Today's post is a repost of my all time most viewed blog post that I originally posted back in January 2014. I wrote this post way back before I had any book deal for my book Brunhilda's Backwards Day.
It's amazing to look back in retrospect and see what honing my craft as a children's book writer and working hard to make the sketches and dummy book the best they could be did for me in getting the book published. I can't wait to share the published book with you in Fall 2016!
This is part 1 of a 3 part series, so stay tuned for the next couple weeks for when I repost part 2 and 3.
Making a Dummy Book, My Process
What is a dummy book?
A dummy book is a model of your children's book. It is the entire book laid out with pictures in sketch form with the type. A dummy book usually also includes 2-3 finished illustrations. It is made in the size that you want the final printed book to be. There is no real standard size for children's books, but 8 1/2 x 11 is probably the most common. Most artists like to include a couple finished illustrations in their dummy book. This book is used to show to literary agents, editors and art directors.
1. Perfect Your Story First
In the past, I have had failed dummy books because I did not take the time to perfect the craft of writing and revising a children's book. It is an important skill to learn if you are wanting to write and illustrate your own books.
Know Picture Books:
•Know the language of picture books. Picture books have a much different type of language than children's chapter books. Read 100 picture books.
•Know the format of a picture book. Know that picture books are typically 32 pages long. Know that 500 words or less is a good average word count for picture books.
Learn the craft of writing children's books:
•Read books about it. Two books that changed my writing were Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.
•Find online children's book writing classes or communities.
•Join the SCBWI and go to a local writing critique group.
•Also, check out my post on the Plot Line of a Picture Book.
2. Gather Reference
This is a step that you will be doing during the whole process of making your book. I set up a secret pin board on Pinterest to gather all my reference. As of right now there are 393 pins in the board for my current project, and I will add more!
3. Character Design and Visual Development
As the illustrator of a picture book, you are also the visual developer. It is important to design your character and your settings before you start the sketches for your book.
Design your Characters and Setting
Draw and redraw your characters. Find the perfect combination of shapes that fits your character's personality. In the process of illustrating my book, I didn't take the time to design some of my characters up front, which made for boring characters in my sketches. They were not the main characters so I didn't want to waste my time worrying about making them interesting character. I was sure things would come together in illustration sketches. I went into autopilot. When my husband pointed out that they looked the same as all the kid character I have drawn in the past, and that this was my opportunity to make my new characters shine, I knew he was right. I had to go back to this step and perfect the characters. After doing that, the sketches and the story dynamics turned out a so much more interesting.
Here are a bunch of cat studies I did. It took drawing lots of different shape combinations to find the perfect combination for my character!
Here is some of my final character design for both Brunhilda and her cat. I also took time to design their environment.
4. The Story Board
Take 1: Pacing booklet
After I have written my story and have designed my characters, the next thing I do is make a "pacing booklet." I take 8 sheets of blank copy paper, fold them in half and staple them down the middle (you can also use a rubber band or string). This makes a 32 page booklet. Then I take my printed story and cut up the text. Then I tape the text into the book where I think things should go pacing-wise. Then I read through the book and see if the page turns come at good times. If not, I readjust until it feels right to me.
Take 2: Rough Thumbnails
Next, I make very rough and small thumbnails. I make a story board based on the size I want to make my book. I make boxes the actual size of the book in Adobe Illustrator (mine were 11 x 9) and then scale them down to the size small enough to fit all the spreads onto a regular 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. I print that out and draw my first very sloppy thumbnails on this page.
Take 3: Tighter Thumbnails
Next, I print out a larger story board with larger thumbnail boxes on 11 x 17 paper using my large format Epson Artisan 1430 printer. (Before I had my large format printer, I printed out my thumbnail boxes on regular-sized paper and taped them to a poster board or large piece of drawing paper.) I place the text under each spread where it will appear in the book, so I know what is happening in each scene.
Then I draw out tighter thumbnails, leaving space for where the text will go.
When I do this, I am really thinking about the compositions. I want to make sure there is a good variety in my compositions- close ups, far away, different angles etc.
If a thumbnail isn't working. I draw more thumbnails on an extra piece of paper. I cut out the new thumbnail and tape it over the thumbnail that wasn't working. Sometimes I will draw and draw and draw many thumbnails for one scene until I get it right. Sometimes I will think it feels right until I start sketching it, and realize that I need to go back to the thumbnail stage.
As you can see here on my storyboard, I have taped multiple thumbnails on top of each other.
5. The Sketches
Even when I feel like my thumbnail is great, I still need to do a lot of editing when I get to the sketching phase. Don't be afraid to draw and redraw, and get critiques from your friends and then redraw again. I like to draw my sketches traditionally with a pencil and paper and then scan them in and finish them digitally. I use the lasso tool a lot to resize things and move things around. Drawing digitally is much easier now with the help of my Yiynova MSP19U tablet monitor. Here is an example of an sketch that needed lots of revisions.
Take one: Here's is my beginning sketch. It was okay, but there was a lot of issues with the perspective. I was going for sort of the wonky-look, but it wasn't working out very well.
Take two: Here I got the perspective right, but there was a lot lacking in the story.
Also the objects around the room were somewhat the same size.
Take three: I am finally getting to where I want to be story- wise here. The perspective is working out, and I have payed attention to the overlap, and size and rhythm of the objects in the room.
6. Gray Scale and Color Studies
Remember that a dummy book should usually include 2-3 final paintings. After I perfect my sketches, it's important to get my gray scale and color studies right before moving on to the final illustration, or things might get messy.
These were my first gray scale and color study attempts. As you can see, the values weren't working out too well. Things were a bit confusing.
With the help of some friends (yes, can you tell I really think it's important to have a great circle of trust), I realized that it would work a lot better to have light values in the back and darker values in the characters to make strong silhouettes and really make things really pop.
7. Final Illustrations
You can fudge some of the steps. You can skip steps. But you aren't going to do your best work for your picture book dummy if you don't give your best effort to each step.
The sooner in the process you get things figured out the better. For example, it's better to get your story written and revised the right way before you do the final sketch and painting, because then it's a lot harder time-wise and emotionally-wise to change things after that. It's a lot easier to get the design right in the storyboard/thumbnail stage than to trying to perfect the large sketch and having to redraw the whole thing if its not working.
The key is don't just go with your first draft or your first thumbnail. Revise and revise, ask for critiques, be humble and revise some more. Don't be afraid to rewrite and redraw.
Good luck to you in your dummy book pursuits!