kids books

The Making of "Spotted!"

Please raise your hand if in your childhood you wished to discover and care for a secret magical creature of your own? *both of own hands in the air* Now keep your hand up if you wish for the same thing as an adult? No? Only me? C'mon there's gotta be at least some of you...

Did enough iterations to just about animate the pegasus' wings flapping!

Did enough iterations to just about animate the pegasus' wings flapping!

I painted this about two months ago as an assignment Just For Myself (TM). Getting to work 100% for yourself is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. You can paint whatever you want! Also, you can... paint whatever you want... and you could easily get trapped because that gives you zero parameters and you'll self destruct in a never ending cycle of indecision.

Finally ended up on this-- a cover image for a faux middle grade novel I invented: a girl finds an injured pegasus and has to nurse it back to health. Unfortunately for her, she lives in the modern world which has no magic, so she has to go to extreme efforts to keep the thing hidden. Fun right? Definitely a story I would've gobbled up as a kid. And also now.

The colors, Duke! THE COLORS

The colors, Duke! THE COLORS

So since this was Just For Myself (TM) and I had no deadline, I spent lots of extra time in the planning stages. As you can see, I did 9 different thumbnails to figure out my composition, but that does not count the other 20 or so I did to figure out what scene from my fake story I even wanted to show!  If you're imaginative, you can almost follow along with my thought process:

Okay so they're in a barn together, and I want to show them getting spotted because WHOA that's drama! Ok so first let's see them in a horse stall and see a shadowy figure at the barn's opening. Hmm, ok should the pegasus' wings be unfurled or hidden under a blanket? Hidden under a blanket might make storytelling hard because people won't know it's a pegasus. Unfurled sort of cuts the whole picture in half, especially with those beams in the middle... hmm ok let's take 'em out, switch 'em around... trying adding in foreground elements. Nope ok, none of this is working, let's try a different angle. What if we're looking at them from close to where the shadow figure is standing? Ok we're back to the wing thing again...

After I'd nailed down what composition I wanted, I did 7 more thumbnails for values, half of which required a more refined drawing. I wanted to try out different dramatic lighting schemes to see what told the story the best way. I also tried a tilted angle (sometimes known as Dutch Angle), but decided it looked like a slasher movie. Scree! Scree! Scree!

The final "rough"

The final "rough"

Then I went through 6 different color schemes before settling on my final "rough." I was ready to go! Well, except not really. I wanted to make sure the perspective on this piece was perfect. Yes, I COULD have done it by hand... but ain't nobody got time for that. So I busted out my ol' copy of SketchUp to model the interior of the barn. Once the model was done, I was able to finally do my pencil sketch on top of the entire thing to get it moving!

Hay Girl Hay! Since they're in a barn! I don't apologize for my puns. Pencils stage.

Hay Girl Hay! Since they're in a barn! I don't apologize for my puns. Pencils stage.

It's at this point that I'd like to point out that I had a TON of help and feedback from what I call my Circle of Trust (thank you Oatley Academy for coining that phrase)! It's important to get outside feedback from trusted artist friends about how a piece is going... especially when there's no client. I showed every single step of my process to my Circle, because I wanted this piece to be the best it could be! Think of it as using sandpaper; outside opinions and fresh, well-trained eyes are necessary to smooth a piece out.

To my Circle: You know who you are since I was emailing you about 20x a week. Thank you! <3

"Inks" is a weird term when the whole process is digital. Just think of it is as "smoother, nicer" pencils?

"Inks" is a weird term when the whole process is digital. Just think of it is as "smoother, nicer" pencils?

So once I'd gone through all that, I inked the piece. I ended up electing not to ink the hay, as I wanted to achieve the texture through painting. I kept the figures on a different layer than the background, as later I knew I intended to do what's called a "color hold" aka colorizing the lines. You seen any 90s Disney movies? Then you know what I mean.

"Nighttime" flat colors

"Nighttime" flat colors

With this particular piece, I ended up using an approach that was a hybrid of how I do both comics and painting. I flatted the painting, which means I separated out all of the local colors of every object so I could render them later. When choosing my flat colors, I went with what everything would look like in the dark, and then paint in the light afterward!

Rough lighting pass

Rough lighting pass

Which is what this shot is here. You can see that the flat nighttime colors inform the shadows, but the "lights" make those colors make sense. Here I'd started rendering, the hay is starting to take shape... and you'll note that all the lines are still black. Don't worry, you'll see the color held lines in the final piece!

It's finished! Whoopie!

It's finished! Whoopie!

So about 10 hours of rendering, tweaking, and 20 zillion more rounds of feedback, I arrived at the finished piece! You can see that the lines are no longer black-- it's subtle, but the color held makes the drawing of the figures less harsh against the more painterly background.

Also a little birdie told me that people enjoy seeing animated GIFs of a painting's progress (I've only done it once before), so here you go! Hope you enjoy it. If you like it, I'll try to make them more often!

The process with more in between steps added!

The process with more in between steps added!

Do you like it when I make "client-free" work? Do you like pegasuses? Pegasi? (Whatever the word is). Do you like process posts and animated GIFs? (Pronounced like GIF, not JIF, this isn't peanut butter thankyouverymuch). Feel free to leave a comment and tell me your opinion! It's the internet, sharing opinions is everyone's favorite thing. Don't be shy, I'll respond!

How to Get your Children's Book Illustrated

“I’ve been working on a children’s book for awhile now, and I’m ready for an illustrator.”
"Oh, my aunt has written a children’s book, are you interested in doing the illustrations?”
“My brother has a great idea for a kid’s book and is looking for possible illustrators.”

Have you heard these phrases before? Have you said these phrases before? Do you (or your friend or relative or neighbor) have a children’s book manuscript that has been toiled on for hours, painstakingly constructed, edited, and reviewed… and now it’s ready to be brought to life with beautiful watercolors, gouache, or digital paint? If so, then this guide is for you!

“Will you illustrate my children’s book?”

I get a lot of inquiries about illustrating people’s children’s books. It seems that everyone these days has an idea for a book or is working on a book– including you! Now you want to know if I (or another artist you like) can illustrate it for you.

Let me just stop you right there.

Yes, I mean red light, full stop.

You don’t need an illustrator.

Or rather, you don’t have to find one. Your publisher will find one for you. They have artists that they use regularly, and access to tons more if they’re looking to use new talent. As a matter of fact, publishers get pelted consistently with artwork samples, postcards, and book dummies from illustrators like me! Publishing houses have highly trained individuals called Art Directors who are able to select the best artist for the job once they’ve purchased your book. Plus, they save you the pain of coming up with contracts, negotiating, and paying the artist.

“But wait, I don’t have a publisher!”

Aha, and there is the meat of all of the emails, messages and phone calls that we artists get.

You’ve written your book and you assume that the next step is to get the entire thing illustrated before pitching it around. “It’s a picture book, therefore it needs pictures,” you say. I absolutely understand that; it’s a common misconception that I’m here to set straight. I mean, novels are fully finished before they’re pitched around, right? Why not your children’s book?

Well, the kid’s book industry is a little different. Consider this: a publisher gets a copy of your manuscript and– holy cow, it’s amazing! She’s floored, and she wants to hand you a three book deal right away! The only problem is that the manuscript came in with 32 illustrations, and they’re terrible. Terrible, awful, no-good, and very bad. Or maybe they’re great illustrations but they just don’t match your writing well.

She doesn’t want to buy the illustrations… but because they came in with the manuscript, they’re now tied together. Womp womp. Into the slush pile your book goes.

When you send in your manuscript with artwork, you now not only have to wow them with your writing, wow them with your friend’s/artist’s illustrations, and wow them with the two paired together. Frankly, you might both be amazing, but if the story and art aren’t well matched, it’ll be a no go.

It’s already difficult enough to have your voice heard in the absolute cacophony that is our world today– do you really want to make your chances at getting published smaller? Even if you really like the illustrator you’ve selected, the chances are your publisher will find a better match!

I’ll let the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators back me up here:

“Except in rare circumstances, it is seldom a good idea for authors and illustrators to collaborate together before publication.”(source)

Well, I just want to send in some illustrations as possible suggestions. Is that ok?

You can if you really want to, just be sure to note that in your cover letter. If you’ve never been published before though, I wouldn’t. And if you insist that your manuscript needs illustrations to be understood, well… I’ll let the SCBWI back me up again:

(…) If your manuscript doesn’t come to life visually without being explained, then it probably needs work.”(source)

An exception to this rule, however, is if your book is very high concept such as Press Here by Henré Tullet.

Ok ok, so how do I get published?

It’s a very similar process to how we illustrators get work in the kid’s book (or any) industry. Create content and submit it. Get rejections? Practice your craft, create more content, and submit again. Do your research. Only submit to publishers that are a good match for your work. Take a class, practice, create content, and submit again. If you’d like more information, check the links at the bottom of this article.

What if I’d rather self publish?

Self publishing is absolutely a viable option, but you have to know if it’s right for you. It’s an extremely expensive, difficult, and time-consuming option, even with the ease and availability of digital publishing in today’s market.

Let’s start with the most obvious cost: the illustrations. And yes, you need to pay for them. Please don’t offer “exposure” or profits as payment.

According to the GAG’s Handbook for Pricing and Ethical Guidelines (13th Edition), the appropriate price range for illustrating a 32 page hardcover book (including the book jacket) is anywhere from $3,000-$12,000+.

I’m sure you’re reeling from sticker shock, but that pricing is absolutely not something I bat an eye at. Doing artwork for a book is a really involved process. There’s planning, design, thumbnails, revisions, drawing, painting… each illustration will take a large amount of time, and art supplies aren’t cheap either.

And that doesn’t include printing costs (if you’re going with print instead of digital) or app building for iPad and Kindle (if you’re doing with digital instead of print).

I’m definitely not trying to discourage you, but you need a realistic picture of what this venture will look like. You will have to hustle, promote, and advertise for your book all on your own– it’ll take quite a bit of research and hard work to achieve.

Hard work? That sounds like me! Let’s DO this!

Well if you understand the expense and challenges ahead, by all means! Self publishing can absolutely be a way to succeed and be creatively fulfilled. It may actually be a better option for you depending on what you want to do with it! And if you need help with financing, Kickstarter is always an option.

No, I don’t want all those bells and whistles, I just want to create a nice keepsake for my kids.

That’s also totally fine! You can write the book, get it illustrated, then you can print a few copies with a POD (Print on Demand) service such as CreateSpace or Since the book is mainly for personal use and you’ll be on a tight budget, you might try searching for a student instead of a professional to create your illustrations for you (but yes, you do still need to pay them). You could also try websites such as Fiverr or PeoplePerHour, but realize that you’re going to get the quality that you pay for.

In closing

I hope I covered all possible bases here, and that you found this guide helpful to you. A lot of kid’s book questions pop up because there are misunderstandings about the industry and process– but now you are more educated and can forge ahead to make the most amazing kid’s book that you can create!

If I missed any question that you have, feel free to leave a comment or email me. If you like this post, or know a friend who might benefit from the information, please feel free to share it.

Additional Reading

SCBWI – Joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will give you access to wonderful resources, publishing house contact information, and a database of illustrator’s portfolios:

Articles with further information about (NOT) submitting manuscripts and artwork together:

Information for getting published in the Kid’s Book Industry:

More information on self publishing:

Guide on contacting an artist you’d like to hire: