Stages of Illustrating a Picture Book

It Begins with a Story

Every good picture book begins with the story idea and manuscript. The characters, setting, story problems, and ending all impact the illustrations. The examples in this post are from a Make Art That Sells Illustrating Children’s Books class I took. The manuscript was written by one of the teachers, Zoë Tucker. We had a few stories to choose from, but I immediately felt drawn to Bob, the adventuring balloon and his person, Bug.

Character design

Once you familiarize yourself with the story, the next step is to dream up the main character. Bob lives in a lighthouse, so dressing him in nautical themed outfits made sense to me. Before Bug finds him at a fair, he dresses as a pirate. What little kid doesn’t like pirates? Then one he moves to the lighthouse with Bug, he starts dressing as a sailor. Pirates and sailors are adventurous travelers, what Bob dreams of becoming. Bob has the added advantage of being able to fly!

Character relationships

Now that you’ve brought the main character to life, you can begin thinking about the other characters in the story. Bug is Bob’s human. What would she be like? How would she interact with Bob? In the early sketches of her she has her bug-like accessories, but in the end I decided to simplify her. Bob is the star. Bug loving the outdoors and being cute as a Bug are nods to her name.

Picture book vignettes

This is an unfinished vignette based on an early part of the story where Bug is first introduced. I decided to illustrate a double spread for the class assignment, but spent time experimenting with how I’d illustrate other parts of the story as well. Vignettes are a good way for illustrators to enter into the story without needing to illustrate entire backgrounds and complete settings. The focus is on the character.

Picture book spreads

This is the double page spread I illustrated for the course. It is one of my favorite parts of the story. Bug is reading to Bob, and he is dreaming of adventure. It is a poignant moment because I think of children dreaming of their future lives. Lives lived apart from their families and home. A bittersweet but necessary part of growing up.

Picture book cover

Here’s Bob on his book cover! Using the balloon as the O in BOB really makes him the focal point. Bug is trying to hold on to him and keep him grounded, but he is ready to see the world. The lighthouse plays an important role in the story by guiding Bob back home to Bug.

Helen Deasy
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