Creating True Blue Santa

Painting an entire picture book can take several months. 

Every illustrator approaches it differently, but these are the stages I go through in creating a picture book:

 thumbnail sketches for TBS

thumbnail sketches for TBS

storyboarding

First, sometimes even before sketching the characters, I storyboard the entire book. This helps me see how the pages will be laid out, where the page breaks will be, and to check the flow of compositions from page to page.

I draw tiny tiny thumbnails to get the elements of composition right, which I can later use to create the roughs. Some compositions come easily, and others require more work - sometimes several pages of thumbnails for one double page spread (DPS) until I get something that feels right.

 

character sketches

Working on the character sketches is fun, and sometimes happens at the same time as the storyboarding. Here, I determine their actual features - are they tall or short? fat, skinny? what are they wearing and what does their hair look like?

 This was an early sketch for Santa - he was a bit too skinny!

This was an early sketch for Santa - he was a bit too skinny!

  First sketches for Jack & Hannah had them looking too old...

First sketches for Jack & Hannah had them looking too old...

 …he later got fattened up for Christmas.

…he later got fattened up for Christmas.

 …they soon got younger and cuter!   

…they soon got younger and cuter!

 

 final character designs for Hannah and Jack.

final character designs for Hannah and Jack.

Sketching phase

From here on in I do A LOT of sketching. You are creating an entire world, so you need to explore that world fully in order to understand it. What is the environment like? is it an old tale or a modern story? A dusty desert or the open seas? Often, many sketches don’t even make it into the final compositions. But they are all help to describe the world in the artist’s mind.

I often end up with bits of sketches I like and bits I don’t – or something that’s perfect but it’s a bit too small, etc. So I will sometimes scan them into the computer and alter them, or physically cut them out and move them around on the page until it’s right.

I take the thumbnails I created in the storyboarding phase and enlarge them bit by bit adding detail. I start with thumbnails and end with the final page dimensions. Picture books are usually either 24 pages or 32 pages, which amounts to 10-16 illustrations plus the cover.

  one of many pages of cover ideas for True Blue Santa, at the time titled “Santa’s Aussie Makeover”!

one of many pages of cover ideas for True Blue Santa, at the time titled “Santa’s Aussie Makeover”!

The cover is always the last thing to come – once I know the story well. It is also often the most fraught, because the cover has to serve many purposes - be eye-catching, work on the shelf, sum up the story, etc. On True Blue I submitted 12 cover ideas before we found the right one. I probably had another dozen that I didn’t submit!

Roughs/Dummy

Once I’ve finished all the pencil sketches of all the pages, they get sent off to the publisher for feedback. At this stage the pages can sometimes be made into a dummy to get the flow of the pages and see if the page turns are working.

Revisions

Depending on the feedback, there may be some revisions (but hopefully not too many!)

On to painting!

Then, it gets kicked in to overdrive. This is the really fun part. You can see this post on my blog for a picture show of my painting process for True Blue Santa, or check out the video below, of me painting a DPS from Cherish Your Skin in semi-real time!

Once I've completed all the paintings, I pack them up and send them off to the publisher. I rarely have to do any changes at this point, so generally this is when I get to relax and wait for a surprise in the mail!

The publisher takes care of scanning of images, and design of the book, which usually takes about 2-3 months. I will get to see digital proofs (an emailed PDF) of the layout before it goes to print, and then it is off on it's own little journey. Books usually get sent to China to print, and then are shipped back (yes, by ship) so it can often take 4-5 months before they are back in the country. I might to see an advance copy about 6 months after I submit my illustrations.

…which is the most exciting part! Holding that book in my hands after all that hard work for months and months by so many people, it's such an incredible feeling. Second only to seeing a little munchkin reading and enjoying it for themselves :)

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