The Making of a Picture Book Part Four: ILLUSTRATION

There has been some kind appreciation and enthusiastic tweeting in response to this ‘Making of a Picture Book’ blog series, so thank you very much. If the series has interested or entertained or provided new ideas then I am happy.

If you missed parts one, two and three, there’s still time to catch up:

The Making of a Picture Book Part One: Plot
The Making of a Picture Book Part Two: Character
The Making of a Picture Book Part Three: Language

And so we arrive at today’s instalment, The Making of a Picture Book Part Four: Illustration.

by Christopher Corr

I was delighted when I learned that Christopher Corr had agreed to illustrate THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Chris is an experienced illustrator with a distinctive technicolour style and a very well-travelled paintbox. He has illustrated picture books set in Madagascar, India, Mexico, Arabia and now Mali.

I asked Christopher Corr to write something for today’s post about his experience of illustrating THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Over to him…

I’m a Capricorn and share a deep empathy with the goat world.
The Goats’ story is set in Mali, a country I would like to visit. It’s a place I have seen in films and books and old National Geographics.
The astonishingly beautiful mud-made mosques!
The colourful markets, all those people in zingy colours carrying goods on their heads!

I love colour.
It has great power to excite and delight.
Mali is a colourful place and I wanted to show this.
The landscapes are hot and hilly. It’s arid and scrubby but never dull.

I wanted all the children to have personality and be individuals,
just like the goats!
Just like all of us!

I’m so glad everyone [and more] came back safely from Mopti market.

Thanks for these thoughts, Chris, and for infusing the pages of GOGGLE-EYED GOATS with so much colour and personality.

Mali is indeed a colourful place. The bright printed fabrics, the turbans and headscarves, the animal hides, the earth-red sahelian architecture – it all adds up to a fantastically vibrant setting.

Al Haji Amadou arrived in Mopti Market GOGGLE-EYED GOATS
Spread 7 of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS by Christopher Corr

Here is the usual process of getting a picture book illustrated.

1. The Ask and the Answer
When an editor at a children’s publishing house accepts a PB manuscript she will rack her brain for a good illustrator, someone who will be able to bring the text to life in an appropriate style. Rona Selby, editorial director at Andersen Press, had the idea of asking Chris to illustrate GOGGLE-EYED GOATS because of his varied experience of cross-cultural illustration. If anyone could capture the colour and vibrancy of Mopti market and other locations, it would be Chris. She asked. He said yes.

2. The character studies and roughs
Once contracts have been signed, an illustrator starts off by submitting character studies and roughs.

Character studies: Clearly everyone needs to be happy with the look of the main characters before the book can really start to take shape. Here is Chris’s character study for Al Haji Amadu’s three wives, Fama, Rama and Sama.

GOGGLE-EYED GOATS character study by Christopher Corr
by Christopher Corr, reproduced with permission

When I say that ‘everyone’ needs to be happy, I’m really talking about three people: the editor, the illustrator and the writer. The editor listens to the opinions of both illustrator and writer, but she has the final say on everything. In the case of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS, there was no direct discussion between myself and Chris at all. Everything went through our editor Rona. Chris sent character studies to Rona, who emailed them on to me. I sent comments to Rona, who passed them back to Chris, along with her own thoughts. It is an enjoyable process of creative collaboration and I found myself writing the oddest emails: ‘Should Al Haji’s wives have multi-coloured noses or plain?’ or ‘Loving Mopti market’ or ‘Eyes a bit gogglier, please!’ Some poor cryptographer at GCHQ is probably still analysing those emails, devising ever more complicated decryption algorithms in the hope of extracting their true meaning.

Roughs are what they sound like – rough sketches to give an idea of what the final illustrations will look like. Here is the rough sketch which Chris did for the Mopti market spread. It shows the position of each character on the page and gives an idea of the various background elements.

Mopti Market rough by Christopher Corr
by Christopher Corr, reproduced with permission

A note on the word ‘spread’. One spread = two pages facing each other. I read in the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook that most picture books comprise 32 pages. Take out the covers, the copyright and dedications page, the cutesy ‘This Book Belongs To’ fill-in-your-name page and the endpapers and you’re left with 24 pages, i.e. twelve spreads. 32 pages is not a cast iron rule – a perfunctory examination of our one year-old daughter’s bookshelf reveals lots of non-32-page books – but it is a good guide. So if you are writing a picture book for publication, write twelve spreads and indicate where the page-turns are.

3. The neat version
Once the characters and roughs have been approved, the illustrator has a few weeks or months to complete the neat version of each spread.

4. The design stage
Writer exits stage left pursued by a bear, book designer enters stage right. The Designer takes the completed illustrations and creates a beautiful book, slotting in the text (font choice is important here) and tweaking the colour balance. Colour balance! Can you tell I’m getting hazy about what happens at this point in the process? If you’re reading this, Beccy, could you comment on what else goes on at this stage?

5. The stampede
The book gets printed in vast quantities and sent to bookshops. The night before official publication day, hordes of excited toddlers pitch their tents outside Waterstones in Piccadilly, heedless of the biting wind and quivering with anticipation. When dawn breaks and those big black doors at last swing open, the toddlers charge inside, ululating wildly and knocking over enormous cardboard goat cut-outs in their eagerness to reach the 3+ shelves and grab an armful of glorious technicolour caprine hardbacks.

I fear I have missed out some important things, so please do comment below and put me right. We are coming in to land now. Tomorrow is the final instalment in this series: the Making of a Picture Book Part Five: Synergy.

Published by

Stephen Davies

Children's author: picture books, chapter books and YA novels

2 thoughts on “The Making of a Picture Book Part Four: ILLUSTRATION”

  1. Hi Stephen! I am reading this, here you go . . . The type and layout of pages actually starts around stage 2 of the process you describe above. After we’d seen and commented on his colour roughs and character sketches, Chris will have had page layouts set in roughly the right sized type and font. With goats I then dropped in his pen roughs and moved the text around what Chris had drawn to make sure it all fitted ok and was a good enough guide for him to follow when we was painting the final artwork. When his artwork arrived in all it’s technicoloured glory we sent it off to our repro house for hi-res scanning. These files are then sent back to us to drop into the layouts check the text all fits and tweak the font and size of type and any other last bits that need correcting before sending back to the repro house for them to make full colour proofs with. These proofs are the first properly printed samples we see so it’s always very exciting to get them in the office. From these proofs we give any instruction to colour correct the files so that the printed book will end up looking as good and as close to Chris’ artwork as possible. Andersen Press have been using the same repro house in Zurich for many years and they are very skilled at getting the printed pages as close to what we all want as possible. Chris’ artwork is so vibrant that we were all a bit worried that the printed version would be a bit flatter than his wonderful paintings, but once again the repro house did an amazing job, and the proofs looked really good. The final, corrected book files are then sent from the repro house to the printer to print the actual books. Hope that helps! Beccy x

    1. Thanks so much for clarifying this, Beccy! I had no idea that the layout process started so early, or that the goggle-eyed goats had traipsed all the way to Zurich and back. Interesting stuff.

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