Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Illustrator's Process – Envisioning a Picture Book Dummy

I love to know how other illustrators start work on a project. I know there are many ways to approach the task. This is mine.

At present I am making a dummy for a manuscript I have written. I’ve already visualized the illustrations in my mind. I have thought a great deal about the project, gathered reference scrap, my own photos, reference books and even magazine pictures – anything that inspires me. I have organized them into file folders, labeled by character or composition ideas or by a specific illustration I have in mind. At this point I sometimes do character studies to make sure the characters are recognizable each time they’re drawn. I then look at my collection of picture books and try to analyze if my illustrations and text would best be suited to a vertical or horizontal format. Are the pictures sweeping across the page? Do they need space? Is it an intimate, cozy story that should be a small format? I think the manuscripts tell you how they want to be depicted.

Dog Scrap!

When I’m ready to progress to the dummy stage, I divide the manuscript in page breaks that keeps the right pace within 32 pages. I’m ready to do thumbnail storyboards next, to get an overview of the layout. I pay special attention to the scale of the illustrations, the flow from one picture to the next. I try to vary the complexity of the design. Pictures need to show progression and movement.

...and back to the drawing board!

I do preliminaries on tracing paper because you can check the back for the accuracy of your drawing. Another way to check for accuracy is looking at the artwork in the mirror – it’s a great way to see what’s wrong. This was one of my artist mother’s first and best tips. I cut up the text to fit the pictures and continue changing and reworking the dummy until it looks like a small facsimile of the book I have envisioned.

Dummy version 3 (of 4)

Several points I try to keep in mind as I plan and work:

  • The words and pictures work together. They must complement each other.
  • The pictures that face one another must work together! They must complement each other.
  • Plan colors carefully – they convey mood.
  • Watch the gutters! Keep details out of that area.
  • Always include extra surprises or interesting details not in the text.
  • The word illustration comes from the Latin, and means to light up or illuminate – that’s what we’re trying to do!
I have to get back to illustrating – I haven’t had illustrator’s block, I’ve just been busy with book promotion. I’m eager to get back to the work. I did some painting last month, but this is a different process. It’s complex, and involves submerging in a whole new world. The world of my manuscript.

I’d love to know if anyone has favorite tips or examples of how they get the job done!

1 comment:

  1. I love your mother's idea of holding artwork up to the mirror. I can imagine that's a useful trick - I have to try it! It's so interesting to learn about the different approaches artists take.