Children’s book writers: Switch it up to improve.

All of us tend to find comfort in doing the same things over and over. We are good at these things. Why change? I love to illustrate picture books. I love meeting new people and working with them to make their book the best it possibly can be. I think children’s book authors are the most creative and fun people on earth. But is that enough?

There's a Mouse on Your Head

This is a page from a picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick.

I know many authors also fall into this practice of doing what comes easily. If they were successful writing in rhyme, they continue to write in rhyme, even though everyone tells them agents and publishers don’t want to see rhyme. Those who write in prose keep doing the same thing. Non-fiction writers tend to stick with what they know.

Why not mix it up a bit? First of all, I am an illustrator, but in my spare time between illustrating books for others, I write. I have lost count of all the stories roughs and drafts I have written. I have computer files full of them and notebooks bursting. I have pages filled with new story ideas. Not all these ideas and book drafts deserve to be turned into picture books, but I am glad the ideas keep on coming. I want to both write and illustrate children’s books eventually, so I work at it when I can find time. It helps keep me fresh to illustrate other author’s books for now.

My suggestion for you is to branch out, follow your dreams. If you write fiction, try non-fiction. If you usually write in rhyme, try prose. Try your hand at illustration, it just might help you visualize your story. I suggest authors make storyboards. It’s the way I start all my stories. I am a visual thinker so the pictures come first. Layout your story on a storyboard template of 32 pages for a picture book. Below is an excellent template from Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Inkygirl.com website. She did such a great job, no need to re-invent the template.

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Debbie Ridpath has some excellent information on her website about making storyboards.

Inkygirl website.

I like to start picture books on a single page, so I often use the second copyright page, page three, for the first page. You don’t have to be a great artist to do this you are just going for the action and flow of the story. Use stick figures. You might even learn something about your story. Maybe your story doesn’t have enough action or all the action happens on one or two pages and the rest of the book is just two people talking. Boring. Now is the time to fix those problems.

Lastly, join SCBWI (Society of Children’ Book Authors and Illustrators). Attend as many workshops, conferences, and critique groups as you can. It helps to see what others are doing and to have more experienced eyes critique your work. Don’t work in a vacuum.

Email me, I like to talk to self-publishing children’s book authors and illustrators about their stories.

Picture Books, The Whole Story in 32 Pages

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!Picture books are usually 32 pages long. As a children’s book author AND a children’s book illustrator, I have two different feelings about this total number.

When I am writing I feel like 32 pages are never enough. I always have a problem cutting my words down to 400 to 800 to hit the sweet spot of children’s picture books. It seems like 32 pages minus the title and copyright pages are never enough to say all the funny and clever things I want to say.

When I am illustrating for another author, I feel exactly the opposite. Thirty-two pages are a lot of pages to design characters and scenes for. There are so many decisions to make and get the author’s total agreement on. Each page must enhance and add to the text but also work well as a total design to direct the eye, advance the story and to flow to the next spread. It’s no surprise it usually takes between 4 months and 8 months to finish illustrating a picture book.

Some authors think they can just describe each scene or page as they see it and send this to the illustrator to work from. This technique seldom works. The whole story must be considered. The growth of each character and their interaction with each other within the scene is important. The images must flow from page to page. I always read your story over and over until I fully understand the characters and their interaction before I start. Page breaks are important. They can make or break a suspenseful or humorous scene. An illustrator brings enrichment and flow to a picture book. It’s not just a matter of drawing pretty pictures to match the words.

Can picture books be over 32 pages long? Yes, but usually the page-count advances in multiples of eight. This has to do with the way books are printed and the economic use of paper. Self-published books by CreateSpace and Ingram will let you add pages in multiples of two. They “gang” up several different books to save paper and ink. Can picture books be below 32 pages? Yes, but you won’t really be saving money. A 24-page book will feel like a pamphlet or brochure. It’s really too thin to have a proper spine for hardcover books. Usually, if a book is that short, blank pages are added at the beginning and end to make up 32 pages.

When authors write picture books, it helps to make a dummy out of typing paper. Just count out eight sheets and fold it in the middle. The first page is the title, the second page is the copyright and dedication page, the third page is the half title page. The story usually starts on page four. If you want to start your self-published book on a single page (instead of a spread), you can use the half title page (page three) as the first page of the story.

Now you can clearly see how many different scenes you will need. Just having characters standing around and talking to each other doesn’t make for a lot of fun action for kids. So think about action and change of scenery. Modern picture books use a lot of spreads. This means when the book is open and you see two pages next to each other, they are treated as one large image continuing over the gutter. Text can be on both pages, but never near the gutter. The action extends across the gutter.

Some pages can be broken up into many small spot illustrations to show fast moving action or a lot of little changes. The way each page is composed or laid-out can show a quicker pace or a slow down in pace. These are decisions an illustrator will suggest to create a more polished finished book.

Picture book illustrations

I love to work with self-publishing authors. Contact me and tell me about your book. Be sure to read my other blog posts and pages on this site to get suggestions and details so you don’t need to ask questions that I have already covered fully. Also visit my website to see more images and more suggestions

St. Louis Magazine Online Feature Story.

Dayne Sislen children's book IllustratorI must be the luckiest person alive. Just last week Jen Roberts,  a writer for St. Louis Magazine emailed to ask if she could interview me. I don’t know how she got my name. Life is full of surprises. She interviewed me on Monday and today the article was live online.

You can read it here. I am very pleased. Thank you Jen Roberts and St. Louis Magazine. Sometimes I feel like I work each day illustrating quietly in my studio and no one notices. It’s nice know someone cares. I love to talk about and share stories about my fun career.

Book I illustrated finally printed

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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.

The Winner of the 2014 Tomie dePaola Award

Every year the SCBWI and Tomie dePaola have a competition for illustrators. The theme for this year was the poem “Sneeze, A sneeze Is a breeze In Your Nose. Square format illustrations, for a young child’s book (2 months to 2 years). Before I entered this competition, I thought long and hard about the poem and how best to illustrate it for a young child. My idea was to use an elephant, who else has spectacular sneezes? In Tomie dePaola’s introduction, he mentions that there were far too many elephants. I guess I was not very original. He also mentioned that there was too much “stuff” flying out of nostrils. Whoops, my bad again! Visit the SCBWI website to see all the runners-up.

winner 2014 Tomie dePaola awardThis year the winner of the Tomie dePaola Award is Akiko White for a wonderful creation in “cake.” Congratulation Akiko! Your illustration is perfect, I love it!

It looks like icing  or Sculpy to me, but the SCBWI announcement says cake. The subject of the winning illustration is surprisingly–an elephant! I really like the composition and the colors. The surface texture and lighting  are wonderful. The mouse stopping the sneeze is priceless.

nina_goebel_smFirst runner-up is Nina Goebel. Her illustration is applique on a vintage handkerchief. Tomie didn’t like the lace edging on the handkerchief. Loved the bi-racial family and the simple imagery. You really should see all 5 of the runner-ups on the SCBWI website, there is a short critique for each one. Alice Ratteree was 2nd runner-up, Anne Dawson was 3rd runner-up, Jacob Grant was 4th runner-up and Lisa Cinelli was 5th runner-up.

It is so generous fo Tomie dePaola to take his time to have this award each year. It gives all illustrators a chance to work on an assignment and see our work with some of the best in the business.

SNEEZ_SMThere is another website set up showing ALL the entries for 2014 that the illustrators choose to share, winners and non-winners all together. What a great opportunity to see a lot of creative work. You can even leave comments on each entry. Thanks to Diandra Mae for all her work.

My entry, not a contender, also shows an elephant. He has “stuff” flying out of his nose which Tomie say this is a real no,no, considering flu season and all. I really needed to take more of a risk on subject matter and technique. It’s fun to see what other artists come up with. Next year I will go all out.

Thanks for the opportunity Tomie

Small changes for 3rd edition cover

Up-dated cover

Recently I was honored to receive a critique from the children’s book illustrator and Caldecott award winner Paul O. Zelinsky.

After I read his well thought-out comments about the cover illustration for Madeline Delilah, Extraordinarily, Ordinary, I wanted to make a few changes on the art, but the book had already been published and was actually in it’s second printing.

Old Cover

It’s nice to get a second chance in life as well as art!

I just got word from the author Mariah Richardson, that there is going to be a third printing and I can make small changes to the illustrations. I am thrilled to get a second chance.

Mr. Zelinsky made a few suggestions on the cover that I was able to make using the existing art and Photoshop to manipulate the image. He felt that the main character Madeline Delilah needed to dominate the cover. In the first illustration I was trying to emphasize the large size of the tree by making her small. In the new version I brought her to the foreground and made her slightly larger. I also beefed up the title and used a drop shadow to make the words pop out a little more. Mr. Zelinski had a few other suggestions to make the cover more exciting, but I was unable to make those changes at this time. I think it is a good up-grade that makes me feel better, but most people will not notice. Let me know what you think about the redo (leave comments by clicking the thought bubble at the top right of this post).

Please visit my Portfolio web site to see all my work: http://daynesislendesign.com