book sound like a story when you have left significant things to be shown in the illustrations only!

I was thinking this especially today as the SCBWI organisation (for children’s book writers and illustrators) is holding an illustration thingy for picture book stories of just 350 words to be read out and one chosen to be given a critique by an agent. It’s for the whole membership, and only 100 slots are available – from whom finalists will be picked. OK, fine. It doesn’t matter that I can’t manage it. The slots were probably filled two minutes after the competition opened!

But all my picture book texts in embryo form wouldn’t hang together if ‘just read out’. I thought the point was to show not tell!

So – let me explain the latest place where it would be a problem. I got this idea after sketching a little girl with a pencil who is picking up the shavings.

Day 9a girl and shavings

This  gave me the idea to do a picture book about a girl who is small for her age and doesn’t want to go back for a second day at school in Reception class, aged 4+ (UK schooling system). At one point in the story, there would be this line: ‘But the children couldn’t agree about what made them happy.‘ On the next page there would be nothing but a spread of chaotic children in pairs arguing about how to make the picture they have to make in class. A bit of text, attitude, thought images etc would show it all. But it would sound bizarre to read on, in public, to the next bit, without the public knowing what this spread had shown. So no, I won’t be entering that sort of competition haha.

What I will be doing is making up a dummy to show which illos would go on which page and cutting up text and sticking it in place – and then sending it with the whole manuscript to someone or other to find it’s fortune. Wish me luck!

(Ps I think Jojo bows have gone out of fashion now, so the girl in the story will not look like that sketch I did!)


Having spent some time reducing (diminishing?) my children’s story to under 1,000 words from its original 1,200, I wanted to run it past my granddaughter. I pulled up the newly shortened version and suddenly realised it would make little sense, so I obviously had to immediately pull up the original.

Why would this be? Well, it has no pictures yet. And the main way to cut length is to eliminate everything that could be shown in the illustrations. This meant, for instance, that if the spider is forging a new web, you can say One… two… three… four… And have spot illustrations to show where he fixed the four strands. Without the illustrations it is both nonsense and boring. There were so many instances where I left room for the illustrator to show the story so that I wouldn’t need to tell it that I had no choice but to ditch the new version and read the old one.

I think this one hit home with her. Perhaps its best use, therefore, is in a short story volume where only a few pictures are used and it can stay in its original form. Haha. How many unknown authors get to publish an anthology of great stories?? So I will push on with the new version and send it out.

This kind of ‘this or that?’ scenario does ring a bell with illustration too. How many times have I had a good version and a ‘ruined’ improved version. Gut feeling plays a large part in creation. Perhaps sometimes we really ought to stay with the original. Unless market forces combine to prevent that. In which case… Give in?

Example. I sketched this little dancer this week. She looked cute but I ploughed on to digitalise and paint her and I’m really not too sure if she couldn’t have inspired the imagination better in her original form! What do you think?

little dancer

little dancer revised

I get my teaching and inspiration from a number of places at the moment. I just thought I’d mention here that Craftsy has three excellent courses for those who are trying to illustrate for children.

A while back I did The Art of the Picture Book, taught really well by Shadra Strickland. She generously shows us her process, her mini mock-ups and her sketch books, and talks us through the whys and wherefores of illustrating a given text.

Later, I watched Picture Book Illustration, taught by Eric Johnson. We were able to watch him paint his scenes, which was instructive as one of the things about illustrators is they work alone and you’re never quite sure that what you do is considered normal! It was a treat to see him at work and again be told how and why.

Finally, at the moment, I am part way through Doreen Mulryan’s class People in Picture Books: Developing Your Main Character. I found it hard to understand her speech at first but the content is proving good again.

I can’t say the same of all Craftsy classes. I tried a few others because I was tempted further afield than children’s illustrating. But for me, some are too boringly presented to watch. That’s just my personal opinion, of course.

Other art tutors on Craftsy that I really can recommend (if the course suits you, that is) are: Marc Taro Holmes, Matt Rota, Paul Heaston and Donald Yatomi. Many thanks to them too for inspiring me and helping me along.

These are some figures I sketched while watching Donald Yatomi’s concept art class. He starts with scribbles and sees what emerges – so I did too. He then develops them into the kind of character the brief asks for. So obviously he doesn’t develop different ones – they are all on the theme, say, fighters. Mine are, well, varied 🙂 website

In my main job, I get to see a lot of children’s books, which I send out for review. Yes, they’re therapeutic stories but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the illustrations. And I always study them in detail before letting them wend their way. I mean, I wouldn’t want to waste their short sojourn at my house!

Here are three very different examples from recent publications. The first is from Camille Gibbs’ book, One Marble a Day, published by Hinton House. She uses a few tools and techniques in order to convey the child’s experiences, but her main illustration style in both her books (the other is A Sky of Diamonds) is like this:

Detail from One Marble a Day by Camille Gibbs

Detail from One Marble a Day by Camille Gibbs

I think she may use watercolour and an ink outline but on top of that maybe coloured pencils (or perhaps Promarkers?) to shade and decorate. It has an effective child-like and naive feel to it which is attractive to child readers. I like her distinctive way of doing the eyelashes!

Another very different style that has passed through my hands is that of Lisa Spillane in her book Smiling Heart Meditations with Lisa and Ted and Bingo. It’s published by Singing Dragon and the excerpt here shows her use of collage and multimedia.

Detail from Smiling Heart Meditations by Lisa Spillane

Detail from Smiling Heart Meditations by Lisa Spillane

She appears to have used cut-outs of her own art, brown wrapping paper, photo fragments, newsprint and possibly, in other pages, patterns pasted in Photoshop or similar (I’m doing a lot of guessing here!). I think I’d quite like to try this kind of art but maybe not for my own books. On the other hand, these two examples seem to show an up-to-date type of illustration that is coming more and more into children’s books. As if we’re not trying to make the pictures photorealistic. This aspect, I do like. And at the very least, it might encourage young children to make their own pictures!

And then there is the almost-sketchbook style of Emmi Smid in her book Luna’s Red Hat, published by Jessica Kingsley.

Detail from Emmi Smid's Luna's red Hat

Detail from Emmi Smid’s Luna’s Red Hat

This seems to be watercolour and perhaps some coloured pencil – a very popular mix of media in children’s illustration – but with fluid pen lines and very loose washes. Super effective. Not quite my thing, but I learn from every style I study and hopefully will continue to develop my own ‘thing’ in due course.

Here’s one I did recently. I can see how it lacks the finesse of these published examples, but that’s not a shortcoming – more of a learning point. Isn’t it??

on stage