How to plan book illustrations when you have a very tight deadline?



  • I am seeking out advices on what is smart to do when you have a very tight deadline to illustrate a children's book.
    My current project is a 40 pages (total 14 spreads + title page + end papers) children's book - a collection of nursery rhymes, and due in mid Jan.

    For the cover, I more or less followed @Lee-White's process, did about 50 thumbnails, and 3 rough sketches, and a couple color studies and then went to paint the final image (the process made the editor super happy). But I realized it is not possible for me to treat all images in this book the same way, as I have not enough time to do the work.

    So if I were to cut corners in the process to speed up, what is the smart to do, and what should I try to avoid? Which part of the process should I prioritize to ensure better quality for the final art?

    Any advice?


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li wow, this is a huge dilemma. For me, I think thereโ€™s very little to cut from the art process. Cutting corners puts you at risk of making sub par work. However, if you do want to cut somewhere, perhaps opt to lessen your thumbnails. Perhaps you can try for 10 or less. Aside from that I really donโ€™t know anywhere else to skimp on. Is the deadline fixed? I was immediately worried when you mentioned that itโ€™s due mid january. Perhaps you can negotiate with the Art Director.



  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz unfortunately there is little room for negociation regarding to the schedule. This current book is going to printer some time in January I think, and it will be out in the market in March 2020.

    Thank you for the input. My first instinct was also to limit research time, and cut back a bit thumbnailing time. What I did so far is I look for a decent idea for each rhyme (using mostly keywords, and doodles), and once I found a decent idea, I will still do a couple of thumbnails to get a better composition, but I stopped to explore ideas in complete different directions. But then @Lee-White 's voice is in the back of my mind - "you need to do enough research/messing around" , and also @davidhohn 's voice saying "do not go for the top card solutions, because that is most of illustrators do."

    I am still in the process of thumbnailing and rough sketching for the entire book. I just want to check with the community if anyone has other tips for such situation.



  • Oof. For some reason I first thought 'mid January's a ways away, why worry?' But theeeeen I counted the days.

    I'd love to REALLY weigh in but I'm worried about giving you bad advice. So I'll try, but take or leave and always remember the grain of salt ๐Ÿ™‚

    Things that worked for me while churning out webcomic pages:

    • Mini Schedule: Give yourself mini-deadlines each week to two weeks and try to hit them as best you can. Reassess as you hit or miss those targets.
    • Assembly line your illustration process: Break down your process into basic steps (sketch then value then colour, etc.). Take the illustrations you need to get done for your mini deadline (4-5?) and do sketches for all the illos, then value for all of them, then colour for all of them (or whatever steps you have) You'll tend to get into a groove and not have to switch creative gears as often. You'll ALSO be more likely to identify any corners to cut if you repeat the same task over and over in quick succession.

    At this point I think you need to trust yourself. They approached you and chose you because they like your work. What will be 'okay I guess' to you will be 'fantastic!' to them. It's better that you get the work done and handed in than utterly perfect. Not saying to hand in anything partially finished or anything, but that your work is good. Trust your work.

    I guess what I'm saying is that you got this ๐Ÿ™‚


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    in order to really give advice, I'd need to know how this situation happened. Doing a finished book by january is not really practical by any standard. Normal turn around times for a book is a year. When it's rushed it's 6 months and the fastest deadline I've seen is 4 months.

    So, how did this deadline happen? Are the sketches done and approved? Did they just approach you for this job? Or did they sit on sketches for a long time before approving you to go to final. If either of these is the case, then you should push back VERY hard on the deadline. Push for a April 1st deadline or later if possible. Many publishers will push their books to the following season if it's behind schedule. And this one is definitely behind schedule. I just turned in final art for a book that is coming out fall of 2020. So this one coming out in March 2020 is not realistic at all. So it makes me wonder if they know what they are doing? Is this a publisher or a self pub.?

    In any case,, I would STRONGLY advise making a case for a fall release. They are asking for trouble trying to hit a march release. Even if you get the book to them mid-jan., they still have to get the book to printers, get proofs and edits, and then do the actual printing. That process can easily take 8 weeks of time. Then there is shipping, etc. to stores, etc. They are asking for trouble with this timeline. And everything will suffer trying to hit that deadline. Art will be weaker, printing will be rushed, fees will have to be paid to hit those times.

    Good luck, I don't envy this situation. If you have to do the art, I'd tell them what time you will need to really do your best work. If they say they have to have it by mid jan, think about using another name on the book and just banging out something that you don't care about just to get it done.


  • Pro

    @xin-li Yeah this situation really isn't ideal. Do ask if you can get more time. Explain that with this current deadline, you can rush it but you can't attain your highest level of quality. Do stress the fact that such a short deadline is NOT the standard in the publishing world because it doesn't leave enough time for the illustrator to do their best work.

    If you can't push the deadline back at all, then here are some areas where you could gain a little time.

    Color studies: If you have spreads that all happen in the same location/time of day, it might be possible to do just one color study for all the spreads using the same color scheme. Please note you will still have to do a grey scale study to get the light balance right in each illustration.

    Rough sketches: This is a bit tricky and I wouldn't recommend this to everyone. If you plan very well at the thumbnail stage, you may be able to get away with doing less than 3 full rough sketches for each spread. But if you have trouble with a pose or element, sketch it as many times as you need before you get it right.

    Batch it: Go through the whole book step by step: all the thumbs first, then all the sketches, then all the studies, then all the flat colors, etc. You may even be able to batch it further. In my Red-Nosed reindeer book, I did a pass where I painted the night sky on all the pages, then a pass where I drew all the reindeer characters, etc.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    If you can hire an assistant to help that would speed things along



  • Thank you so much for the advices so far.
    @Braden-Hallett @NessIllustration: mini deadlines and batch the illustrations sounds like very smart approach. I have done some of it so far, I could definitely do more.

    The visual editor of the book approached me via Instagram. There was one particular image she saw that made her think of me for the project. This was in early October. Then I got the manuscript 2 weeks later. It was a collection of classic nursery rhymes. The goal of the project is to make the book modern, a gift book for naming days, new parents etc.

    I did the cover illustration between later October and begining of Nov, and I was working on keywords brainstorming for the interiors in between while I was waiting for feedbacks. I delivered a 85% done cover in early Nov - main reason was for editors to show the project to book stores and book clubs. I am currently making the rough sketches for the entire book (this is due by 17th Nov. and I am about 40% through. We have agreed to stick with 1 rough sketch per spread, not 3.)

    I have given them a deadline for approving the rough sketch by 1st Dec. I plan to use the time waiting for approaval to finish up the cover and do color studies of the whole book. So far, I typically get feedback email within a day or two after sending the client sketches, and communication has been very good.

    @Lee-White looks like I just agreed to do a crazy job. I knew it will be a very tight deadline. But I did not realize how tight it was when I said Yes to it. I am working with the largest publihsing house in Norway, so it is not a self-publishing. I will bring up the schdule issue with the editor, but chances I can extend the project to fall is very small. Thank you for your advice. I know better now for next time when negotiating schedules.

    My goal for the current project is to maintain a good relationship with the client for future projects. I will do what I can to achive that ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Moderator

    @xin-li i figure that you are probably working your butt off right now, but donโ€™t forget to take care of your health too. By January you may be so strung out that you will need a huge break to get back on track. Plan your time well with good breaks so that doesnโ€™t happen. And when you do schedule your time off, make sure you do not do any work during that time. Your mind will thank you for it. ๐Ÿ™‚



  • @burvantill thank you so much fo rthe reminder. The most important thing, but often forgotten when I am working :-). Strange enough, it helped me a bit after I become mom. I used to work 12 hours a day easily, without keeping track of time. But now I can not, I have to run off to pick up my daughtor from the kindergarten at 3:30pm. ๐Ÿ˜€



  • Hi guys, thank you so much for advices, tips and supports. Just hopp in to let you know I really appreciate the support from SVS community. I sent off rough sketches for half of the book to the editor yesterday. The feedback came back this afternoon. No big changes for most of the spreads and I am less worried now.

    In addition, the text editor wrote back saying that I have brought something new to the classic norwegian nursery rhymes with my illustrations. I guess this means I sold my ideas well enough this time.

    I figured now that the client is really happy, I will try to negociate to extend the deadline for final art a bit. Hope this will work. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ


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