A super long post about making a children’s book

Hello! Happy saturday everybody! I’m having my first day off in what feels like forever, and it’s well needed. I have a lot of things I’d like to do with my free day, like rebuilding my working space, finish sewing a dress I started on two years ago, fix my boots, repair the fence… I probably won’t be doing any of those things though. My only plan is to take a really long walk with the dog (she truly deserves a day of attention), finally drink that beer that’s been waiting for me in the fridge for months, and to write this blog post. So here we go.

I’m gonna talk a bit about the very first steps into making a children’s book (or any illustrated book). I’m working on one as a side-project right now, and thought it would be fun to document the process.
Disclaimer: there are surely better ways to go about this, I’m only talking about how I do it, and am not suggesting that anyone follow my advice.

First of all. Coming up with an idea. For me, this is the biggest and hardest part.

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My imagination works fine when I’m coming up with an idea for a painting, but when it comes to making up a whole story, I’m completely lost.
I believe this is because I don’t think in words. My thought process is mostly made out of images and abstract stuff. Because of this, all of my book-ideas are almost completely word-less. And that is also why my book ideas never starts with a story. They start with an image, and the story follows it.
For this particular idea, it was this sketch that started it ——->

 

I can’t just set out to write a story and come up with one. They just show up from time to time, and I may or may not be able to catch them. If I’m in luck, a sketch like this comes up, where I can tell that This is a story. I don’t know where I got that image from, but it caught my attention, because there’s clearly a story behind it. Why is he carrying that jar, and where? What’s inside it? What led up to this moment, and where is it going next?

From here, I could figure out that the jar is full of fireflies, and he has caught them to bring home to his sister, who is afraid of the dark. From there, the story could evolve.
It’s no longer about the fireflies. They turned out to be a minor part of the plot, but I won’t spill any more of that. I can do that once I’ve gotten further in this process.

After the first sketch, a few notebook-pages are filled up with awful sketches:
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I’m trying to find the look of my character, and all those tiny squares are images I came up with that might be included in the story. And those numbers, they just happened to already be on the page. I obviously didn’t have any big plans for these sketches.

Then, I keep looking for my characters. I struggle with character consistency – that is making the character look the same on each page. So I have to work on that a lot.
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I’m starting to get a grip of them here, but I’m not quite there yet. Before starting on any book, I will go through dozens, sometimes hundreds, of character-sketches to be able to keep them consistent throughout the book.

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Now I want to start experimenting with colours and styles. I really wanted to see a finished version of that first sketch, so i played around with that for a bit. Here are two very similar colour-tests ———->

And one, very small and still not complete, but much closer to a finished piece:
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I’m quite happy with these colours, and now I want to get the style right. I find that the ink I often use in illustrations makes it much too sharp, and I want a softer style for this project.

Here are three (but really two) tiny tryouts, with the “might get included-images”, where I tried using blue and brown pencils to outline, instead of the ink.

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I don’t like these at all, which is why I didn’t even bother to finish the third one.

 

 

 

More tests.
Usually I make a sketch in pencil, draw over it with non-erasable colored pencil or ink, and then erase the pencil so everything gets clean and sharp. But as I said, I’m not looking for sharp this time. Here I’m trying out making a very rough pencil-sketch, and just paint on top of it.
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I kind of like this. Maybe it’s a little too rough, but I like it a lot better than the previous tests. As you can see, the colors are much less intense here, and I think that adds to the “softness”, so I’ll stick to that.
Next test is also pencil and watercolour, but cleaner this time. With more loose drawing for the most part, and a few added sharp lines where objects needs to be distinguished from each other.scan0052
Now this one I really like. It still needs some work, but it is definitely taking the direction I want it to go.
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I also really like this little sketch. I might make a project in only pencil sometime, but I don’t think it’s this one.

 

 

At this point, the story in my mind has evolved so far that I even have a storyline, with a beginning, middle and ending, and even a few words!
So I make a storyboard, which is pretty much a rough sketch of the whole book. Here I’m sorting out the order of the images, and trying to decide which ones gets a full page and which only gets a spot. This is probably going to change around a lot. Images will be removed and added and the order might change. But it’s a really good way to see the whole story at once – even though I’m the only one who really knows what’s going in in most of these. Still painted over the last part though – can’t give away the ending just like that!scan0100.jpg

This is as far as I’ve gotten on this project. At this point, it feels like most of the work is done, and I am more or less ready to start making final illustrations. Though I’ll still be making more character sketches and style-tests before I take it further, because of course I want everything to be just right.
And I also want to figure something out with the words.
As said, my ideas are word-less, and while text is often a big part of any book, it’s not an absolute must. There are already books out there that are completely word-less. My big favourite is “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan. It is absolutely amazing and I recommend it to everyone.
I will have to decide if I’m going to include just a few words, or keep it completely silent. I’m considering using sign-language in a way or another, because I believe there are many deaf, mute and otherwise non-verbal children who might enjoy a book like that. I’m just not sure in which language I would have it if I did. It would be difficult to redraw the whole thing if I ever want to translate it.

Oh well. Still lots to think about, but the big and important steps are taken, and now it just takes some refining before I can start working on the actual illustrations.

If you managed to read through this whole thing, hooray! Thank you, and well done! I hope you got something out of it. :)

Have a nice weekend!
Embla

 

 

 

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