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The big picture

Over at How to be a children’s book illustrator, they’ve got some video of Brian Selznick explaining his creative process.

The key idea to take away is this: creating a successful picture book requires having a vision for the entire project.  You can’t think in terms of  ‘one illustration at a time.’

Brian accomplishes that by making a little dummy—a cut-and-pasted version of the book made out of his sketches—so he can see the entire book while he’s still creating it.

Crabby Santa character design

Five not-too-bad cover ideas

People do judge a book by its cover.  Or at least, it’s the cover that gets people to pick up the book in the bookstore and see whether they like it.  Here are rough cover ideas for Two Bad Pilgrims.

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coverA

coverB

coverC

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Art Director Jim Hoover liked Idea A  I did tight sketches of the boys, the New Worlde mappe and the title type, which Jim put together as a comp.

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The boys and the map are painted as a single image.  One last request: show the boys having burst through the map.  The compass rose is a separate piece of art.  The type I inked in as separate black & white art.  Jim Hoover combined these elements into one cover image and added the credits at the bottom.

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Westward, ho!

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UPDATE!  Ilene, Jerry & Drake discuss digital vs traditional illustration in the comments section below.

I get quite a few historical projects to illustrate, and that suits me fine.  I enjoy doing the research—which is crucial to making the costumes and settings authentic.

Here are a few thumbnails, sketches and final paintings from Lewis & Clark, A Prairie Dog For The President. First, a thumbnail sketch of Lewis & Clark making a map—

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And here’s the tight sketch.  Remember, the thumbnail sketch is pretty small, about an inch-and-a-half tall.  My tight sketch is usually half the size of the printed page.

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I usually paint at the same size as the image will be printed.  The compass in the wooden case shown here belonged to Lewis & Clark.

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Here’s another one.  The squares with an ‘x’ through them show where the text will go.

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This was a fun little book to do.  It’s 48 pages long, which is much longer than normal (32 pages).  But it’s smaller in size than most picture books.

Below is what I mean by historical costume.  I had no reference for Sacajewea, but used a drawing George Catlin had made of a young woman from Sacajewea’s tribe thirty years after her adventure with Lewis & Clark.

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Here’s a comp (short for comprehensive layout) of the book’s cover.  It shows the type and the sketch together.  The next step is for me to paint the sketch portion.

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Some old sketches

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Apropos of nothing, some old sketches from Humphrey, Albert & the Flying Machine.  This one was written by Kathryn Lasky, who also wrote Two Bad Pilgrims—coming this Fall!

Humphrey is set within the Sleeping Beauty story, about two boys who attend Briar Rose’s 16th birthday party and succumb to the sleeping spell along with the other guests.  Having slept 99 years and 51 weeks, they wake up earlier than everyone else and set out to find a handsome prince to break the enchantment.

Here are a couple of cover ideas.

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And some interior sketches.

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The evil fairy—

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Fireflies

I want to warn you ahead of time that I don’t have the finished illustration that would normally follow the series of sketches below.  I must have gotten rid of it, or else it’s boxed away somewhere in my attic (I moved last November and am still unpacking).

A while back I got an assignment to illustrate a cover for a summer issue of StoryWorks magazine.  The art director asked for fireflies reading books. Sounds like a fun idea—I went to work drawing variations of it.

The first one works, but it’s kind of the obvious solution:

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I like this next one in spite of its being a little weird.  To make it work I’d need to really play up the lighting effects:

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Fireflies reading books in a bookstore after hours:

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Fireflies combining their individual lights to read a book:

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Firefly using a flashlight, with a farm in the background:

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And here are fireflies using each other’s butts to read by:

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Those were the ideas I came up with.  The AD liked the last two, couldn’t decide which one to use—and asked me to combine them in one sketch:

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I wasn’t happy with it.  Too many elements, too difficult to read the idea.  I would have loved to paint any of the other sketches, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Nobody’s fault; the art director and I just had different tastes.  That’s the way it goes sometimes.  You do your work, get your paycheck, and move on.

Storyboard

Leda writes:  “I’m curious, John, just how detailed your story boards are. Can you post a portion of one?”

Here’s a complete storyboard for a coloring book idea I had to promote Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies.  This is only 12 pages; a typical picture book is 32 pages.  Even so, this will give you a pretty good idea of what my storyboards look like: very rough thumbnail sketches with text indications.  This storyboard is around 8 ½ x 11”.  Each little page is 1 3/4” tall.

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There are several advantages to creating a rough storyboard before diving into tight sketches.  1) I can draw these fairly quickly.  If the AD doesn’t like any of the images, I can redraw them without having lost much time. I’d rather redraw a thumbnail sketch than a tight sketch.    2) You can see the entire story at once—how the action is paced, is there enough buildup to a dramatic payoff—which is harder to see with the larger tight sketches.  3) Once I get approval for the thumbnail sketches, approval for the tight sketches usually follows without major redrawing, because the art director and editor have been included in my process early on.

Designing a cover for the new Henry

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Sponge out your cannons!  Prepare to repel boarders!  Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates will storm bookstores on August 11th!

Many eager customers are even now camped out in front of those bookstores, awaiting the big day.  For those of you with internet access, here are a few visual bonbons to take your minds off of how hard a concrete sidewalk  can be.

The cover of a picture book is hugely important.  It’s the packaging that gets a casual browser to pick up the book and look inside.  The cover image has to give you an idea of what the story is about.  I also wanted to get a bit of action in there, to appeal to boys.

As usual, I began by drawing little thumbnail sketches.  These are very rough sketches, indicating the idea and where the title type will go.

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HCC.coverB

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Bird's-eye view, looking down on Henry from the top of the Black Yolk.

HCC.coverD

Version D is the winner, with some changes.  Henry will be flopped so he’s running left-to-right, the Black Yolk (the chicken pirate balloon) will be moved to the left, and the title type goes in the space made in the upper right.  Here’s the tight sketch incorporating the changes:

HCC.covercomp

Art director & editor liked this much better.  One last change:  show Henry carrying his book.  Here’s the layout they sent me including both drawing and type:

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Finally, the title type.  We were able to pick up the word ‘Henry’ from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. Here’s the sketch for the rest of the title.

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Then I enlarged the sketch, and inked in the lettering using a lightbox.

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More Pilgrims

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Here’s the character design for Miles Standish.  I do these sketches for the major characters in a book so that they look the same all the way through the story.  Proportions are difficult to keep consistent unless you take the time to do these.  It does make drawing the comprehensive sketches easier, because I’ve made myself familiar with the characters in their different poses.

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The Indians nicknamed Standish ‘the shrimp,’ so I colored his costume pink with red showing in the slashed sleeves.  I gave him one of those lobster-tail helmets. Here’s the color sketch:

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Here are color indications for Franky & Johnny, the Billington boys:

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