It seems that I haven’t strayed from my process in over 30 years.
Though my time and focus at different points and places of the process varies from project to project. Of course, it may not suit you, but it might be interesting to know!
This is pretty much it:
Internalise the story (make it your own)
Find/imagine/create the characters and the settings
Research the bits you need to know
Fill in visual memory gaps by looking for reference and drawing till you can work from memory and imagination
Choose a medium to suit the story (I try out a few usually)
Draw your characters acting moments of the story till you know them inside out – particularly body language
Make a dummy – just for the text break up
Storyboard the moments from page to page – considering pace, viewpoint etc.
Only when you feel pretty confident that you are on track with ideas and roughs, show your publishing team (usually editor and hopefully, art director).
Roughs to finished roughs - develop each page idea – now and again ask for feedback from publisher. Maybe designer gets involved (with type & layout suggestions) - really consider how it’s working
In my experience the editor will keep the author informed and involved – and give relevant feedback to me
Support in the Process
Mentors can be a good, creative support for both new and established artists.
For example, though I like to draw and paint by hand, learning how to use Photoshop has been really helpful – though for me, at a very basic level.
New technology is a challenge particularly for many established illustrators. But both new and established artists are all challenged by the unknown and new.
Many of us feel in the middle of two worlds. I don’t believe we need to be experts but we can benefit greatly from knowing a lot more about digital production and process.
We all have limited talents, particular strengths and plenty of weaknesses. You can fluctuate from minute to minute about whether something you’ve just done is pretty good or really dreadful!
It’s hard to judge your own work and it’s not very useful to show uncooked ideas and work to others.
You really need just one or two trusted people who are on your wavelength and who understand your aims. You don’t really need pats on the back or someone else’s solutions that could lead you way off track.
So, having someone who can art direct you through your project is what I value most as far as mentoring goes. Art direction for illustrators is as important as editing for writers I believe. Good art directors want YOU to find your answers. They question and prod you. They respect your voice. They help you grow and guide you when you venture bravely into new places.
Sometimes my editor has been a visual person and confident at reading what I am wanting to say and is a great art director. But often, editors are more comfortable with words and will expect me to find my way myself or, if I’m lucky, will have me work with an art director.
It’s so good to work with someone who knows the illustration process intimately – the stages of creating the story. That in fact this process seems to be the same or similar in text as in pictures. To have someone understand you during the doldrums - to point out it’s common, just part of the creative process, because you are going somewhere new, is important too.
The picture book itself is a stage. It’s a story acted out across 32 pages.
Illustrating books is, I imagine very like film-making. Pace, contrast, focus, texture, lighting, continuity… And, in relation to character, creating the characters, dressing them, discovering their body language, emotions, movements and again, continuity…
There’s an awful lot of work for the illustrator in telling a story. So, having that support can be the making of the project.
Sometimes there’s a confusion about the role of book designer. It’s important to understand that the visual story comes first and the design elements support it. The book designer’s role is complex – and involves so much – especially the overall ‘look’ of the book.
The placement of text in relation to image, the choice of font and size of text…
Then there’s the all-important cover and endpapers – all very much part of the story as far as I’m concerned. And the designer also has to consider the marketing concerns of attracting the customer – current trends in design – colour – relating the look to the targeted age level. It’s a delicate balance, this collaboration of visual roles. I see mine as the narrative and the designer’s as the support to make the visual narrative work best.