Making a New Book - Documenting my own process

  • I'm currently going through the process of illustrating a new book and would like to document the journey here from my initial concept sketches to the final product. I hope it will help other illustrators learn from the things I do right and wrong and will be a good insight into how I work, but feel free to critique anything that you think can be improved upon.

    About me - I moved over into children's illustration about 3 years ago and have been working part time on building up a portfolio, finding my own style and finding a process that works for me. Previously I mostly focused on portraits and caricatures, but I found it hard to find a clear career path through that. SVS has been a great help in guiding me and the forums have been invaluable in helping me advance.

    Who I'm freelancing for and how I got work - I'm currently in the process of making my 4th book for New Paige Press, which is only a small American publisher, however the owner works very hard in getting his books out and is well connected for distribution and sales which is why I have been creating books for them. I was contacted by the owner after posting some pictures of my work on a facebook group and created my first book "Patrick Picklebottom and the Penny Book" which was recently released! I don't have an agent as of yet, but if something good comes along or when I feel ready it may be an avenue I will consider.

    About the book I'm making - The book is aimed at around the 7-10 age groups and is a story that deals with carefully considering the information you read around you and not jumping to conclusions. It echo's a lot of the recent political issues, but without preaching or focusing on any side and in a way children can understand and learn.

    I'll try document my process as it happens, as it should go something like this:

    • Finding Reference

    • Character and Design Concept Sketching

    • Idea Thumbnails

    • Light and Shadow Studies

    • Color Studies

    • Final Paintings WIP

    I'll also try to create a more concise blog about the process of the book on my website , but you should be able to see most everything here first. If you have any questions feel free to ask away and I advise everyone to check out SVS's own course: which will give you 10 times more information than I possibly could!

  • @Gary-Wilkinson Good luck!Notifications turned on for this post!! I hope the best for you!

  • I look forward to following your progress Gary, your art is awesome and it will good to follow your process and journey.

  • I will be following this progress with great interest. I am also illustrating my third book right now and trying to document the process too since I plan to make blog posts about it. It will be interesting to see your process.

  • @Gary-Wilkinson I'm so glad you'll be sharing this with us! I'm excited to see your process ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

  • Finding Reference

    It may not be the most interesting stage (so feel free to skip this part) but after I read the manuscript and find out what characters are required, I will head over to google images and grab some random photos for reference. As this book requires a ladybug, a frog and a duck I save a collection of images of real life creatures and of designs that others have explored. Some people are concerned that looking at other designs may influence their work too much, but I believe that seeing what works and what doesn't is a great starter for when you start your own thumbnails. By the time you have gathered referenced and sketched out a bunch of ideas your character should be something that reflects your own style regardless of your research.

    After I have enough material, I will do some quick sketches of the images I find to be most interesting or useful. Quick and messy is key as they are just an exercise to help with muscle memory! I try to use whatever paper is on hand as it keep me from wanting to refine it too much and will often throw it away when I have got from it what I need. This was the case for the ladybug and the duck (most of the ducks got covered in starbucks coffee anyhow) but I did the frog digitally as I wanted to understand their movement and anatomy a bit better.

    As well as researching character designs, I will also do some research on architecture/nature/landscape etc based on what is required. The first spread in the book includes a quaint house for the ladybug, so I focused on cottage designs and cozy little houses and well as what items could be used as a makeshift house, such as acorns, soda cans and cardboard.

    *this is a small selection of some of the images I looked at
    ladybugs.jpg frogs.jpg ducks.jpg

  • Wow. This is great Gary! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I've always been a fan of the "behind the scenes" and will be following along. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Character and Design Concept Sketching

    The 2nd step is to sketch up some initial character designs. As ladybug and the frog are both the main characters I want to focus on them first. Initially I just play around with random shapes and see what evolves from them, the images below are actually the first pass from those initial doodles which get drawn over, erased or pushed around and then refined more in the 2nd stage (2nd image). I will also consider how the design of the character evokes their personality. Sometimes there may not be anything special or specific written about their personality in the manuscript, so consider what actions they take or how they react to situations in the book. I try to give some of the characters accessories, such as scarfs, glasses or backpacks as well as clothing, but all of these can be mixed and matched or explored further later on.

    The Ladybug

    • Smart

    • Confident

    • Kind

    • Considerate

    These are the main features that I felt the character required. However, in the initial sketches I don't want to be tied to these concepts, but I still want to have them in the back of my mind

    1st concept ladybugs sm.jpg

    2nd concept ladybugs sm.jpg

    The Frog

    • Happy

    • Supportive

    • Kind

    • Smart

    The frog is quite similar in personality to the ladybug, but I want to keep his design different, yet feel like they can be good friends.

    1st concept frogs sm.jpg

    2nd concept frogs sm.jpg

    The Duck

    • Panicky

    • Crazy

    • Quick to jump to conclusions

    The duck is my favorite character in the book as he is the most different. I want to make him the funny looking one, who is always a bit ruffled.

    1st concept ducks sm.jpg

    2nd concept ducks sm.jpg

    The House

    It's only seen in the first page, but that doesn't mean it's not worth spending the time to research and create a good design of. The manuscript says that it is a quaint little house, so I played with 6 concepts that might fit this theme.

    1st concept house sm.jpg

    2nd concept house sm.jpg

  • Thank you for sharing your process and lovely sketches, very interesting to see. I always begin with research as well and use pinterest to store images for reference use. How do you cope with time pressure and deadlines? When I am illustrating I feel like I am trying to balance time pressure and quality of work, for example how much time to spend exploring different design ideas etc. and when to just push on with the work?

  • @Gary-Wilkinson Such fun houses! I love the snail shell and broccoli!

  • Thank you for sharing your process. Your process is what I try to instill in my art students, especially those that want to just dive in to the "final art". They just don't want to do the research despite showing my artistic process. I plan to share your process with them as well to show them I'm not the only crazy one! LOL

  • @hakepe I'm quite fortunate that my recent books haven't had any tight deadlines so I can mostly work on it at my own pace, however for work that needs to be done quickly I would write out a time plan first. Once you can gauge how fast or long it might take you to complete something you will feel more comfortable dealing with those deadlines.

    @miranda-hoover The snail house was my favorite, but it made the scale of things too unbalanced and didn't work with the composition I wanted to do so we ultimately went with the cardboard house.

    @mrsdion In the past was of the same mind to rush to the final painting, but I had so many occasions where I would have to backtrack or restart things as the foundation wasn't properly built first.

  • Idea Thumbnails

    Once I have the character designs complete I will start focusing on the sketches for each page. My initial doodles are either on scraps of paper or tiny digital sketches and I try to avoid as much detail as possible. In this way I can see quickly whether a composition works and whether the painting reflects the story. The point is to keep things simple, quick and throw around a bunch of ideas to see where things go.

    When I feel that a sketch is working I will go over it again with a little more detail (image 2) but i'm still just focusing on basic shape. As I add more an more to a concept it becomes clearer as to whether it fits in and if I choose to redo it then I don't lose much time.

    In image 3 I go over the sketch again adding in the characters and finally adding a some light and shadow. This stage gives a lot more life to the project and the path to getting a final concept is a step closer. However, I still need to do 1 more pass over before I consider the idea complete, but by this point the foundation is becoming much stronger.

    3 Sketches a sm.jpg

    3 Sketches b sm.jpg

    3 Sketches c sm.jpg

    As a bonus here is a concept sketch for the tick design that is needed in one of the spreads, the process is most the same, sketch small with a big brush and refine down.

    tick design.jpg

  • @Gary-Wilkinson Nice! All the best!

  • @Gary-Wilkinson Really nice work Garry.
    its great seeing your process, you characters ideas are great.

  • This is really good @Gary-Wilkinson! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights!

  • Light and Shadow Studies

    When I'm happy with the concepts i'll send them over to the publisher to get them approved and I'll begin to refine them and add in more detail. Most of the designs stayed mostly the same, however I wanted to redo spread 7 as the composition felt too similar to spread 6. I also needed to adjust spread 11 as the stories in the newspaper needed to have an uneven coverage.

    To get a better sense of the scene I add some light and shadow, which adds some life to the sketches. These studies will be used as reference as I move into the next stage of adding color and when I wish to check my values later on.

    My next step will be to do some quick color studies and then finalize the sketches so that they are ready for the final painting.

    spreads test sm.jpg

  • I love this! Your marks remind me a bit if Will Terryโ€™s pencil works. So good!

  • @Gary-Wilkinson This is so amazing! Thank you for sharing your process! Really appreciate it!
    I have a couple of questions if you don't mind.

    • Were you given any illustrator notes before starting this project? If not, did you ask for any?

    • Is the first thing that the publisher sees from you? All previous decisions of character design, style etc. were made by you personally?

    • Did you do the value studies in thumbnail size? That's a lot of clean detailing and texture!

    • Is there a reason you use a tint in your studies as opposed to B&W?

  • SVS OG

    Thus whole post is so good!! Love your characters. Getting to see your process is amazing too.

  • Thanks for sharing this Gary! This is very helpful and enjoy seeing your approach!! Keep up the great work!

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