There are two main categories of children’s books, the picture book or story book. In short, picture books are supported by the pictures and would make no sense without them. Story books are held together by the story and the illustrations serve in a somewhat subordinate role. Neither of these should be limited to what the story tells us.
A picture book may say something like, “The apple was huge” and the image may show the apple taller than buildings and perhaps show workers loading large dump trucks with pieces of apple. A story book may say something like “ The bright red apple was larger than any building in town and the workers had to work day an night to remove the apple before the big day”. While the image would need to communicate these things, it’s still a good idea to add to the image. Perhaps as complicated as adding a huge worm in the apple, snapping at the workers and making their jobs harder, or as simple as adding a small but noticeable worm on a sidewalk, slithering away in horror of how big the apple is.
Thumbnails- The very first art I do after talking to a client about there project is the initial idea thumbnail sketch. I also take lots of notes from the children’s story and from the client on what they would like to see in the illustration. The notes make it easy for me to refer to specific colors mentioned for the scene, specific characters and objects mentioned in the story etc. Most of the smaller elements may not be incorporated into the illustration until the next drawing stage, but it’s good to keep them in the back of your mind. This first image is extremely rough as you can see below.
Then before doing any research I continue to make thumbnail sketches (smaller than a business card) , loosely putting my initial ideas on paper. This helps weed out the bad ideas and develop them into good ones. Generally clients have a very static idea in mind of how each image should look. That’s where it’s good to take notes on there thoughts, but then be sure to give them other unique and creative solutions that would work just as well or even better. This takes more time but it ensures you get fresh results instead of just the first idea that pops into your head. Generally the first idea you have isn’t necessarily the best or most unique. If you get stuck for ideas at this point try some of the tips from my post titled “Generating ideas and Inspiration.” Below you will see a few of the thumbnail sketches I did for my image “The Search for Rudy”. The clients asked for an image of Rudy sleeping behind a trash can in an alley, while kids and a helicopter are searching for him. In my thought process I figured it may be cool to have an image looking down on the town from the helicopter or a bell tower. This is also a good point to start drawing elements at different scales. You’ll notice the difference between the giraffe in 15 and 16. The clients loved these ideas but decided to stay with their original idea, so Rudy would be center stage.
Refined Sketch- Once they chose from about fifteen thumbnail sketches we go onto a more detailed sketch maybe two in which I include facial expressions, correct size relationships etc. when we narrow it down to one image I go into a much more detailed sketch. Sometimes I get reference photos before I even begin sketching the thumbnails but by the time I get to these final sketches I have to get even more references for the image.
References consist of googled images, movies, national Geographic’s, travel books, art books, figurines, textured fabrics, objects, nature etc. Take lots of photos, and use more than one model or more than one costume. In some cases I even make clay sculptures of characters, cardboard sculptures of buildings etc. to help get lighting right on the objects and to help draw characters in weird positions from any angle.
Value Sketch- Now I decide if I need to do a black and white shaded sketch or if I can go right to the color sketches. For this image I had a pretty good idea what the values should be and I did experiment a bit during the thumbnail stage. For the more complex images I almost always do a value sketch to make the color stage easier. Sometimes I do more than one of these for the client to choose from. I might have a sketch of a room interior and the shading will show if the room is lit or not among other things.
Color/Hue- Now that I have a final sketch that the client and I are happy with, I move on to color samples. The idea here is that you want to give yourself and the client a pretty good idea what the final overall color scheme will be. Don’t worry about the details at this point, you want to see what a purple shirt looks like up against the background colors, we don’t need to know the color of the buttons on the shirt. Experiment the same as you did with the thumbnail sketches. If you’re doing an illustration of a UFO it might be cool to have a greenish tint to a night sky rather than a dark blue or black. For one of my recent logo designs I did thirty color samples. For some tips and tricks with color check out my post titled color tips and tricks.
Once I have a refined sketch, a good value study, a good color sample and some photo reference to work from, I’m clear to go onto the final image. Generally I work on a pretty good size canvas around 18”x24”, so I usually use a projector to draw the final image onto the canvas. When I work with watercolor I usually work around 8”x11”, I find that sometimes it works nicely to print the drawing directly onto watercolor paper.