The Birth of a Picture Book III

Third in a series called, The Birth 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.

Inside pages from The Cow Cocoon.
Inside spread, The Cow Cocoon.

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.

I hope you learned something from this series of blogs: The Birth of a Picture Book I, The Birth of a Picture Book II, and The Birth of a Picture Book III. You can contact me through my website: DayneSislen.com

Cover for The Cow Cocoon picture book

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

If you have a picture book manuscript that needs illustration, design, and formatting contact me through my website: www.DayneSislen.com

The Birth of a Picture Book II

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.

The Cow Cocoon picture book. Truman and Mooma are safe.

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 will continue the next steps of this picture book journey narrative in my next blog post on December 21, 2020. See The Birth of a Picture Book III. Also, read the previous post on this subject: The Birth of a Picture Book I

Cover for The Cow Cocoon picture book

Go to www.cowcocoon.com after February 1, 2021 to get your copy

If you have a picture book that needs to be illustrated and designed, contact me through my website: www.DayneSislen.com

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