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How to Create a Children’s Picture Book

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

The Frog King

The Frog King

How To Create A Children's Book

When I am asked what I do I have gotten to where I like to say artist instead of children’s book illustrator because invariably the person I’m talking to has written a book and could use an illustrator. That’s not a bad thing. What is worse is that they don’t intend to PAY the illustrator. They usually want the illustrator to do the pictures for a “percentage” of the book proceeds IF it ever sells or for free.

It would be better for artists and more ethical for the writers to just offer the illustrator a small pittance for the work, such as $300 to $500 for a body of work amounting to a book cover and 28 color interior illustrations. We would be willing, many of us, to work for that. Then the art belongs to you to do with as you will.

That being said, I have some experience in children’s picture books and would love to share the parameters with you.

A Page From My Children's Book

Character Sketches for main character Abby.

Character Sketches for main character Abby.

Character Sketches for cats.

Character Sketches for cats.

Identify Main Characters

When working on picture books, the very first thing that needs to be done is to identify the main characters and do character studies to keep them consistent on each page. These usually involve several poses for each character, different facial expressions with front, side and ¾ view. Also, it is wisest for an artist to go out and get a model to pose for each of the characters so that they remain consistent.

Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail Sketches

Once you have the characters decided on, it’s time for the layout. Starting with thumbnail sketches. Ten to twenty thumbnails for each double-page spread is common. When you choose two or three of the thumbnails that work for each page. Thumbnails are just that, small versions of the final. These sketches can be very rough but shouldn’t take more than a few minutes each. They are just for placement and point of view, not finished drawings. They should be between 2 and 3 inches each. This is the stage where you make sure that the gutter where the pages fold on a double-page spread, doesn’t have something important like a person’s face or a hand or other important character part.

Photo References for Girls

Photo References for Girls

Roughs

The next step is the roughs. The roughs are like the thumbnails but more detail and little value is added. Value is not color. Value is blocking out the dark and the light areas so that you can see more of how the balance works. Dark pictures add a mysterious and ominous feel, while mostly light pictures give a more cheerful and uplifting feel. For children’s books, the feel is very important. Also once you have the roughs ready, you want to go back to your models and have them pose for each of the pictures that they are in. Use lighting trees/stands and keep the lighting consistent for the layout. For instance, if your sunlight on the trees or whatever is from the left, make sure the model is lighted the same way. This is so important to keep the characters consistent that even when I’m doing the Frog King, I use my husband as a model and pose him with body language and facial expressions that I will need later. Also as you work out the layout you need to consider where the text will be. If the text is to be on the image, leave a light-colored space for that. If the text will be on a page between illustrations make sure you don’t make a double-page spread there.

Revised Thumbnail Dummy Book for Mr Sticky.

Revised Thumbnail Dummy Book for Mr Sticky.

Rough Book or Dummy Book

I like to take the roughs and put them in a book form so that I can see how each of the pages will line up and flow. Also I “draw” in where the text will be so I can keep in mind there is text and how much of it there is.

Value Sketches for Mr. Sticky

Value Sketches for Mr. Sticky

Value Sketches

After the roughs are worked out and one for each double-page spread is chosen, you go on to making Value Sketches. These are more detailed, highly worked out and are only missing the color. These should look highly finished. Often this is the last opportunity for the publisher to make any changes or suggestions.

Color Sketches for Mr Sticky.

Color Sketches for Mr Sticky.

Color Sketches

The last stage is the final color copies. By this time you have the characters and sets so worked out that adding the color is a piece of cake. Often beginners will try to jump to this last stage first thinking the rest of steps are a waste of time. And what happens is that you end up having to do the work over again and again because something is missing. You haven’t worked out the lights and darks and figure placement first. It’s so much easier to make changes in the thumbnails and roughs than it is in the final color copy.

Postcard Promotional designs

Postcard Promotional designs

PDF format

When I am making a self-published book, I save my work in a photoshop format and then go to Adobe InDesign to lay it all out page by page. This allows me to see how they all line-up and I can then save it as a PDF to upload to the self-publishing site. This is also where I lay in the text myself. PDF allows me to keep the text in place. It will not move or shift being uploaded like some other formats will.

Wrap around book cover for Anne of Green Gables

Wrap around book cover for Anne of Green Gables

Design the Cover

Also, you need to design a cover. The cover is always full color even if the interior illustrations are black and white. Remember the front is on the right and the back is on the left with a spine down the middle. Place the title down the middle spine so that when the book is laying on a table face up, the title on the spine is right-side up. Sometimes you can make a wrap-around dust cover with space for the author and illustrator bio-information of the inside wrap but not always on a self-published book. Check to be sure before going to the trouble to design one. I like to make my cover illustrations as if it were one big picture wrapping around the cover but you don’t always have to do this. You can make a separate design for the front and back. You can even use a photo for the front or back as long as you own the photo, you took it yourself, etc. Copyright infringement is a serious issue and you could lose everything if you try to use someone else’s work without permission.

Dummy Template.  Just right click and save to your computer.

Dummy Template. Just right click and save to your computer.

PDF Format Cover

Like the inside of the book, once you have designed your cover, save it as a PDF to upload to the publishing site. And you are done. Things like choosing a font for the interior and the cover title page is something you should discuss with the publisher or other professionals. It does make a difference though and needs serious consideration. Too much information on choosing fonts to cover here but needless to say, a good font can grab attention and a bad one can keep your book from getting that attention.

32 page Picture Book Template

Picture Book Template.  Just right click and save to your computer.

Picture Book Template. Just right click and save to your computer.

Good Luck

Good luck with your publication. I hope all this was of help to anyone thinking of publishing their own children’s books.

how-to-create-a-childrens-picture-book

Bookish Comments Welcome

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 12, 2016:

grand old lady,

Like you, I think I took it all for granted too until I started getting into the business of creating them myself. What is more, every publisher has an art director who has his/her own ideas of how your book should look and will ask for constant corrections and additions. It almost feels like it isn't your book after a while. But that is the business of picture books. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on October 12, 2016:

I never realized it was so difficult to make illustrations for children's books. When my daughter was a child, she had so many beautifully illustrated books, and I took all those works of art for granted. This has been a most enlightening article. Thank you!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 27, 2016:

PaigSr,

That is wonderful news. I wish you great success. I think everyone has at least one awesome creative story in them, but most people never get around to sharing it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

PaigSr from State of Confusion on January 27, 2016:

I have two books that I have the story lines for and most of the pictures. My big issue is illustrating them. The words go with the pictures and may need a little tweeking. But I plan on taking another shot at these after finding your page. Thanks. And in the good news I have two administrators - My sister and my daughter.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 19, 2015:

Reynold Jay,

That's pretty fabulous. Glad hiring illustrators worked out so well for you. You are one of the rare ones who hires the starving artist rather than trying to get art free and cheat the artist. I'm so happy to know you! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on October 19, 2015:

Well now! This is up my alley! I hired several artists to work on my series, The Wurtherington Diary. After reading this I would say I learned by doing. My artists would draw art according to my directions and then IO would do the rest. Ttake a glance at it here...http://biccomix.com/seedsfromheaven.htm and I would hope you will see it turned out fairly well, Denise.

On one called Rose and her Little Lost Kitten, I found an artist at FAA and did the story around all the art she had posted in her gallery. Yep--she did not need to do any more than say 'Yes!" and she got half the proceeds. Book comes out Thursday.

I back at HUBS just a bit now after two years of working on the series.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2015:

FlourishAnyway,

So kind of you to say so. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and comment.

Blessings,

Denise

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 10, 2015:

Beautiful illustrations and I know that Hubbers appreciate the encouragement and advice that you provide.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 30, 2015:

Glenn Stok,

Yes, it's true most illustrations are done the same way. I hope you find this very helpful. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on September 30, 2015:

I never knew the methods used to create illustrations. It's important to have the right tools as I learned from your hub and from the video you included. With that knowledge I'm motivated now to give it a try. I'm not planning to write a children's book. But it's useful for illustrating articles too.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 27, 2015:

Thank you, Larry. Are you thinking about creating a Children's Book? Glad you got something out of this one. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 27, 2015:

Very useful.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 24, 2015:

denise.w.anderson,

Thank you. I try to be informative. I would have loved to find all this information way back when. That is before I decided to go back to college to learn how to do it right. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on September 24, 2015:

This is very informative. It gives a thorough explanation of both the process and the procedure! Thanks!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 24, 2015:

Carb Diva,

That is super kind. The greatest compliment to an illustrator is that people buy the book for the illustrations. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on September 24, 2015:

Denise, your work is beautiful. I would buy the books simply for the illustrations. Thank you for sharing.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 23, 2015:

galleryofgrace,

Thank you, grace, that is truly a compliment. Thanks for the comment.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 23, 2015:

christinemariezzz,

Thank you very much. I'm not much of a writer really but I love illustration. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 23, 2015:

SaltyLady,

Thank you very much. I appreciate the comment.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 23, 2015:

tillsontitan,

I appreciate the affirmation. It is a lot of work to do it right. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

galleryofgrace from Virginia on September 23, 2015:

Excellent information -it inspires me to do better! Thanks

christinemariezzz on September 23, 2015:

Beautiful Denise!

I took a young children's literature class in my university studies- your hub is so full of information on this good stuff'

Thank you for taking the time to compose it.

~christinemariezzz

SaltyLady on September 23, 2015:

Thank you! This was very informative.

Mary Craig from New York on September 23, 2015:

Nicely done and certainly enlightening. Your illustrations are brilliant! My children's book is in the works. My illustrator works sketch to color, one at a time. It's a long process but I appreciate the talent and artistry.