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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.


  1. Wonderful tips, Julian--I especially like the idea of abstract shapes to capture the flow of the layouts.


  2. This is great advice, Julian. I'm printing it out and sharing with my crit group! Thanks.

  3. OOHH! I love this. Your process reminds me of Molly Bang's Picture This: How Pictures Work. Genius.
    :) Carter

    1. Thanks, Carter!! I'm going to check that book out. I'm already hooked on the cover!

  4. Thanks for the great tips, Julian.

  5. What a great way to get the flow of the story down. Thank you for your time effective tip.