The Birth of a Picture Book I

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.

Picture book cover, The Cow Cocoon
The finished cover of The Cow Cocoon

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.

View from Windegger Shelter in Tillis Park
View from Windegger Shelter in Tillis Park
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Characters for the book: THE COW COCOON
A few of the characters for The Cow Cocoon

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!

A tiny dummy made out of typing paper.
A tiny folded dummy to show page breaks.
Breaking down the page turns for a picture book
Storyboard, breaking down the page turns for another picture book

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 will continue this picture book journey narrative in my next blog post, Friday, December 18, 2020. See The Birth of a Picture Book II and the third installation on Monday, December 21, 2020, See The Birth of a Picture Book III

Cover for The Cow Cocoon picture book

The Cow Cocoon picture book can be purchased after February 1, 2021, at: www.cowcocoon.com

If you have a picture book in need of illustration and design, contact me through my website: DayneSislen.com

7 comments on “The Birth of a Picture Book I

  1. Pingback: The Birth of a Picture Book II | Dayne Sislen Children's Book Illustration

  2. Pingback: The Birth of a Picture Book III | Dayne Sislen Children's Book Illustration

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.