This is the blog home of #kidlitart, a live Twitter chat Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern, for children's book illustrators, picture book authors, author/illustrators and friends. Check back weekly to read transcripts, comment on previous chats and suggest topics for upcoming chats.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

And the winners are...

Our SECRET AGENT selected the winners for this year's #PBDummy Challenge critique review.

Drumroll please!

And the winners are:

Gaia Cornwall with JABARI JUMPS
Male Salas with BAD MOOD, GOOD MOOD

And our Super De-Duper Secret Agent is:
Carrie Hannigan
HSG Agency

A big round of applause for our winners and the wonderful Ms. Carrie Hannigan for sharing her time and expertise with us here at #kidlitart

Thank you so much Carrie, for stepping up!

Also, give yourself a pat on the back for being part of the challenge and for joining us every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) at 9PM eastern time for #kidlitart. We couldn't do this without your participation!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Secret Agent Pitch Entries

You have your 1-2 sentence pitch all ready?

You signed on to complete the challenge back in January?

You have a completed dummy ready to submit to agents and publishers?

If you answered yes to all these questions, leave your pitch in a comment below. Also leave an email so we can contact you with submission information if your pitch is one of the lucky ones chosen by our Secret Agent.

(Entries are now closed. Selected pitches and name of the Secret Agent will be announced during chat on July 19, 2012. Thanks for entering!)

We will be announcing the winners and the Secret Agent in an upcoming chat!

Transcript: 7/5/12

TOPIC: What WIP is on your drawing board right now? #kidlitart 7-5-12

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Guest Vlog - Tara Lazar encourages you to submit

So we've arrived at Step 9 and the end of the challenge. Now it's time for the next challenge. Submitting the dummy you've spent the last 6 months laboring over. Tara Lazar, a soon to be published picture book writer, shares her wisdom and encouragement in this inspiring vlog. Enjoy!

Step 9: The Pitch

And NOW! It's time to introduce your exciting story concept to the world. After all this work, there's one more thing to do: you must come up with a dazzlingly witty and irresistible sentence or two to grab that agent or editor and let them know you have got A WINNER on your hands!

Think of how you'd describe what you've been working on to your best friend, then polish it till it shines. You should be able to encapsulate the characters, conflict, and at least hint at the resolution in the time it would take an elevator to travel a couple of floors. That's because, the next time you find yourself at a conference, that might be just the opportunity you're given.

You to famous editor: "I enjoyed your keynote. And I agree that exciting days are ahead for the picture book market."

Famous editor: Thank you. Are you a picture book author or illustrator?

You: "Why, yes, I am."

FE: "What are you working on?"

This is where you keep your wits about you (no fainting allowed!) and produce the above-mentioned dazzling sentence. (Good manners require you to wait until asked. You do NOT, under any circumstances, ambush an agent or editor at a conference with your sparkly pitch uninvited--you will be labeled unprofessional at best, creepy and stalkerish at worst.)

Or perhaps you're interested in submitting to a house which accepts queries only. Your pitch is the nucleus of your query. In essence, you're providing the editor or agent with your marketing hook. You know the text on the jacket flap, or the back cover of a paperback that makes you want to buy the book? That's basically a pitch to the consumer; you want to be just as engaging with your pitch to the publisher or agency.

Here is an article about pitching in general--not specifically for children's books, but the rules apply. Of particular interest are the six tips at the end. Note the refinement of the term "elevator pitch": http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/11/pitchapalooza-2010-tips-for-perfecting-your-book-pitch/

Did you sign up for the challenge last January?

So, those of you following along for the past six months may recall that when we started this challenge, we said the finished dummy would be its own reward. This is still true. If you've completed a picture book dummy to submit, congratulations! Quite an accomplishment, huh? Seriously--dummies are hard work.

We hope everyone has gotten something out of the challenge, and we expect to hear of exciting submission news from some of you! But we thought maybe you intrepid dummiers (I'm sure that's not a real word) deserved a reward for sticking with it.

I have secured another fabulous agent to review pitches of your finished dummies. If you signed up for the challenge in January, you can share your pitch on the blog. Starting Friday June 29 and continuing through Saturday, July 7, we're asking you to post a pitch for your dummy project. Last year the Secret agent chose her three favorites to critique. The agent I contacted this year didn't want to put a limit on the number she picked in case she liked more than three. So who knows how many pitches might be chosen. Remember, the only stipulation is that you signed on to do the challenge in January and you have a completed dummy to send the the Secret Agent if she chooses your pitch.

Exciting, yes? Feedback like this from an agent who regularly deals with picture book manuscripts and art is invaluable. I wish I could throw my hat in the ring, but I didn't work on a new dummy this time around.

The rest of you, polish those pitches!

Share your perfect pitch in the comments section of the June 29th post for your chance at a professional critique.

And join us Thursday, June 28, at 9 pm Eastern, to further discuss tips for showcasing your work in 20 words or less.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest Post - Courtney Pippin-Mathur Talks about Step 8: Submitting your dummy

Courtney Pippin-Mathur is an illustrator/author living in the east coast with three children, no pets and her first book , "Maya was Grumpy", releasing in Spring of 2013 with Flashlight Press. For more information, please visit, www.pippinmathur.com. 

Please welcome Courtney as she talks about the Picture Book Dummy Challenge STEP 8: Research submissions; prepare dummy package  Jun. 18-Jun. 24

Now that you’ve done all the hard work in getting your dummy ready, it’s time to send it out into the big, bad world.

But how do you start? How do you find the home for your truly awesome book? 

I know, labels suck. But you have to have some idea of where your work would fit in the kid-lit world. Is it quirky? Realistic? Soft? Cartoon-y? Edgy?

Agents and Editors will say what they like, so you need to understand what you’re offering. If you’re not sure, ask your critique buddies or online friends for their opinions.

Start to look for the right agent or the right publishing house. This, my friends, is going to take time. First, make a list of all of the agents or houses that will take your work.

Some places to find that information are :


3   Stalk
After you’ve found most of the open agents or houses (and let’s be honest here, there are not that many for picture books, but as an illustrator you do have a few more willing eyes) you need to go to their websites and find out what they are looking for and if you think your work would be a good match for them.

Cyber Stalking is a good way to do this. Look at all the interviews they have given,

is a great place to start with fabulous interviews by some of the industry’s best.  Go to twitter, go to blogs, practice your google-fu  until you are a master and you can make a list of your top five, 10 or 20 choices.

   Write the Query Letter

In the letter, you can say where you saw them, if you like some of their client’s work but the main things are the title of your book, a 2- 3 sentence blurb or pitch  (the most important part) about your book and the word count. Do not attach your dummy. But certainly mention that you have one.

Keep it simple.

When I participated in the kidlitart picture book dummy session last year, this was my pitch,

“A little princess gets a surprise when her baby brothers turn out to be smashing, drooling, gobbling baby dragons.”

And I was one of the winners. Simple with fun language is almost always your best bet.

Send the Query letter to your critique partners, this is your first introduction so it needs to shine. You can see mine (and many others at Query Tracker success stories)

Follow the direction EXACTLY. If they want you attach the story, do so. If not, don’t.

Then you wait. When I signed with my agent late last year, she responded in 2 days, asked for the dummy and scheduled a phone call a few days later. However, when I was subbing previously, I was sometimes contacted a few days , sometimes a few weeks later. And once 6 months later, so be patient, wait , write a new story, draw new pictures and try not to fret. (yes, I know this is impossible, but you must try)

(My best advice when it comes to dummies, is to have it in a pdf form , either on a secret page on your site or compressed enough that you can e-mail it, and an actual very neat, real copy. (like the one Will Terry described in an earlier post) I have had both requested and was glad I had done all of the work before and could send it off as soon as they asked for it. )

Good Luck and start Hunting! 

Thank you so much Courtney, for sharing your wisdom and your success story. I can't wait to get my copy of Maya was Grumpy!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post - Will Terry Talks about Step 7: Assemble the dummy

Will Terry grew up just outside the beltway of Washington DC in Beltsville Maryland. His plans to become a circus lion tamer were dashed when he found out he was allergic to lions – so he started drawing them instead! Later – someone lied to him and told him he could make lots of money drawing professionally – the beginning of the end. In 1992 after leaving the BYU illustration program he started showing his portfolio around and began getting work. His work has appeared in national advertisements for Sprint, Pizza Hut, M&M Mars, Pepsi, Fed Ex, Master Card and Citibank and Target and in such publications as Time, Money, Wall Street Journal, Mac World, Arizona Highways, Seventeen and Better Homes and Gardens. His work has also been accepted into The Society of Illustrators. He's illustrated board games for Hasbro and educational books for Leapfrog and in the last 10 years he's focused on illustrating over 25 children's books for Random House, Scholastic, Simon Schuster, Albert Whitman, Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, and Dial.

When He's not teaching at UVU, working on children's books or illustrating iPad apps he might be working on his new company – FolioAcademy.com which sells online streaming art tutorial videos. Will enjoys snowboarding, hiking, and backpacking with his three boys in the Utah back country and a warm fire with his wife Laurel.

Wow – what an honor to be asked to guest blog! So much good information already posted by some very talented authors/illustrators – I hope I can add a few thoughts that might also be helpful.
Making book dummies has been very helpful in conveying my stories to editors over the years and while I think it's often a very important step I don't believe it's always necessary:

  1. I ALWAYS make a book dummy when I'm trying to sell my story with my illustrations to a publisher.

    I think it's obvious to most who will be reading this - but combining words and pictures is vital to convey your intentions to an editor. A picture is worth a thousand words and you're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't make an easy to follow representation of your project.
  2. I DON'T make book dummies for my commissioned book projects. To me it's an unnecessary step to go through the process of making a physical book dummy for manuscripts I've received from a publisher to illustrate. Instead, I make a PDF of my sketches with text so I can quickly click through to check pacing, redundancy, inconsistency, flow, and perception. This is a faster method for me and since my publishers only want to see finished sketches.
  3. I BELIEVE there are many ways to make a successful book dummy. I try to avoid getting caught up in “the right way” to do it. I know author/illustrators who have sold books with everything from extremely polished dummy books to simple PDF's. In the end you need to keep in mind that the goal of the dummy is to sell the book and no more. If you've attended writing conferences for any length of time you quickly realize that editors all have different requests for receiving and reviewing book projects. If you prepare your manuscript on the advice of one particular editor you might be creating a submission that's wrong for others. Confusing? Absolutely! The following is a list of do's and don'ts I use in my own submission process. It's not perfect but the following are either things I've learned from editors or things that make sense to me.

The Dos

  • Do - make a book dummy.
  • Do - make it clean and simple.
  • Do – integrate the text where you've designed it to go.
  • Do - make it 32 pages (or other multiples of 4 pages where appropriate)
  • Do – make it on your computer (if you can) so you can print multiple copies (for loss, damage, or multiple submissions – I use Photoshop but you can use a wide variety of programs – InDesign works well too).
  • Do – Include the cover in the dummy book on an extra piece of paper (in addition to the 32 pages).
  • Do – Include one or two color samples ( these could be integrated into the dummy or loose).
  • Do – bind it like a 32 page picture book (staple, glue, sew, etc. gathered in the middle).
  • Do – consider making a digital book dummy i.e. PDF (submission might be difficult if you don't have an editor willing to look at it).

The Don'ts

  • Don't - worry about making it actual size (Give editors some credit for imagination)
  • Don't – glue pages together to join front and back sketches (I believe that gluing paper together makes for a sloppy, heavy, hard to turn disaster for an editor to examine. Print your sketches on the front and back of each page just like an actual picture book. Your dummy book is a reflection of you. Put your best foot forward by sending a clean dummy).
  • Don't – include original sketches in your dummy. (It's the mark of an amateur – if the dummy gets damaged or lost you have no more dummy – show an editor your professionalism by thinking ahead).
  • Don't – hand color your dummy (shows you have way too much time on your hands and again becomes original work).
  • Don't – paste the text into your dummy (it's messy and detracts from the overall feel and look of the presentation)
  • Don't – use a crazy type font (Go with“Times” or something very simple – you won't sell your book based on a funky type face but you can certainly detract from it with the wrong one. Editors work with professional graphic designers. You're not going to impress them with your funky font choice so don't try.)
  • Don't – Include “C – copyright” anywhere in your dummy. (It's the mark of an amateur. Editors don't steal manuscripts. If they like it they'll buy it. Putting “copyright” on your dummy will get you tossed aside quickly – established authors/illustrators don't do it so you shouldn't either – you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning the second time than having your manuscript or idea stolen).
  • Don't – make an elaborate cover, binding, or sleeve for your dummy book. (You want to look like you know what you're doing – professionals don't waste time on superfluous additions that won't be re-created in the printed book but will only distract from your goal – getting your book looked at.
  • Don't - send a book dummy that you aren't proud of (if you know you can do better – do better – this has to be a labor of love – time and money take a back seat to the creation of art!)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Transcript: 5/10/12

TOPIC: Picking the spreads for your #PBDummy color samples. How do you choose? #kidlitart 5-10-12

Monday, May 7, 2012

Guest post - Aaron Zenz introduces #PBDummy Step 6: Creating Final Art Samples

Aaron Zenz is the illustrator of 22 books for children, five of which he authored as well.  He also helps his own kids blog about their favorite stories at the unique family review site Bookie Woogie

When I was asked to address the topic of creating Sample Art, initially I didn't know what I could share.  Personally, when I reach this stage in crafting a book... I wing it.  Every time.  I don't have a system.  It's a different experience for each and every book.

But perhaps that's a valuable piece of advice in itself.  Sample-making is NOT formulaic.  It can't be.  It should be different from project to project, depending on the needs of the individual book at hand.

The most important piece of art instruction I ever received came from one of my college professors: "Form Follows Function."  In other words, first you determine what the project needs, and then you design around it.  You'd think this would be obvious.  Ohhh, yes, you'd think so.  You'd be wrong.  An example:  I used to create educational software for kids, and the creative director was constantly telling people, "Just throw some buttons down there in the corner of the interface... we'll figure out what they do later."  Those products would ALWAYS be the worst.  There should be a reason WHY that button is located precisely where it is.  There should be a purpose behind that lever looking the way it does.  The best artists, illustrators, designers all have a reason for every artistic element they include (or exclude).

So I can't tell you what ought to go into making your piece of Sample Art.  I can't give you a checklist.  It's not a formula.  Story comes first; Art follows, and art takes into account the needs presented by the story.

But as illustrators, we're storytellers, right?  So while I can't share a formula, I can share... stories.  I can share stories about some of the Sample Art I've made, and I can let you know what was going through my mind at the time, and we can look at what changes took place between Sample Art and Final Art.

 The Hiccupotamus, sample art:

What I was thinking: This is for a fun, crazy nonsense story with lots of slapstick action.  So I figured the colors should be really bright.  This was my first book, so I really wanted to create the illustrations in colored pencil - my great love.

Art direction: Initially, I had the whole book laid out in rigid panels, almost like a comic book.  The one piece of art direction I received was to turn some of the illustrations into pieces of spot art.  The book would be less boxy and the story would be able to "breathe."  On my own, I also changed the character design.  The story would involve lots of running for the hippo character, so I realized he needed some legs above those chubby feet.  I also gave him a face that could be more expressive.

The Hiccupotamus, final art:


Nascar ABC and 123, sample art:

What I was thinking:  Cars.  Lots of cars.  If I did this in colored pencil, it was going to kill me.  "The Hiccupotamus" was full of naked purple hippos running through organic jungle settings - freehand drawing made sense.  But cars and trucks and racetracks... all that geometry, all those angles.  I knew I'd need to create the art digitally so I could push and pull the forms around.  So I developed a completely new style just for this book.  I attempted a cut-paper look, working in Photoshop with tools I'd never tried before.

Art direction:  They loved the style.  They wanted humans instead of animals though.

Nascar ABC and 123, final art:


Howie: I Can Read, sample art:

What I was thinking: At first, all I knew from the publisher was that the stories starred a cute little puppy named Howie.  So I thought I'd provide 3 sample illustrations in 3 different styles -- I hoped they would take to one of them.

Art direction:  Of course, they wanted a combo...  rendered like #1, but more cartoony like #3.  And I was now told the author had a Bichon Frise puppy in mind.  Could I accommodate?  Why yes, I could.  My only concern was making sure I drew in such a way that the white dog would show up well against lots of white backgrounds... so I kept that in mind with my next test:

Howie: I Can Read, final sample:


Nugget on the Flight Deck, sample art:

What I was thinking:  This book was a detailed look at life aboard an aircraft carrier.  The publisher wanted realistic art, so I knew I couldn't use my cut paper style.  I figured the heavy load would be manageable if I created all the art at half-size and then scanned it at 200%.

Art direction:  The publisher flipped out.  They hated the sample.  The whole project came to a screeching halt.  To this day, I'm not sure what the real problem was.  I think the editor (not an artist but doing her own art direction) felt it looked too realistic.  Too many folds in the clothing.  And she said she didn't like how much gray and blue was in the picture  (um... this IS about an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean...)

Nugget on the Flight Deck, sample number 2:

Sooo... I got rid of the gray and blue.  She really hated this one too.  Now it was not realistic enough.  All the direction I got: "Somewhere between the two."

Nugget on the Flight Deck, sample number 3:

ding, ding ding!  Winner!

Skeleton Meets the Mummy, sample art:

What I was thinking:  Having just come off a really trying project, I needed a break from colored pencil.  So I was already thinking about working digitally.  Plus, this story takes place at night, so I was thinking shadows would make lots of fun shapes.  I wanted to experiment with something very stylized, very shape driven.  Circle forms for the skeleton, squares for the mummy.

Art Direction:  I went a little too stylized.  They liked the look of the flat colors, but the skeleton couldn't just have a big oval head -- it needed to be skull-like... but still cute.  And they wanted him to have joints - elbows, knees.  And have fingers.  And toes.  And ribs.  And the mummy couldn't be square.

Skeleton Meets the Mummy, final art:


Chuckling Ducklings and Baby Animal Friends, sample art:

What I was thinking:  I had been shopping this manuscript around for years and had received feedback more than once saying the dummy sketches were too cartoony.  So these new art samples were an attempt to move away from cartoony to cute.

Art direction:  The publisher loved the story.  Loved the art samples.  But they didn't think the two matched in terms of age level.  They felt the story was for older kids, and the art looked too young.  I needed to try to gear the art older.

My plan: Create 5 to 7 new images of ducklings in completely different styles, give them all to the publisher at once, and let the publisher pick the one they thought matched best.

Chuckling Ducklings, new sample 1:

Chuckling Ducklings, new sample 2:

WAIT!!!!   Man - I loved those ducks!  Not only did I love them, they were my favorite thing I'd drawn up to that point in my life.  I decided I couldn't risk it -- I couldn't draw 5 more styles and take the chance that the publisher would pick a different look.  So I sent off the two new samples.  The publisher loved the same one I did, and the project was greenlit.  Here are the four cubs in the new style:


Hopefully this little trip down Sample Lane has proved insightful.  Granted, you won't find any answers or blatant instruction.  But maybe there are some lessons hiding in here...  For instance, you'd NEVER want to create sample illustrations for the WHOLE book.  As you can see, I've never had a sample approved exactly as it is.  One sample image, possibly two would be sufficient.

I'm sure there are lots of other little lessons hiding in "stories behind the stories."  I can't wait for yours!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Transcript: 5/3/12

TOPIC: How do you organize your studio and schedule for the most efficient work flow? #kidlitart 5-3-12

Friday, April 27, 2012

Transcript: 4/26/12

TOPIC: What advice do you have to critique wisely plus how do you maximize feedback from a critique? #kidlitart 4-26-12

Friday, April 13, 2012

Transcript: 4/12/12

TOPIC: Time to send out postcards again. How do you keep positive when you get nothing but silence in response? #kidlitart 4-12-12

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guest post: Mark G. Mitchell - Full Sized Dummy Sketches

Please welcome Mark Mitchell to KidLit Art. He is the author-illustrator of the Spur award winning book Raising La Bell. He illustrated for many years for the children's history
magazines Cobblestone and Appleseeds. He teaches an online course on illustrating children's books, Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! ( http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/NewCoursehome2/ ) Visit his blog http://HowToBeAChildrensBookIllustrator.WordPress.Com
From Scribble to Sketch

Now comes a critical stage for your illustration – turning your tiny thumbnail idea into a full scale drawing.

Your thumbnail was the “scribble sketch” inside the tiny frame you drew – hardly more than one line that expressed the energy, impulse or attitude of your characters and the scene that sprang to life in your mind's eye.

In dashing down the line you were carving up your picture space, riffing your composition. You were finding ways to link gestures together into one abstract linear shape that caught the action of your scene. (The shape itself was a gesture.)

(For information on gesture drawing, see Kimon Nicolaides landmark book The Natural Way to Draw.)

Now you must expand that gesture to fill your larger picture space. You start by trying to recreate your thumbnail – the actual experience of that first gesture scribble, with its impetus, spontaneity and energy.

Now you have to recreate that gestural thumbnail on the larger surface, along with the impetus, the spontaneous energy of your first thumbnail scribble.

But you'll flesh out your gestural lines with solid contour silhouettes and details that will make your picture elements recognizable and believable.

So here it helps to bring in your visual references.

A Google image hunt and freeze-frames from YouTube videos come in handy here, as do the old standby's such as photocopies from other book illustrations, your own photos and sketches, family photo albums, school year books and other peoples' photos in Flickr, and other photo sharing sites.

Remember you're not “copying” anything – you're looking for visual information and inspiration here, edges and contours, silhouette shapes for all of the different puzzle pieces you must fit together for your illustrations. It can be one of the most creative stages of your illustration process, so have fun and get inspired.

Now with your raw material spread out around you (your thumbnail scribble and your references) turn to your larger sheet. It can be tracing paper or copy paper.

Start by drawing your page border, then your picture's border as you think it would appear on the page. Give this perimeter the same “aspect ratio” as your thumbnail sketch.

Consider how you'll fill the space with positive and negative shapes – and
if you want to include a text block in your composition.

Consider the “Golden Section” point on the horizontal of your picture, about 62 percent of the way across. It's often a good place for your illustration's center of interest – the dominant character(s) or main action.

Now with a light pencil mark, draw the horizon or eye level line – a big horizontal across your entire picture surface. It's not a bad idea to let the line run off your illustration in both directions.

Now you've determined the “point of view” that you and your viewer will “come at” this scene from.

You may not need linear perspective for every illustration. But always mark in your horizon or eye level line. It lets your viewer know if she's looking down or up at your scene or “straight on” it.

Keeping the eye level in mind allows you to fit all of your picture's “puzzle pieces” into the space more believably.

Benchmarks in place, you're ready to sketch, block out your scene in one uninterrupted passage.

Start by recreating your experience of each gesture (from your thumbnail). As you draw, feel the poses, actions and interactions inside you as you get them down, left to right.

Try to interlock these gestures, if you can. Link up the impulses, energy, movement and interaction – connect the gestures into one unified line if you can, the way you did your thumbnail.

Carve up the space swiftly and loosely, as you did on your thumbnail, working left to right – until you have it all down in light pencil.

Don't spend more than a minute on this. Don't worry about what it looks like.

You're done blocking in your composition with gesture. You've captured the “inner” lines, the “frozen music” (to borrow Frank Lloyd Wright's definition of architecture) of your story scene.

Erase back some of these gesture lines if you want.

Now comes the stage where you assemble your mosaic of details. Pull your reference all around you so that it's handy and viewable.-- and go right back to express more of your layout, moving left to right as before.

Work on one picture element at a time – consulting your references, articulate, delineate contours, edge details as you move from left to right.

Keep a loose, relaxed, playful attitude. It's the same mindset you had when you riffed out your gesture thumbnail. Enjoy and celebrate these forms as you develop them a little more in their dimensional fullness, adding surface accents and detail.

Keep more attention on your references than your drawing. Don't worry about what your drawing looks like yet.

Don't be distracted, keep moving from left to right. Cover all of the picture space, the whole of it, before you go back to fiddle with a part.

Stay loose. Don't overdraw – or shade your forms. You're not creating your final art here, but the outline (the blueprint) for your painting.

And you'll be done before you know it – with what many feel is the hardest stage of illustration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 5


Note: This is a repeat of the Step 5 post from the first #PBDummy challenge, available along with the other posts from last year in the handy ebook co-host Wendy Martin put together. Enjoy!

We've arrived at tight pencils: creating (traditionally or digitally) the full-size sketches you'll use as templates for your finished art. We're devoting the biggest chunk of time in the #PBdummy schedule to this stage (eight weeks), because this is where you'll work out all your layout and composition issues, and because these will be the drawings that comprise your dummy--and sell the project.

No pressure!

By now you should be thoroughly familiar with your characters and have a sense of the flow and what needs to go on each spread. You may not have given much thought to the settings, yet. And you'll need to start grappling with the mechanics of the layout: text placement, margins, gutters and bleeds, oh, my!

So there's lots to cover, lots of drawing and second-guessing and general agonizing ahead. But lots of fun, too. You might find it helpful to browse your collection of favorite picture books, to remind yourself of the amazingly diverse art and design solutions used by successful illustrators.

Here are some other sources of inspiration:

Illustrating Children's Books: Creating Pictures for Publication, by Martin Salisbury

The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children's Books: From creating characters to developing stories, a step-by-step guide to making magical picture books, by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton and Yadzia Williams

Illustrating Children's Picture Books: Tutorials, Case Studies, Know-How, Inspiration, by Steve Withrow and Lesley Breen Withrow

Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration, by Dilys Evans

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, compiled by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

And three from the immortal Will Eisner:

Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative

Comics and Sequential Art

Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest post: Julian Hector on storyboard layout

I know that this is listed as step four, but storyboarding is something that I like to jump into as soon as possible. When creating a picture book, It's important not to compartmentalize the text from the illustrations, and the storyboard environment allows for both to happen at once.

Before you start, in order to draw your thumbnails proportionally, It's helpful to have a rough idea of your book's trim size. It's ok if you don't have the exact measurements, but at least decide on either a portrait or landscape orientation. (Note: If it's an illustration-only assignment, then it's common for the job to land on your desk with predetermined dimensions.)

Try not to get stuck on your less sure, 'in between' scenes:
Most of the time, we aren't lucky enough to have our books floating in our heads, fully formed, but we usually have a good grasp of the key scenes - jot those scenes down and worry about the others later. In my book, The Gentleman Bug, I knew exactly how I wanted the ending to look, but I was less sure about the rest, so I developed it from back to front.

Digitizing the storyboard process can save a lot of time:
Adobe Illustrator's multi art-board tool is amazing for this. With it, you can quickly arrange 32 squares and begin placing your text and illustrations, all while having the ability to zoom in and out, and print your roughs at actual size.

Abstract your scenes:
This is helpful at almost every stage of your picture book's development. Whether you're just starting to arrange the text and illustrations, or you're farther along, simple shapes are a great way to asses the flow of your book.

This is an example from The Little Matador, where I used basic shapes to quickly capture the placement of the main characters. Doing this, makes the pacing very clear, and It's great for catching problems of scale - like having too many back-to-back close-ups of your main character, or not enough. Again, working digitally is a time-saver here.

Think of your thumbnail storyboards as an information map:
Use arrows to connect a cause on one page with it's effect on another, highlight the climax pages in bold red, do whatever it takes to help get a deep understanding of what needs to happen in order to make your picture book work.

Finally, try not to get too precious about anything. Stay messy, avoid attachment, and approach your thumbnail storyboards with the knowledge that anything you fall in love with could be axed later on. :)

Julian Hector is one of the youngest author/illustrators working in children’s publishing today. Five years ago, he was plucked out of college by an editor at Disney-Hyperion, and he’s been writing and illustrating children’s book ever since. His most recent book is C.R. Mudgeon, written by Leslie Muir, and you can visit his website here: www.Julianhector.com.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 4


The next two weeks will be devoted to tiny sketches of your proposed layouts.

This is an important step. The purpose of the storyboard is to view the entire sequence of pages at once in order to judge the flow. That's why we call them thumbnail storyboards--ideally, they should fit on one page. You can see at a glance how the scenes are distributed, the balance of spreads vs. single pages, the movement of the action, and how the focus shifts from one scene to the next.

You will notice passages where there's not much happening--no real need for a change of scene . . . or passages where too much is crowded into one scene. You will probably need to go back and adjust your manuscript--that's the point of this stage: seeing how the text and art play off each other.

Now is a good time to brush up on the basics of how a (printed) picture book is put together. One of the best breakdowns is provided by our friend Tara Lazar in this popular post. And here is a storyboard tutorial from an acknowledged master, Uri Shulevitz.

Once you understand the space you have to work with, you can create your own template, scaled down proportionately from the finished page size you have chosen.

Start simply: a circle to indicate action contained on one page and an arrow to show action continuing across the spread. Maybe jot notes to yourself: bird's eye view, character close-up, etc. Gradually refine these scribbles and notes until even someone who doesn't know the story is able to "read" the action.

I don't know about you, but this is the stage when it hits me: I'm working on a BOOK, by golly!

Isn't that exciting?!?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Transcript: 2/23/2012

TOPIC: From blank page to finished image. What path do you take to get there? #kidlitart 2-23-12

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Transcript: 2/16/12

TOPIC: What's your go-to tip for getting to know your characters? #kidlitart 2-16-12

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guest post: John Lechner on character design


Characters are at the heart of any story. If readers cannot connect with your characters, they won't care about the story, no matter how creative or exciting it is.

In a novel, the author can spend pages and pages describing a character's personality, background, motivations, hopes and dreams. In a picture book, words are few and precious, so the pictures need to do a lot of the work, showing both the visible and invisible.

That's not to say your character should be an open book. A character can have secret thoughts and hopes and dreams, but you the artist should know what they are. You should know everything about your character. This is difficult when you are not the author, but as illustrator you are co-creator of the characters and can impart your own ideas and personality into them.

Your art style will have a huge effect on your character design, whether your work is realistic, cartoonish, painterly, etc. But try to consider them as separate problems. Even within the realm of your style, there are hundreds of variations on whether a character is tall, short, has a big head or pointy chin or beady eyes.

The good news and the bad news is that there are no "rules" about what makes a visually appealing character. We know it when we see it. And even when you've been doing it a while, it's still hard work. But here are a few tips for designing great picture book characters.

1. Keep an open mind, don't rely on the kind of characters you always draw. Think of how you can push your characters further.

2. Consider the internal and external aspects of a character, which don't necessarily need to match. You might have a beautiful villain or an ugly hero, as long as they fit the story.

3. Simplify. Look for simple shapes and lines that can lend an abstract elegance to your characters.

4. Think about what physical actions the character needs to do – run? Jump? Sit in one place? Just as a cheetah and a hummingbird are built for what they need to do, so can your character be designed for a purpose.

5. Make a LOT of drawings of your characters, in all kinds of poses. Each time you draw them, you'll have a stronger understanding of their physical structure and they will become stronger.

6. Try giving your character some unique feature or trait or piece of clothing, so he or she will stand out from the crowd.

7. Try exaggeration of certain features, bigger or smaller.

8. Try drawing in a different medium than usual, to give your brain a different outlook on the character. Even if you won't be illustrating the book that way, it might give you a visual idea that you wouldn't have thought of.

9. Look at real people and animals for inspiration, not only for visual appearance but for how they move.

10. Trust your instincts and listen to your characters – when they become alive in your mind, you'll know how to draw them.

Good luck and have fun!

John is the author of four books for children: A Froggy Fable, Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, The Clever Stick, and Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril. By day, he designs games, websites, software and animated films for children's media company FableVision. Check out his blog for updates on John's online comic strip, films, puppet design and other projects.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 3


Here we are at Step 3! It's time to give your characters a little face time. You may have been creating character studies all along--that's great. Although we've divided the challenge up into steps so we can discuss different stages more easily, putting a story together is a fluid process. Wherever you are in your story, what we'd like to encourage you to do in the next two weeks is to let go of the responsibilities of plot, message and theme, and really focus on your characters visually.

Your goal is to become thoroughly familiar with expressions, clothes, and body language. The more specific you can be about your characters, the more opportunity you offer your reader (or viewer/listener) to identify with them. Research details of clothing, fur, feathers or scales. Pick out defining features to emphasize. And don't neglect secondary characters: no one in your book should be generic. Supporting characters say a lot about the main characters, indirectly, and can even generate visual subplots of their own.

Last year, we pointed out that cartoonists are masters of character development, and gave you some references you might find useful, whatever your style. These books/links are listed again, below.

But this year we have a special treat--tune into the blog on Wednesday (February 15), for a guest post from the multi-talented writer/illustrator/animator/musician/ puppeteer/swell guy John Lechner, whose thoroughly believable and engaging characters include a parasitic seed pod and a clever stick. He's mastered the art of drawing a reader in to the most unlikely situations: I defy you to dip into any of the online adventures of Sticky Burr and NOT end up caring about the little fellow and all his friends in Burrwood Forest.

John's wit and humor shine through his characters. He'll be here to share the importance of getting to know yours better before you send them out into the world.

I can't wait.

Happy sketching, everyone--and be sure to join us at #kidlitart on Thursday, February 16, for a #PBDummy chat to discuss John's tips and update fellow dummiers on your progress!  


Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, by Scott McCloud

The Art of Animal Character Design, by David Colman

Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures, Volumes i & II, ed. by Don Hahn

Character Design: a blog devoted to interviews with character designers  

*Please feel free to share your own favorite go-to resources in the comments section.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Transcript: 2/9/12

TOPIC: What are your fav non-#kidlit sources of information and inspiration? #kidlitart 2-9-12

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Transcript: 2/2/12

TOPIC: What was your all time best conference tip? #kidlitart 2-2-12

Monday, January 30, 2012

PBDummy Step 2: Halfway check

So, we’re two weeks into the four-week writing phase of creating a picture book dummy.

It’s hard work, isn’t it? Contrary to popular opinion (the people you meet at cocktail parties), writing picture books is not exactly an entry-level exercise into children’s publishing. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult genre in all of kidlit—so don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to find your way through a picture book manuscript.

For inspiration, we can’t do much better than directing you back to the resources listed in the Step 2 post: revisit the sites, flip back through the how-to books. Now that you’ve made a start, some piece of advice may jump out at you, or strike you in a different way.

If you’re lucky enough to have completed a viable draft already, use this remaining time to do one of two things: let the text rest unseen for a few days. Come back to it with fresh eyes after it’s marinated a bit. Or while you’re taking a break from your manuscript, put it in another reader’s hands—preferably someone who doesn’t have any idea what you were trying to say when you wrote it. Even better, have a third party read your story to a child in your target age group.

Things will change once you start developing the visual context of the story. Try thinking of it this way: your job as a writer is to prepare a foundation worthy of the beautiful artwork to come! :-)

Best of luck to all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Transcript: 1/26/12

Topic: Who decides winners? ALA, NYTimes or the man on the street? #kidlitart 1-26-12

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Transcript: 1/19/12

TOPIC: How do you protect your art online? #kidlitart 1-19-12

Monday, January 16, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 2

Note: You may sign up for the #kidlitart picture book dummy challenge through midnight, Eastern time, on January 16. You do not have to be registered to participate in the challenge--only to be eligible for the Agent Pitch Contest. Click here for sign-up and FAQs.

The following post is an edited version of last year's Step 2 post, which is also included in the #PBDummy ebook compiled by Wendy Martin.



Now that you have an idea for the picture book, the emphasis for the next four weeks will be on writing the story. For the challenge, we’ll assume most of you are creating original text, but those of you illustrating existing folk tales for your portfolios, working on nonfiction, or developing concept books, all need to be concerned with story—even a wordless picture book requires a script!

Some of you may be participating in Julie  Hedlund's #12x12in2012 challenge to draft one picture book a month during 2012. If so, consider this your February assignment!

How to write a story for children is beyond the scope of the picture book dummy challenge. There are excellent resources available, though—and the best advice is to READ, READ, READ! Read current picture books and classics. Read prize-winners and family favorites. Read aloud! Read to kids if you have ’em. Conventional wisdom says you must read at least 100 picture books before you attempt to write one.

Some things to keep in mind:

• Picture book plots are usually linear; they move forward through time (no flashbacks).

• Subplots may be implied (or carried through the illustrations), but the text adheres to a simple, single plot line.

• Picture books must have a child as the main character—a child or a child stand-in (a pet, furry woodland creature, etc.). An adult main character can work only if he/she exhibits childlike characteristics or behavior (Amelia Bedelia).

• Picture books address universal themes of childhood.

• Problems are solved by the main character, not by a wiser adult.

• Modern picture books are short: 500 words or less is not unusual.

• Beginning-middle-end structure results in a short story; a picture book plot contains tension that can be charted on a curve: rising action (exterior or interior) leading to a climax and quick resolution.

• Picture books most often use third-person point-of-view.

• Just as in a chapter book or novel, the main character should experience growth: change of attitude; newfound confidence; greater understanding, etc.

• Don’t be tempted to rhyme your text unless you’re willing to work to make the rhyme and meter perfect.

• There are exceptions to every “rule” about writing picture books!

Build your library:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book: Vols. I, II & III , by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock
Volume I: Structure
Volume II: Word, Sentence, Scene, Story
Volume III: Figures of Speech
This series uses classic children’s books as examples to examine structure and grammatical building blocks.

How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published, by Barbara Seuling
Contains a useful section focused specifically on picture books.

How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books and Get Them Published, edited by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman
Though dated in regard to some business details (first published in 1988), this book contains valuable insights into genres and styles, as well as solid writing advice.

Writing for Children & Teens: A Crash Course, by Cynthea Liu
A breezy intro to the full spectrum of children’s books, with pithy comments on mistakes to avoid.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison
Ebook based on the popular series of posts, "30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book," from Darcy’s writing blog, Fiction Notes.

Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen
A unique approach to writing visually.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz
A classic and still one of the best introductions to picture book creation.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb
Not specifically about picture books, but a fantastic reference for anyone writing for children.

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication, by Ann Whitford Paul
One of the newer entries in this category, and fast becoming a favorite.

Links to check out: