Rejected Postcard Design

This was my entry into the SCBWI PAL postcard illustration contest. It was not chosen. There were a lot of wonderful illustrations in the running. The judges were agents Lori Kilkelly & Paul Rodeen & author/illustrator Lauren Castillo (Caldecott Honor winner for NANA IN THE CITY)

I like this character, she might find a place in a chapter book I am writing.SCBWI_Postcard_good_rgb

Book I illustrated finally printed


I illustrated this 32 page 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ book for Leila L. Leidtke last year. It’s about three little pigs and their adventures in the wild. It’s a rough scary jungle out there! Right now this book can only be ordered from Friesen Press, later it will be available in many bookstores and Amazon. Click here to order.

It seems like I have waited forever to see these books printed. It does give me a good feeling seeing something I worked on so long to finally be completed. I am very happy with the color and the quality of the paper.

I love working with self publishing authors, contact me to talk about your book.

Snowed in & Working on Pencil Sketches for Children’s Picture Book App

I love being snowed in. When everyone else is trying to shovel their way out and fretting about being stuck at home, I’m happy. My studio is now in my home so I always have so many fun things to do. Today I worked on some full size pencil roughs for the book “Round” by Shervonne Taylor. I will be doing a picture book app first, then a printed picture book with the same art. So all the art must be made larger than it normally would for a picture book application for iPad. When I do the final illustrations everything will be on different layers, so the characters and backgrounds can move separately.Illustrator_pencil_roughs

I worked out the character sketches and the dummy earlier, so I know what each character will look like and what happens on each page, but it is so much fun seeing the main character doing her thing in each scene.

I love working with Children’s book authors. Each book is so different and so much fun to illustrate.

How to get your children’s picture book illustrated?

OK, you’ve written a children’s book, rewritten it, agonized over it, participated in critique groups and made changes and rewritten it again until you feel you are finished. Now you are ready to look into publishing your baby. There is a lot of information online about traditional publishing and self-publishing; why you should, why you shouldn’t and everything in between. Read it all, the good bad and the ugly! Harold Underdown has a lot of useful information on this website.

If you are publishing with a traditional publisher, you do NOT need to hire an illustrator. The publisher will handle all of the illustrations and will pay for them, but you will have NO input. If you are  sure you are going to self-publish you WILL need an illustrator for your cover and/or your complete children’s picture book. I will attempt to give you an idea of what steps to take to get your book illustrated.

SCBWI_logo1. Try Google searches for children’s book Illustrators. Look on the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Illustrators (SCBWI) page. This site is very hard to search because you have to type in the illustrators name to see their work. There is no way to know about any of the illustrators until you find them by region or art style. I’m on the list but my last name starts with S, it will be very hard to find me and many other illustrators on your own. This is my SCBWI link. There are also a lot of children’s book illustrators on Behance.netI’m on Behance also, but there are so many illustrators of all kinds, you may not easily find my work or many other children’s book illustrators. My Behance link. There are many other freelance sites where you list your illustration job and set a maximum price. Freelance artists will bid on your job. Maybe this might work for you, but personally, I would be more concerned with the artist’s professionalism and talent, than I would a low price. The illustrations you chose will represent your book to the world. How hard will it be to communicate with an artist rushing through many illustrations in a day besides yours, just to make a living at the ridiculously low prices quoted

Check out the children’s area in a bookstore or library for illustration styles you like, even if you will not be able to afford these illustrators or can’t get these specific illustrators to work for you, you can get a good idea of the style you are looking for.

2. You’ve found an illustrator you like, what’s next? Contact them, tell them about your book to see if they are interested. I want to warn you, many professional illustrators do NOT like to work with self-published authors. They prefer to work directly with publishers. Many amateur and hobby illustrators do not understand what is involved to prepare illustrations for book publishing. If a professional illustrator really likes your story and thinks it’s well written, and can see you are professional and realistic about your marketing and distribution, they will be more willing to illustrate your book. Illustrators want to see their illustrations in well written books that sell.

Aimie_face_4203. If a professional illustrator is interested in illustrating your book, they will want to see your manuscript. You can ask the illustrator to sign a non-disclosure form if you are concerned. Illustrators are not interested in stealing your work, they must read your manuscript to get an idea of what they will be doing for you before they will be able to give you any kind of bid on illustrating your book. They will ask you a lot of questions before they can give you a price.

4. When you get a price for illustrating your book, you may be surprised. It might more than you estimated or dreamed it would be. There is a lot of work that goes into illustrating a children’s picture book. Illustrators have to make money too. Many authors feel like illustrators should illustrate books out of the goodness of their hearts. We do love what we do, but need to pay the rent and eat etc. Working on a royalty only basis, puts illustrators in a very bad position. We frankly have no way of knowing how many copies you have sold or if you even intend to market it aggressively. Most illustrators will want to be paid for their work upfront or in divided payments. An illustrator will prepare and ask you to sign a contract. This, hopefully easy-to-read contract, should clear up questions and protect both parties.

5. First step, after the signing of the contract. The illustrator carefully reads your picture book and decides where the pages will break to make the story fit into the standard 32 page picture book format. The illustrator will make these recommendations based on where surprises need to happen with page turns and what part of the story makes the best illustrations. A rough dummy is created.

6. Next step is character studies. I love this part. If this is a self published book you as the author and creator will actually get some say in how the character Dayne Sislen character studywill look. Listen to your illustrator, they will have ideas you haven’t even thought of.  You picked them because you like their illustrations and their style, so let them guide you.

7. Next step is the pencil roughs of each spread. At this stage the illustrator works out the perspectives composition and how best to describe the action using the character developed earlier. These roughs will need your approval. These pencils are then tightened up so they can be used as the basis for the illustration.

8. Rough color block-ins are made to make sure the colors work and are balanced and exciting on the pages.

9.  It’s step 9 and we are just now starting on the actual illustrations. I bet you thought this was going to be the first step.

Dayne Sislen children's Book illustration10. More refining of the illustration. It can take as much as 40 hours for one complicated illustration. That’s a whole week’s work for just one spread. Some illustrations will take a lot less time, depending on the details and how many character are included.

11. Once all the illustrations are finished the book must be designed. You can hire a separate designer/art director to do this work. I also have a background in graphic design and art direction and always like to have the opportunity to also control the design and layout of the cover and pages of the book. I can design custom text to make the pages and cover exciting. This step brings all the illustrations together along with the text to form a pleasing whole that is ready for your printer or self-publisher.

I hope this blog helped you a to understand the process of illustrating and designing a children’s picture book. If you have any questions about self-publishing, illustration and book design, contact me at and visit me on FaceBook. I also love comments, click on the thought bubble at the top right of this post.FB

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Character sketch for a new book I am illustrating

Dayne Sislen character studyThis is an early character sketch for one of the children’s picture books I am illustrating. I am working on two new children’s books right now. Working on two at the same time helps me fill the time gaps in between approvals. When an illustrator works directly for self-publishing authors like I do, it sometimes takes awhile for the authors to approve roughs and the character sketches I send for approval. I like to keep busy, so two books works perfectly.

It is important to keep all correspondence separate, and remember which character and directions go with each book. It also helps if one story is about animals, the other about real children.

Most authors I work with, like me to keep their books a secret while I am working on them so it’s hard to share my progress as I go.

I usually start with rough character sketches. When they are approved by the author I do rough color work-ups like this one of the main characters and major props. Then I do a complete rough dummy of the whole book so I know exactly how many illustrations I will be doing and if they will be one page Illustrations, vignettes or spreads. After this rough break down and a dummy is made, I move into rough sketches of each illustration for each page and plan where the text will be. When these are approved, I make tight pencil drawings for final approval before starting the finished color illustrations. When I work on the finished color illustrations, I first make a tonal rough, then play around with color balance. Finally on to the finished illustration. I work in traditional watercolor, gouache, digital pastel and digital oil. The character study above was done in digital pastel (my current favorite).

There are a lot of steps to the process of illustrating a children’s picture book. Many non-illustrators think illustrators just crank out these drawings in one sitting without any planning. More time is spent on planning, sketching and layout than anything else.

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Black and white illustration for Tom Sawyer.

Dayne Sislen IllustrationI’m a bit late showing my entry to the Tomie dePaola Illustration competition for 2013. Here is a link to all the entries for 2013. The winner was Sandra Ure Griffin for her wonderful illustration for the Yearling.  All illustrations for 2013 had to be in black and white and greys. I love to use color, so this was hard for me. There were 300 illustrations entered this year.

I decided to illustrate a scene from Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, a book I had not read since grade school. I loved reading it again and chose part of the scene in the cave with Tom and Becky as my inspiration. I wanted to keep it as simple and dramatic as possible in black and white with very little grey.