Illustrating Your Picture Book

I studied creative writing at the University of Arkansas, but I didn’t study art; so when I wrote my first picture book, I assumed someone else would illustrate it. That changed when I learned that if a publisher matched me with one of their illustrators, I would have no input with respect to the art. In fact, I would not see the art until the book was finished, and if I didn’t like the art, too bad. So I decided to illustrate my books myself. After all, I had a vision of what the book should look like, so why not try to do it myself? Was I a professional illustrator? No, but over the years I’ve learned a few tricks that help me create art that looks polished and professional. All it takes is research, practice, and maybe a little innovation.

Step One: Research

I research everything I want to draw. If you count each type of coral in Sea Horse, run! as a separate animal, I researched about 40 different animals for that book including sea horses. For Sea Horse, run! I also went to aquariums and used my flip video camera to capture live action footage in the various exhibits. I studied the videos at home, and when I found a helpful angle or ‘shot’, I took still images from the videos and printed them as examples of what I wanted to draw.

Step Two: Practice

I study photos of the real animals and practice drawing my sketches. Sometimes I draw and redraw my characters as many as forty or fifty times. I struggled so much drawing the pictures for my third picture book (Polliwog, 2004) that I decided to take some art lessons before I tackled Sea Horse, run!. I wanted to use more watercolor in my sea horse book, so I found an artist that specialized in watercolor and took private lessons. I believe those art lessons made a big difference when it came time to illustrate Sea Horse, run!.

Step Three: Innovation

Even after much research and practice, you may find that your paintings or drawings are simply not meeting your expectations. Don’t despair! Be innovative. There is more than one way to illustrate a children’s picture book.

If you want to illustrate your books yourself, I strongly recommend that you study the art in published children’s books. Find a style of art that you are drawn to or a style you could easily replicate. Experiment with other media like photography, three-dimensional art, or collage.

Photographic Art (Books by Carl Sams and Jean Stoick) You don’t even need to draw or paint your pictures if you are a photographer or know someone that is. The art in Stranger in the Woods– A Photographic Fantasy published in 2000 by Carl Sams and Jean Stoick was so innovative that it won several awards including the Benjamen Franklin Award for best children’s picture book. By the way, this book was independently published.

Three-Dimensional Art  Another great example would be the art in Lauren Child’s version of The Princess and the Pea. Lauren built a miniature, three-dimensional world out of cornflake boxes, dollhouse furniture, and paper dolls dressed in many layers of paper. Lauren used a professional photographer (Polly Borland) to take pictures of her miniature ‘sets.’

Collage  Art that is simply cut and paste using various media (art, cloth, photos) can be very effective and fun. Here are some great examples:

Books by Steve Jenkins including Down, Down, Down; Actual Size, and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?

Falling for Rapunzel and Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox, Illustrated by Lydia Monks

Secret Seahorse by Stella Blackstone and Clare Beaton

Your collage can also be digital. Tim Hopgood is a great example. I draw or paint my pictures by hand and like Tim Hopgood, I assemble the final art in the computer as a digital collage.

I use Photoshop to create my digital collages, but it took me several years of trial and error to learn the basics. If you want to use Photoshop, find someone that is already an expert to help you get started. Also, you can find step-by-step videos on the web that will teach you Photoshop basics. It is an expensive computer program, so another alternative is to find free applications on-line that work like Photoshop. I googled “free applications like photoshop” and came up with these recommendations:

http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/11-free-alternatives-softwares-to-adobe-photoshop/

http://sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/10-excellent-open-source-and-free-alternatives-to-photoshop/

http://www.lifeclever.com/10-free-web-based-alternatives-to-photoshop/

In Summary:

If you want to draw the pictures for your children’s story, but you are not a “professional” artist, don’t despair! If I can do it, anyone can. Just be mindful that it may take a lot of effort to establish your style as an artist.

STUDY art in other children’s books. Make a list of your favorite artists. Research how they create their pictures.

RESEARCH what you want to draw. If you need to draw a picture of a yeti (abominable snowman) in the Himalayas, check out books from the library about the Himalayas. Study the landscapes. Research the yeti. Find pictures other artists have made of a yeti. Remember that you can’t copy exactly what someone else has drawn because their art is copyrighted, but by studying other versions of the picture you are working on, you will find inspiration for your own, original art.

PRACTICE. Don’t be afraid to draw and redraw your art. After all, the story is rewritten over and over again. When you’re writing, you may change the plot, add or remove characters, or revise the setting. The same is true for your art. You may start out drawing one thing then decide to draw something completely different. You can change the characters or backgrounds. You might even decide to change your style from watercolor to mixed-media collage. There is no right or wrong. The more you practice and work on your pictures, the closer you will come to your final draft. Creating art is not so different from writing stories. The first draft is inevitably sloppy. Keep at it!

Innovate. Experiment with other media.

The biggest hurdle to transforming yourself into a ‘professional’ artist is finding the time and the passion to stick with it. It won’t happen overnight. You have to be patient and persevere, but the same can be said for writing your story, too.

In the late nineties early ought’s, it was hard to find a publisher if you were both writer and illustrator. That is not necessarily the case anymore. In the past few years I have heard several agents and editors comment that they are actively seeking people that can do both writing and illustration.

Your next obstacle will be publishing. Visit my Publishing 101 page for tips.

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A Kaleidonotes Study Guide for Music Class

My second picture book, The Kaleidonotes & the Mixed Up Orchestra, is often used by instructors to teach children the instruments of the orchestra and where they sit on stage.

Interesting Facts About the Book

The number seven is repeated several times in this book.

There are seven characters, and each name begins with one of the seven notes in the musical scale: Amos, Bo, Cloe, Dax, Echo, Finn, Gigi.

There are also seven colors represented (one for each character): red (Finn), orange (Gigi), yellow (Cloe), green (Amos), blue (Bo), indigo (Dax), violet (Echo).

The book’s themes include cooperation and teamwork.

Map illustrating where instrument groups are usually positioned on stage in the orchestra.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why do the notes face the wrong direction?

The notes have popped off the page and are three dimensional! When they interact with the instruments of the orchestra, sometimes they turn and face another direction.

Why are the notes not black?

Rather than color each note various shades of black, I decided to make the book more colorful by assigning a color to each note. Since there are seven notes, it made sense to use the seven colors of the rainbow.

Where did the name ‘Kaleidonotes’ come from?

‘Kalos’ is Greek for ‘beautiful’, and ‘eidos’ is Greek for ‘form’. So the name ‘Kaleidonotes’ means ‘beautifully formed’ notes! At the time we made the book (2000-2001), we enjoyed creating a new, unusual word.

Why is the viola not included in the orchestra?

The violin and viola looked so similar in my illustrations that we decided to leave the viola out so we could create a second book called: The Kaleidonotes & the Vanishing Violas. That story explores the differences between a violin and viola, and it explains why the viola is so important to the orchestra. The second book is still not published because we are debating whether or not to redesign the size and shape of the books as a series. With the increasing popularity of e-books, we are even considering publishing as e-books and possibly creating interactive Apps for iPad or the iPhone.

MATCHING GAME ACTIVITY

Click on the image to view full size then download and/or print.

Print the page above and below. Color and cut out the instruments and place them in their appropriate place on stage on the orchestra map. Both images were designed to print ‘landscape’ (11 x 8.5 inches), but you may want to enlarge the map on bigger paper (17 x 11)  to accommodate the larger instruments.

Click on the image to view full size then download and/or print.

Almost 25,000 copies of TINY SNAIL in print

After more than a decade, over 18,000 copies of Tiny Snail are inching their way around the world. Many teachers wanted access to a video of the book for the classroom, so in March 2010 I posted videos of my books on YouTube. Polliwog and Kaleidonotes have been viewed a few hundred times, but in eighteen months the Tiny Snail video has been viewed 2,610 times! Tiny Snail is by far my most popular book, and last week she entered her 10th printing. Our shipment of books arrived  Tuesday, October 25th. Unfortunately the truck did not have a lift, so we unloaded 53 boxes (4,300 copies) by hand.

Tiny Snail Boxes on the Truck

Although a couple of boxes were damaged, the books inside were unharmed.

24,786 copies of Tiny Snail are now in print!

TINY SNAIL Date Soft cover Hard cover
1st Printing 3/18/00 2200
2nd Printing 12/27/01 2200
3rd Printing 9/23/02 5495
4th Printing 12/16/04 2000
5th Printing 4/18/05 500
6th Printing 2/28/07 889
7th Printing 1/28/08 4376
8th Printing 10/25/08 950
9th Printing 10/19/10 1860
10th Printing 10/25/11 4300
TOTALS 16371 8399


Go, Tiny, go!

Three Author Visits October 12th and 14th

Norma Terrell (Left) and Tammy Carter Bronson (Right).

On the morning of October 12th I drove through a massive downpour to reach Dobbs Elementary in Rockwall, Texas. I don’t like to unload my posters, boxes, and displays in the rain, but thankfully the school had a covered walkway that I could park very close to. About 230 Pre -K through second grade students were inspired to try creating their own stories. Many thanks to the librarian, Norma Terrell, for investing so much time preparing the students for my visit. The children were divided into three groups:

1st Grade 8:20-9:00
Kinder & Pre-K 9:10-9:55
2nd Grade 10:05-10:55

After quickly signing a few books for teachers and students, I drove to Springer Elementary School for an afternoon author visit in the same district (Rockwall ISD). Thankfully the rain storm ended before I left Dobbs, so unloading was not a problem at Springer.

Springer Elementary, Rockwall, Texas

Kindergarten and 1st Grade 12:45 PM – 1:20 PM
Book Signing
2nd and 3rd Grade 1:45 PM – 2:30 PM

Over 150 students in each group (around 320 students total) squeezed into the library to hear me talk.

My Display in the Springer Elementary Library

My husband, Matthew Shane Bronson, handled the book sales.

Matthew at Springer Elementary

Friday morning (October 14th) I visited Redeemer Montessori School in Irving, Texas. The first two groups met in the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer community room. After speaking to two groups of about 25 children each, I quickly moved my displays to the school’s main building, Story Hall. The last presentation was in the 4th through 6th grade classroom.

8:45 – 9:25 AM  Kindergarten
9:35 – 10:20 AM 1st – 3rd Grades
10:30 – 11:20 4th – 6th Grades

The intimate setting with only about 15 students allowed for great one-on-one interaction with the children. After the program, the students were eager to share the illustrated stories they created for a recent class project. Although this was one of the smallest schools I’ve ever visited (only ~65 students total), it was certainly one of the most rewarding!

Redeemer Montessori, Irving, Texas

Links:

AM Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dobbs Library Website

Dobbs Elementary School Main Website

PM Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Springer Elementary School

AM Friday, October 14, 2011

The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer

Redeemer Montessori School

My Author Visit at Jackson Primary School

Jackson Primary School, Atlanta, Georgia

This afternoon I spoke to about 330 kindergarten and first grade students at Jackson Primary School in Atlanta, Georgia. The students were divided in to four groups:

K 11:45-12:15
K 12:20-12:50
1st 12:55-1:25
1st 1:30-2:00

My visit was sponsored by the Jackson Primary PTA as part of their fine arts program, so today’s presentations focused specifically on illustrating picture books. Although each presentation was only thirty minutes, I packed in lots of great information about…

Storyboards, miniature “practice” books (a.k.a “dummy” books), and final art.

Using colored pencils, watercolor paint, cut-outs, collages, and/or real objects in art.

Artists research the animals or settings they want to draw by checking out books from the library and using video or digital cameras to take pictures.

I also shared different drafts of my drawings. Students saw firsthand that sometimes shapes and colors do not look right the first time I draw it. I draw and redraw the pictures then I test each picture on my audience, both children and adults. If my audience does not understand the picture, I draw it again. Practice, practice, practice!

Ms. Webb (pictured left) in front of the beautiful murals in the Jackson Primary Library.

Many thanks to the librarian, Teresa Webb, for investing so much time preparing the students for my visit. Ms. Webb read Tiny Snail, Polliwog, and Sea Horse, run! to the children. Thank you Jackson Primary PTA for inviting me to your school!