Every week I visit my local library and spend a bit of time picking out 5 or 6 new picture books to study. There is much to learn from a well crafted picture book. Last week I picked up 6 great books. I learned about death from a story about a turtle, I learned about making friends, I learned about sharing and I learned about not making judgments about other people (other birds in this case) before you meet them.
My favorite book this week was “They’re So Flamboyant,” by Michael Genhart Phd, and illustrated by Tony Neal.
“When a flamboyance of flamingos moves into a neighborhood full of other types of birds, feathers get ruffled.”
A delightful story about inclusion, exclusion and stereotypes, fears, and assumptions that can lead to discrimination. Each band of birds—a gaggle of geese, a dole of doves, a charm of finches, a brood of chickens, a scream of swifts, and an unkindness of ravens—all have their feathers ruffled and express their apprehension about the new and different arrivals.
Conversations about differences and diversity should be straight forward open and honest. Showing situations using animals (or birds in this case) can bring these issues to the discussion without exposing a ingrained inclination.
The other birds fear that the flamboyant flamingos will destroy the neighborhood, but find out after meeting them that they are a delightful addition. This is a very positive feel good story kids will love.
I also appreciate the glossary page in the back of the book that explains common words to to describe groups of different species of birds. There are also author’s notes to help with using the book to start discussions.
This book can be purchased on Barnes and Noble’s website.
Creativity is the spark of magic that turns the ordinary into the amazing.
Children’s book authors are very creative people. They have the ability to take a fragment of an idea and by just using their imagination fabricate a completely new world filled with unique characters. These characters will have dreams, a past and a new story to tell.
My main job as an illustrator of children’s books is to take that wonderful fantasy world the author has created and expand it even more. My job is to take their story and tell a little bit more about each scene. What happened just moments before the written action or what happens just after the action. My job is NOT to just illustrate the written action or repeat what is written on the page in a visual form. I must bring another dimension to the story.
To keep my mind flexible, it helps to exercise my creative muscles every day. I like to participate in online challenges to help me stay on schedule. I just finished Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm. This is a friendly challenge to come up with 30 new ideas for picture books one each day in January. My idea list this year has 36 ideas, last year I had over 40. That gives me a head start coming up with the perfect idea for the next picture book I want to write.
12 x 12 is another challenge by Julie Hedlund and Kelli Panique, that encourages authors to write 12 picture books from February to November. That’s more than one a month folks. I’m a fast first drafter, but my rewrites and editing take forever.
There are also challenges and competitions just for illustrators. Inktober by Jake Parker is every October and SCBWI has a monthly prompt called Draw This! for members. SVS Learn has monthly prompts at Critique Arena with personal critiques by Jake Parker, Will Terry and Steve Light. It’s a lot of fun to join in and have fun with other creative people.
As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time. They love my illustrations and want me to illustrate their book. They want me to quote a price by return email, but they fail to tell me anything about their book. Is it a picture book, chapter book or middle grade? How many illustrated pages they need or how many characters? Occasionally an author will say I don’t need a big fancy book or they only want a small book. Don’t spend much time on it, they say, I don’t have much money. How much will that be? These questions put me in an awkward position. I don’t have enough information to give them a price or even decide if I want to illustrate their book.
Some authors want me to just “sketch-up” something fast. “Don’t spend any time.” But they want the main character to look like their niece at four years old wearing the dress they gave her for her birthday. The little boy character to look like the boy on that program on TV (they can’t remember the name of) only change his hair to blond. The house in the background should look just like their Aunt Ethel’s house, they don’t have a picture, but it has shutters. AND of course, the dog should look like their deceased dog Rover (they do have many pictures). –Yes, people have asked me to do all of these things. None of this is fast or easy for me at all.
I can already tell some authors will take a lot of my time and will not value my experience or expertise. Do I give them a ballpark figure that covers all kinds of books and situations, or do I probe for more details? Probing takes my time away from other illustration jobs.
Some hints about how to find and work with an illustrator:
• Do your research, search Google, Yahoo or other search engine for “children’s book illustrators.” Read their websites and blogs. Go to organization websites for illustrators such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators www. SCBWI.org or ChildrensIllustrators.com.
• Be wary of inexperienced children’s book illustrators. While they cost much less, you may be very disappointed with the final results. It requires more than a good artist to illustrate a picture book. Inexperienced illustrators may find they are in over their head and don’t know how to turn their illustrations into a printable book.
• When contacting an illustrator to get pricing, give all the details they will need to decide how long your book will take to illustrate. What kind of book for children is it? What age child is the book for. Give them an idea of the length of the book, how many characters, how detailed do you want the backgrounds, do you want spreads or single pages, cover and back cover. Will the illustrator also be designing and digitally assembling the book for printing? This is a separate skill and not all illustrators will be able to design and digitally assemble your book. You may also need to hire a book designer.price
• When you find the illustrator you want to work with be nice. Nice goes a long way. Then be sure to give them enough information for them to decide if they want to illustrate your book. Be prepared to send them your manuscript before they will give you more than a very ball park estimate of their fees. There is really no such thing as a typical price per page. Think about it, would a builder give you a flat price for building “a house”, or a price per room?
• When working with your chosen illustrator let them know about any limitations or special requests BEFORE they begin. Don’t wait until the characters are designed and all the line work is finished before you tell them the main character (who is shown on 22 pages should look like your niece.
• Respond to your illustrator’s questions in a timely manner. Don’t wait a few days to answer their email, text or phone call. They probably need a quick answer to a question so they can proceed with their work. Holding them up really breaks up the creative flow and slows down the process.
Remember, in the marketplace (bookstore or online), your book will first be judged by its cover. Do you want your book judged solely by amateurish illustrations and awkward cover design?
Why am I willing to work with self-publishing authors?
Occasionally I find an author who values my time, talent and expertise. When I read their manuscript I can tell it has been carefully edited for content and as well as grammar. They belong to an experienced SCBWI critique group or they have used a professional children’s book editor. They have taken the time to learn about writing for children and their manuscript clearly shows it. The language and word count are perfect for the age group and type of book which they are writing.
I think children’s book authors are some of the most talented and clever people on earth. I enjoy getting to know them during the months we work together on their book. Contact me below if you want to talk to me about your children’s book.
I illustrated the picture book spread shown above this blog for the book “Don’t Be a Pig in a Panic!” written by Leila Leidke. The second spread was for The Cow Cocoon by Rachel Nolen and Maria Price.
Visit my website daynesislen.com to see if I’m the right illustrator to bring your picture book or chapter book to life.
I’m talking about the world of writing and illustrating books for children. I’m pretty sure the same applies to other fields also, but my experience is in the wonderful world of children’s literature. We all need insightful feedback from professionals in the field and trusted and a talented critique group to grow in our art.
This week I was lucky enough to receive a critique on my children’s picture book dummy from the talented Cheryl Klein, editorial director at Lee & Low Books. My critique was in conjunction with the KS/MO–SCBWI Fall Conference. It was the most insightful and thorough critique I have ever received, and I have received many through the years. She is a very generous person with her time, experience, and talents. I sincerely thank you, Cheryl Klein.
Every writer and/or illustrator needs a critique group. A group of talented and helpful people who understand your goals and are willing to read or look at your work with fresh eyes and give you constructive feedback. You may not agree with their assessment, but you need to step back and view your work through their fresh eyes. We all get too close to our own work and fail to see the weaknesses. A professional in the field can help you even more, because they understand children’s literature and are aware of current trend.
It’s also important to have experienced professional on your side when you self publish. I have professional illustrated 15 books for other authors and publishers since 2011. Each books takes me between 6 months and a year to finish. I work very closely with each author to bring their vision to the printed page. I also write and illustrate my own books when I have time between illustrating for other authors.
Below are a few of the books I have been privileged to illustrate for other authors:
“Harry & Larry’s Epic Adventure,” by Tracey O’Brien; “The Cow Cocoon”, by Rachel Nolen and Maria Price; “The Girl Who Found Christmas,” by Barbara Escher; and “There’s a Mouse on my Head,” by Donna Warwick.
If you would like more information about having me illustrate your book, contact me. I can also help you successfully navigate through the confusing world of self-publishing.
Dayne Sislen is a children’s book writer and picture book illustrator. #Picturebooks, #KidLit, #KidlitArt, St. Louis Picture book Illustrator, Member of SCBWI,
A book review though an illustrator’s eyes by Dayne Sislen
My last post was a book review of the fun book, BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY, also by Melissa Sweet. On that post, I received a great comment from JennieFitzkee, a teacher and the writer of the wonderful blog, “A Teacher’s Reflection.” She asked if I had also read SOME WRITER! The story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company in 2016. I immediately put myself on the request and pick-up list at my local library. I finally was able to get my hands and eyes on the book this week.
I absolutely love reading and looking at this book. Every page is a joy to behold. SOME WRITER! The Story of E.B. White is an incredible middle-grade biography of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. The book is beautiful to look at and intriguing to read. Melissa enjoyed the full support of E.B. White’s family for this undertaking, so it is filled with old photos and original hand-written and corrected first drafts of STUART LITTLE, THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, and CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Also included are early writings and journal entries. E.B. or Elwin as he was called when young knew he was a writer from a very early age.
SOME WRITER! is a delight to read and behold. Melissa has combined old photos, maps, original sketches of book covers, three-dimensional objects and her wonderful illustrations in her graphics. Every page is a feast for the eyes. I hope you enjoyed this book review from an illustrators perspective.
I just love the picture book, BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY. It’s a story about Tony Sarg, the first innovative puppeteer of Macy’s famous parade on Thanksgiving Day. It was written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who is one of my favorite illustrators. This is not a new book it was published in 2011, but you might say it’s new to me. I heard a lot about it when it first came out, but had never really took the time to study it carefully. With the self quarantine, I have more time to really study, well written and designed children’s books. This one is now a must buy for my home collection.
“But what if the controls were Below and the puppets could rise up?”
–Balloons Over Broadway
BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY is a work of art, both for the writing, the research and the delightful illustrations and models. I didn’t know the story about the first Macy’s parade and didn’t know Tony Sparg’s part in making it SPECTACULAR. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but every page is a delight for the eyes. If I was my five year-old past self, I would be collecting materials right now to make my own puppets and marionettes. I hope you enjoyed this review.
I illustrate picture books for authors and publishers. If you would like to talk to me about illustrating and designing your picture book, fill in the form below. I like to talk to children’s book authors.
There are two very important children’s book awards given annually by the American Library Association. Everyone involved in children’s literature awaits this event each year. The author and illustrator choose are given a great honor. These books are considered the best of the best. They are both very coveted awards.
The Newbery Award
The Newbery has been awarded annually by the ALA since 1922 “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” There is a medal winner and usually from one to five honor books, which I list below the medal books. Sometimes referred to as the “Newbery award,” the Newbery Medal is the oldest and most prestigious children’s book award given in the United States.
Would you make a deal with a magical tiger? This uplifting story brings brings Korean folklore to life as a girl goes on a quest to unlock the power of stories and save her grandmother.
The Caldecott Award
The Caldecott has been awarded annually by the ALA since 1938 “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Like the Newbery, there is one medal winner and usually a number of honor books, which I list below the medal books. Also known loosely as the Caldecott award, winners are likely to stay in print indefinitely due to the Caldecott’s prestige.
Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption—a bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade.
I love seeing the books that are chosen for these awards each year. I can’t wait to read them.
Third in a series called, TheBirth of a Picturebook: About the picture book The Cow Cocoon, written by Rachel Nolen and Maria Price. In Birth of a Picture Book I talked about writing the creative brief, the contract, then the character studies, the dummy, and the flat storyboard.
After the contract is signed, the characters and page breaks are approved, everything starts to come together. Birth of a Picture Book II talked about planning and drawing the rough sketches and coloring the illustrations. In The Birth of a Picture Book III, I will talk about designing the text and putting everything together in a digital form that complies with your POD or printer’s exact specifications and other elements needed to promote a book.
6. The next step is to design the text part of the book. The line work and painting part of the illustrations take a lot of time. During this time I also format the book’s text to make sure it fits perfectly on each page. If you are hiring an illustrator only, they may not want to do this part. I am both an illustrator and a graphic designer. I like to control the design of the pages and make sure the formatting conforms with exactly what the printer needs to print your book to the best of their ability.
7. At this point you can see exactly what each page will look like when printed. Now is the time for serious nick-picking. It’s too late to make major changes at this time, but small adjustments can be made before the book goes to print. You want to find any issues before you get your final proofs from your printer. The longer you wait to make corrections the harder and more expensive things are to change.
8. When everything has been carefully checked and approved by the authors, I will upload the digital files to the printer of choice. I work with each printer to make sure the files are perfect for their purposes. Each printer has an exact set of specifications to follow. The last 1/3 payment is due upon approval of all the illustrations and digital files. When the proofs arrive, I carefully check all the artwork to make sure the printing will run smoothly.
9. Included with each picture book I illustrate I include: A digital image of the cover suitable for marketing and promotion, an isolated image of the main character taken from the cover to use for promotion, and the title image isolated. Written publication copyright is also included for all images when used to promote the book illustrated.
10. Extras: Sometimes authors want extra illustrations to help with their promotions. I have designed and illustrated posters, bookmarks, brochures, banners for websites, author websites, package designs, and stuffed animals or character dolls. I also design and create logo designs for the new publishing company you are creating. These are separate jobs and are charged by the hour.
11. Become friends with each author I work for. It takes about 6 months to finish illustrating a picture book from a written contract to finished proofs. During that time I hope to form a lasting friendship and partnership with each author. I like to follow their publishing journeys and successes.
Continuing the story of The Birth of a Picturebook: The Cow Cocoon, written by Rachel Nolen and Maria Price. In Birth of a Picture Book I talked about writing the creative brief, the contract, then the character studies, the dummy, and flat storyboard. After the contract is signed, the characters and page breaks are approved, everything starts to come together.
4. It’s now time for the rough pencil full sized sketches for each spread. I really like this part. All the parts we have only talked about before come together in rough form. This is a good time for the authors to make final adjustments and re-think direction. Everything is easy to change at this point. The text may even need to be adjusted slightly to help the action on the page. The action must move from left to right on each spread. Surprises or revelations are anticipated with each page turn. This part takes a bit of time. It starts very rough with small sketches, then becomes more and more refined with each step. When this stage is completed to the author’s satisfaction, it’s time for the second 1/3 payment.
5. Now after months of work, the final linework and color painting are started. In some illustrations the linework is very important and forms the basis for the illustrations, in other illustration styles, the color and tone are more important and the lines become covered up and incorporated into the painting. This stage takes me the longest time. The way I work is very time-consuming. I mostly work digitally but also incorporate traditional media for certain areas. Because the sky was almost another character in The Cow Cocoon, I used traditional watercolor for the sky in most of the illustrations.
I like to first design the title text font and paint the cover so the authors can start doing early marketing for their book. Occasionally there may be slight tweaks to the cover later in the process because the characters sometimes evolve as the story is worked on. I give the authors updated versions of the cover as things change. I show the authors my progress at each step so there are no surprises at the end. It is very difficult and time consuming to change illustrations once they are colored. It’s much better to make changes at the rough and pencil stages.
I have been extremely lucky to have an exciting project to work on during the quarantine. It has given me a reason to jump out of bed in the morning eager to start a new day.
Rachel Nolen and Maria Price came to me with the darling manuscript for The Cow Cocoon. Our first meeting was at a local park. We wore our Covid-19 masks and kept socially distanced. I could tell they had given The Cow Cocoon story, characters, concept, and marketing a lot of thought. They were excited about the project and their excitement very quickly got me onboard. Rachel and Maria made a great team and I wanted to be part of their journey.
We worked on a brief together so I could understand exactly how they envisioned the characters, the target audience, the marketing plan, and their plans for printing and distribution. After working out the details of what they wanted me to do for them and their time schedule. I wrote up a simple contract in plain English that explained each step, the costs involved, when they were due, and the time schedule. A contract is important to begin each job. It protects the author and the illustrator. This way there aren’t any ugly surprises in the process. The first 1/3 payment of my total fee is due at contract signing.
Character Design. Now the fun began. This is the most important step in illustrating a picture book and the one I love the best. The characters in a picture book drive the story. The characters are what attracts readers to the book and make the story come alive. The words themselves will make them want to read the book over and over. We worked back and forth to develop the personality of each character.
3. The book layout or dummy is the next step. This is the hardest step for me. I must figure out how each spread will break so the story has excitement with each page turn. Sometimes this breakdown is not evident by reading the manuscript alone. I like to make a tiny 32-page dummy out of two sheets of folded and cut typing paper (see picture below). This gives me an idea of which pages are next to each other and if the action is lagging or too repetitious. I also do a storyboard which is a scaled-down flat version of the book. Below is the rough dummy storyboard from another book I illustrated several years ago for Donna Warwick called There’s a Mouse On My Head!
Seeing the story sequenced on each page helps identify areas of the story that need more action or excitement. I suggest authors try this with their manuscript to help them pace their story. At this time we sometimes need a meeting to adjust the manuscript slightly to best serve the page breaks. This can usually be done by moving a few sentences or changing the location where the action takes place.
I haven’t posted on this blog since March when the quarantine was new. No one really knew what we were going into. Would it last a few weeks, a month, two months, or more? Well, now we know this is not going to be a quick fix. There is no telling when life will be back to normal.
I have used my time wisely. I have not heavily scheduled every minute, but have given myself time to breathe. I have taken the time to enjoy the spring weather outdoors and now it’s summer. I have taken many online classes through SCBWI and SVS and listened to podcasts about subjects I am interested in. I have read books and watched far too much NetFlix.I have given myself time to develop book ideas for picture books I plan to write and to nail down those elusive ideas that have been tapping on my shoulder for years. I never seemed to have enough time for my own projects in the past. I even managed to clean out a few closets and make a good start on cleaning the basement.
Sweet baby Ryan
Yes, I have missed seeing my family, who is spread far and wide. But with all the modern ways to stay in touch, it hasn’t been too isolating. My only regret is I haven’t been able to hold my brand new grandson in my arms. He was born April 2nd three weeks early right at the scary time of the quarantine. My son and daughter-in-law have been good about sending lots of pictures and videos. We Facetime and Zoom frequently, but I can’t hold his warm little body in my arms. I can’t smell his sweet downy head. I joked when he was born that I might not see him until he would be walking. I may not be too far off. We are hoping to see him in October if everything goes well in the U.S. with the virus.
I want to snuggle with him, read him picture books in all the funny voices, and teach him to be creative. It is so important for parents and grandparents to read to little ones starting when they are tiny. They should associate the loving, snuggling, and positive interaction with books and pictures.
I’m sitting here all cozy in my home enjoying the peace and quiet. No restaurants, no movie theaters, no mall shopping, no church, no meetings, no going to work, no get-togethers with friends, I never thought this would happen in the U.S.
It’s a new reality for all of us. I believe it has brought out the best in many people. I found the hoards of grocery shoppers surprisingly polite and cheery. I had three people try to help me get the last can of my favorite soup from the top shelf way in the back. We all laughed about not having long enough arms. Of course at the check-out lines, everyone stays spaced to give sneezing and coughing room. In our small neighborhood of 27 houses, we have quite a few older couples and single ladies. Everyone is looking out for them. I set up a website with a community forum so we can communicate our needs, fears and offers to help each other.
I have taken all the closures in stride so far. The one that hit me the hardest was the library. It closed before I could really stock up on books to read. I have a large library at home, but I have read all of the books. I guess I will start reading them again, starting with the classics. Books on my iPad just don’t give me the same satisfaction I get with real pages.
I have a new children’s picture book ready to start illustrating, so that will keep me occupied during the day. I’m always excited to start working on a new book. Sorry I won’t be able to share the sketches and finished illustrations with you until it’s published.
Counting my blessings and hoping everyone stays well.
It’s that thankful time of year again. Day by day we scurry around doing what needs doing at the moment without taking the time to stop and realize our true blessings. When we truly think about it, it’s our relationships with our spouse or significant other, family, and friends that are the most important. Humans are social animals we need loving relationships. Good health and natural abilities come next. I also believe it’s a blessing to be able to help others. After these big blessings, it’s all the small things that bring us joy each day.
I enjoy being able to walk my dog in the park every morning with a group of hardy and supportive friends and their canine companions. I enjoy the changes in the weather we have in the Midwestern part of the U.S. When you walk 4-5 miles outside almost 365 days a year no matter what the weather, clothing choices are important. I find great satisfaction knowing I have made the correct choice of layers so I am comfortable. I’m surprisingly good at this, though I’ve been known to totally blow it big time.
I enjoy my God-given ability to draw and to paint. This talent gives me great satisfaction and I can also help others to achieve their dreams by illustrating their picture book stories. Whether I am illustrating my own picture book or a story for another author, I enjoy the challenge of taking written words and turning them into a visually compelling and interactive published book. I hope I am able to continue doing this for many more years. I also love to do artsy craft projects with children and adults.
Most times I’m someone who delights in staying home in my studio, but I also enjoy meeting and interacting with strangers. I like to see if I can turn an upside-down smile into a proper smile on a grumpy stranger. I love to entice babies and toddlers to giggle. I love to visit playgrounds and go down the slide or swing to the sky to the delight of the kids. I talk to strangers in check-out lines. I wave when someone lets me in traffic. Life is wonderful and I like to spread joy around.
Oh, let’s not forget, turkey, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, dressing, sweet potatoes, and Chocolate!
I hope everyone who reads this will make a list of things they are thankful for. Try concentrating on little joys in your life every day, not the “have-to-dos“ or the negatives.
If you would like to talk to me about illustrating your children’s picture book or designing an idea you have for a children’s product, fill in the form below. I like to talk to creative people.