Last weekend I was at Salt Lake Comic Con. I had a great time talking to people and selling my art. During this time, I spoke to a few individuals who told me they are writing a book and are looking for an illustrator.
“Your style is perfect,” They say. “Just what I’ve been looking for.”
It’s always nice to hear that people like my art, but when someone says this to me I cringe inside. Not that these people have done anything wrong but I know these people are missing some crucial information about book publishing.
I’m starting with this as the number one thing because if your writing a children’s book and you’re here, you are probably looking for an illustrator.
As a picture book writer, choosing the illustrator is not your job.
At this point, you may be thinking, “What if my publisher doesn’t pick an illustrator I like?”
I’m not going to lie. There is a possibility you might not like the artist they pick, but before you write this idea off think of the benefits.
Publishers work with hundreds of illustrators. They get tons of postcard mailers every day from illustrators. They have education and experience at finding artists and matching them to the right picture book text. They also hire the illustrator, have lawyers to create contracts that include important details like deadlines and rights, and they pay the illustrator what they are worth so that you, the writer, don’t have to.
On the other hand, you might know 3-5 artists who are really good. Out of these artists, one or two may have professional work experience. If they know how book publishing works, they’ll probably say no to your project. Sometimes, they may say yes if you have the budget for it. If you can pay them enough, then all you have to worry about rights, deadlines, and art directing. No biggie.
Save yourself some stress. Let the publisher pick your illustrator.
If you read section one up there, you’ve probably realized by now this picture book thing is more difficult than you think. Don’t let this discourage you. It’s hard work, but you can do it.
When you write a picture book, you are writing a story. Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. It doesn’t matter how short the text is, all stories have those three things. Even the board books I illustrated have a beginning, middle, and an end and they have less than 100 words each.
Picture books are about text and pictures. When you write a picture book, think about what the images might show and don’t put that in the text. There is no need to use lengthy descriptions of the characters or settings. A picture is worth 1000 words. That means on every page there are at least 1000 words you don’t need to write.
Picture books these days are very short. Remember, parents and teachers read picture books out loud. Less than 1000 words is a great guideline, but lots of books have less than 500. Work on your drafts until you have the right amount of words for your story.
Once you have a fantastic draft and you, start looking for a publisher you have to let some things go. In the end, it’s not only your book. The publisher and the illustrator also have their names on it, and they want to do they best they can to make it great. Just focus on the writing and trust the illustrator and publisher to make the book as great as they can, and everyone wins.
SCBWI.org is the Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators. They have great publishing resources and put together some great conferences all around they world where you can get more info about writing and illustrating picture books.
Stories Unbound Podcast is a great resource with interviews with published authors and illustrators. I got to be a co-host in a few episodes talking about attending conferences and setting up a critique group. Check it out.
The Purple Crayon is another great website with excellent info about children’s publishing. This website has the answers to tons of publishing questions. You’ll also learn stuff you probably never thought to ask.
It’s the periodic table, right? Right. To be even more precise it’s the Periodic Table of the Elements.
What are elements? Elements are things that help you build other things. The elements on the periodic table build pretty much everything. We can’t break them down smaller, and when you put them together, they make new things. For example, when the elements of hydrogen and oxygen combine they make water.
Ok, I’m done talking about science, but there is a point. Just like elements make the world around us, We also use elements to make pictures. They are called the Elements of design.
Line, Shape, Value, Texture, and Color.
Take a moment to think about any art you’ve ever seen. If you can think of a piece that doesn’t use one or more of these elements, I would think you were crazy. Because as far as I know, it’s not possible to make art without the Elements of Design.
Let’s talk about them now.
I’m pretty sure you know what a line is. We use them all the time. Lots of times we use lines to make shapes. Lines can be hesitant, beautiful, bold, straight, curved, sketchy, and much more. Read more about line by clicking here.
As I said, lines can make shapes, but you can make them in other ways. Take a paint brush and blob it on your paper. You’ve just made a shape. Lots of times we think the shapes with names, triangle, circle, square, oval, etc. But there are also shapes that don’t have names. These shapes are part of the elements of design too.
The way you choose to design your shapes can have a huge impact on how your art looks. Let’s face it; some shapes are just more interesting than others.
Value is how light or dark something is. Think of a black and white movie or a grayscale image. The reason you can still tell what is going on is because of the values. Values tell us a lot of stuff, where the light is coming from, where forms change direction, if it’s a sunny or overcast day, and lots of other things.
Texture is how something feels, rough, smooth, furry, slimy, etc. and texture can be real, or implied.
Real texture is really there. Like the texture of the paper, or the ridges and bumps created from brush strokes.
Implied texture is texture you only show in your picture. For example, if you paint a tree trunk, and it looks rough but actually isn’t if you touch it, that is implied texture.
Red, Yellow, Blue, etc. Right? Right… The thing is it doesn’t just stop there. Every color has a value, temperature, and saturation.
I’ve created a worksheet to walk you through the different aspects of color and show you ways to use them. You can download it free when you sign up for my mailing list. Click here to sign up and Get The Color Worksheet.
By now you I hope you see how the Elements of Design make up the pictures, sculptures, and other art we see. If you want to work more with them, I’ve created a downloadable worksheet so you can get to know them a little better. You know, make friends and stuff. I hope you enjoy it.
I was sitting in artist alley at salt lake comic con fanX surrounded by fan art when I had the idea for this painting. Well, not this painting exactly but it was the beginning of an idea that led to this painting. Let me tell you how it happened.
I’ve never been able to pull off fan art. When I try to draw an established character, it always ends up looking exactly like the character already looked. So, you know, what was the point? For some reason, I thought of fan art only as an established character drawn in a different style or turned into a cat, which made it hard for me to want to create my own.
At conventions like Salt Lake Comic Con, I do alright. People like my stuff and they buy it, but not as much as people like and buy fan art.
But as I sat there behind my little table last March I realized that was silly. I needed to forget about drawing characters in my own way, and think in stories. I like stories and although I’ve tried to branch out recently, drawing narrative illustrations is my favorite thing.
So, in my head, I made up a story about what Rey and BB8 did the morning after they met. I sketched, and sketched and eventually got this. I think the image could have told the story better, but overall I feel good about it.
I’ll try selling prints of it at Salt Lake Comic Con in a few weeks, and we’ll see if it makes a difference in sales. If you’d like to buy one look for me in Artist Alley Purple 19. Or follow this link to buy one from the shop.