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  • Writer's pictureT. A. Hernandez

Writing and Illustrating a Picture Book: Part 3 - Illustrating

Most people who write picture books hire out an illustrator, but for some, doing your own illustrations makes sense. If you're artistically inclined and think you want to illustrate your own picture book, read on. Even if you don't, understanding how the whole process works might help you choose the right illustrator when it comes time to do so.

Time Investment

The first thing to understand about illustrating is that it's a huge time investment. A lot of that probably depends on your style, how quickly you work, how experienced you are, and so on. But for me, illustrating was far more complicated and time consuming than writing the book. FAR more. As in it took me two years to do all of the illustrations for Courageous Cody. It's important to consider that time investment before you start illustrating and as you're weighing the pros and cons of doing your own illustrations. How disciplined are you when it comes to taking on a big project like this? How quickly do you think you can get the illustrations done? Are you okay with that time-frame?

And be realistic about it. It's easy to say you're going to knock out all of your illustrations in a month, and if you can, great. But life gets in the way sometimes and that might not be realistic. I really thought I could get all of the illustrations for my book done in six months to a year, max, and I even started out pretty strong. But art has never been a soul-consuming, driving force for me the way writing is, and I got tired of it and had to take breaks regularly, or I got called away by other projects that I was more passionate about at the time. But that was okay for me, as it might be for some other creators. I wasn't in a huge rush to finish it by a certain deadline, and I was perfectly content to work at my own pace. I envision it will be the same for any future picture books I decide to write. I'll work on them at my leisure and not stress out about deadlines too much. That works for me, but it might not work for everyone, so just try to envision what your process will look like and decide whether or not it's something you really want to commit to before you get started.

Storyboards and Sizing

I cannot stress enough the importance of making a storyboard for your picture book. This was something I learned about when I did my high school senior project, and I'm so glad I did because I would have been totally lost without it. A storyboard is basically just a layout of your entire picture book from start to finish so you can see where all the words and pictures are going to fit. If you can find a pre-made template with mock pages that are the exact proportions you need, that's easiest, but you can make your own with a little math. I used my storyboard to roughly sketch out the illustrations I wanted so that I had a clear, visual plan for how to proceed. Then, as I finished illustrations, I would shrink them down and place them into the storyboard in Photoshop so I could see how it was all coming together. I found it motivating to see all of my super crappy, black-and-white sketches slowly turn to glorious color as I finished each illustration, and seeing the entire storyboard all filled in at the end of the process was so fun and rewarding.

You can make your own storyboard, or you can look for one online, which is what I did. Above is an example of what that might look like. I had to add a couple of pages to mine to make it work, but it served my needs well enough. You should try to find one that's proportionate to the dimensions your book will actually be printing in. And that brings up another good point about illustrating. Before you even get started, you're going to have to know how big you want the book to be so you can plan out your artwork accordingly. You'll also want to know whether or not you want bleed, which means that the illustrations extend all the way out to the edges of the page rather than stopping before the edge, leaving you with a white border all the way around. Either way can work, but if you want illustrations with bleed, you'll need to add a .125" trim area around all outer edges of your illustrations and then make sure you don't put anything important in that trim area.

In my next post, we'll look at some other considerations you'll need to be aware of before you decide to illustrate your picture book. Or, in other words, we'll be looking at all the things I did wrong that I wish I had known earlier, and hopefully that will save someone else from making similar mistakes. What did you think of this blog post? Was it useful? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below if you want.

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