So for the last month I’ve been part of a Beta Test group for Chris Oatley’s and Lora Innes’ new course Oatley Academy Live (OALive, for short). It’s an online course that is meant for storytellers who want to create and launch their own serialized personal project, whether that be a webcomic, novel, an animated short, a kid’s book, or even a story-fied portfolio.
The course has been chock full of fantastic information, and one of our assignments was to do what’s called a Sketchbook Story. Basically, we had to crank out a fully finished, beginning to end story based on a prompt– but done in our sketchbooks. It was meant to let you feel the process of creating an entire story and, without polish, waffling, or endless hours spent trying to make it perfect, just get it out there. Just scribble in that sketchbook. Cross things out, tape in post-its, make mistakes.
It was a rather freeing experience. No one is perfect, and neither is any project, which was an incredibly meta takeaway for me, once you read my story.
“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, but also 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)
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 at payment.
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 Lulu.com. 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.
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.
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:
Last week I posted some new artwork that I created for the Topexx Dominions card game, and in the spirit of “How do I Art?!?!” I thought I’d post here my creation methods for the piece. Because I like sharing!
An illustration project like this begins with thumbnails. As you can see, these two drawings are super sketchy and undetailed– why? Because I hate thumbnails. Almost everyone does. But they’re an extremely necessary part of art creation to figure out composition and image placement. I had to be sure my clients liked the pose, and that it worked within the half-hexagon shape required for the card. Anyway here are two thumbnails from the project.
Once the thumbnails were approved, I took some reference images and moved onto the drawing. I drew this picture in blue for absolutely no reason other than that’s what color my pencil happened to be. There’s no magic trick there or anything.
Once the AD and I figured out some details in the clothing and tweaks in the layout, I moved onto inks. The client wanted a comic book-esque feel, but with a fully rendered painting underneath. Wooooof, inking all of that lace, the flowers, the stripes, and jewels? I think my hand was going to fall off. And it’s my own fault! I chose lace! I chose it.
Then I moved onto color comps (above) and the color rough (below). I gave the client two different lighting choices for this project, and once they picked what they thought worked best for the character, I roughed in the colors and shadows. Then I rendered and rendered and rendered and rendered and rendered until we got to the image you see below!
So basically, I clicked the “Paint” button on my computer-box-thingie, and this happened instantly. That’s how art works, right?
Lately I’ve been working with Space Monkeys Down on their new tabletop card game called Topexx Dominions. “Topexx Dominions is a tactical combat card game where you, as the General of your army, are pitted against other armies in a battle for supremacy.”
Sounds like fun, right? There’s steampunk and crystals and all sorts of interesting material in this game. I would assume it’ll take a ton of strategy to play… which sounds hard to me because strategy games are possibly the thing I’m worst at. What, you want me to THINK and PLAN? I spend all that energy on my freelance career, kthxbye.
The kicker is that the cards are in a hexagon shape, which sort of blew my mind. Planning a composition for a half hexagon (with symbols on top of it) is a particular challenge, especially when you’ve got to create art that can be reused for things like banners and promos.
Here’s an example of what the actual cards look like. I’ll be posting a more detailed “making of” of my Minuet piece soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
Saturday, May 1st is the day that everyone in the comic world has been waiting for– Free Comic Book Day! It’s a day where you can go to comic stores around the country and get free comics. What could possibly be more exciting than that?
… a free Comic Con, that’s what! The folks over at The Comic Bug are hosting a one day free Comic Convention at the Culver City’s Teen Center from 12-5 pm! They’ve partnered with LA Weekly, there will be food trucks, comic vendors, an artist alley, and of course there will be FREE STUFF available!
I will be there and I’ll have Corgi Mini-Comics and buttons for FREE! (Limit of 50 mini-comics and 50 buttons, first come first serve!).
I also finally have more Corgi #1 and #2 back in stock!* They will be available for their normal $5 each, and I’ll be doing sketch requests for $10 (Limit of 5). I hope to see you there– it’s gonna be a blast! A hearty thanks to Mike Wellman at The Comic Bug for putting this event together, and inviting me to be a part of it!
*The fine folks at Ka-Blam Comics Printing really pulled out all the stops this time. I got caught and didn’t reorder my books until too late, but they hustled and I got my order within THREE DAYS of ordering! They’ve been really wonderful to work with so far, and I recommend them for all your comic printing needs!
A very important stage in illustration work is taking reference photos so that you’re sure that a pose 1) works 2) is natural feeling and 3) can inform you about how the clothing/costume will work with the form. Typically, I use myself as the model because it’s extremely easy to book myself. Turns out I’m always available, especially when I need to wield a T-square in place of a weapon.
I have the photographer (in this case it was my poor, hapless boyfriend who has the misfortune of sharing studio space with me) take lots of shots, and sometimes things get silly. In this case, there’s a shot where I was losing the ability to hold the pose after so many minutes, another making a silly face, and…
… then here we found an extremely bored and unamused studio assistant. Have you ever taken really silly reference photos? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
WonderCon this year was a real hit! It is one of the best shows I’ve ever had, both comics-wise and profit-wise. I brought more copies of Heavenly Kibble Guardian Corgi #1, and it was a sellout yet again. Heavenly Kibble Guardian Corgi #2 made its debut, and came within two copies of selling out as well! The amount of return fans I had looking for Corgi #2 was really encouraging, as well as some of the feedback I was getting from new fans.
Two gals made my day on Sunday when they told me they’d laughed so hard after buying Corgi #1 that they kept quoting it all night, and that made them want to buy #2! This sort of feedback is what keeps us artists going. When you’re working on a book for months, you’re so close to it that you forget that it had any humor or entertainment value. Hearing what people think who are looking at it with fresh eyes can really give you a better perspective on what your own work is like!
I’m excited to announce that there WILL be a Corgi #3, and that I’ll begin work on it soon. In the meantime though, I’ve got another comic idea that I’d really like to do first. Stay tuned for more information.
If you missed WonderCon and really want a copy of Corgi #2, check out the following links! You can purchase either a printed copy or a digital download of the book from IndyPlanet. If you prefer using DriveThruComics instead, you can get a digital download there.
Corgi #2 has finally arrived, just in time for Wondercon Anaheim on April 3-5! I’m so very excited to have this in time. The first 50 copies which are signed and numbered will be available there, as well as more copies of #1! Please come by and say hello!
Here are the next two animatronics in my “Cute” Five Nights at Freddy’s pieces. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a video game series that’s a point and click horror game where you play a security guard at a haunted, rundown Chuck E Cheese-esque kid’s pizzeria.
Here we have Bonnie and Chica. Bonnie is a bunny that likes to creep up on you in hallways and air vents along with his partner-in-crime Chica the bird. They both love scaring you when you just after you think you’re safe!
So I’m totally into the video games series Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s a point and click horror game where you play a security guard at a haunted, rundown Chuck E Cheese-esque kid’s pizzeria. I have watched endless playthroughs, theory videos, articles, etc. I even played Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 on the Date Knights’ Stream! I got through Night 3 like it was a breeze (it happens when you watch Markiplier play it for like 20 hours– I memorized ALL the strategy!) Anyway, after the recent release of Five Nights at Freddy’s 3, I got excited to do my own cutesy versions of the haunted animatronics that attempt to kill you throughout the games.
These are are Foxy and Mangle, respectively. Foxy is a pirate fox animatronic that attacks the player by sprinting at them suddenly from his hiding place in “Pirate Cove.” Mangle is a redesigned, “cuter” version of Foxy that was used as a “take apart and put back together” attraction in the Pizzeria. She’s all in pieces and has too many limbs and endoskeleton heads.
I’ll be doing some more animatronics in the near future– keep your animatronic endoskeleton eyeballs peeled for them!