Getting the Lead Out


Sarah McIntyre’s PicturesMeanBusiness campaign is all about highlighting the work involved in illustrating (and why illustrators should always be credited), so Michael and myself thought we’d try and give you an idea of the drawing work we do when developing a picturebook.

Right now I am working on the colour art for a book, all of it on computer. This ‘finished art’ will take me three to four months total, but there’s been a whole pile of hand-drawing just to get to this stage.

In April 2014 there were scribbled ‘thumbnail’ sketches, as I tried to catch the idea which was emerging. Sometime later I began exploring the story’s characters in more detail, filling a sketchbook. Then several weeks were spent working towards a proper full-size dummy.

After a meeting with the editorial team at Walker Books I made a new dummy, taking their comments, Michael’s comments, and my own new thoughts into account. Another round of comments got me to a third dummy/draft and another editorial meeting, at which point I got the go-ahead to begin the final art.

I then sat down and began redrawing the 32 images, this time for scanning into the computer as the templates for the colour art. I traced the previous images, making final tweaks as I went, double-checking details: have I held each of the eight character’s faces/personalities/proportions properly through-out? Have any of them become stiff/lost their energy and appeal during all this redrawing? Is the background detail working? On and on. It took two weeks straight and I drew my way through nearly 1 metre of pencil lead!

Michael does most of his rough work in sketchbooks. He does even more preliminary drawing than I do, exploring characters, poses, expressions, interactions, humour, emotion, trying out lots of alternatives, always seeking out that perfect image. With the book he’s working on now, he’s reacting to and interpreting a text by Barbara Bottner. His illustration style is very line-led so he spends a ton of time on these drawings.

There are around 2235 individual sketches for this book in just four of the sketchbooks below, and there’s another couple of hundred loose sketches lying around the studio.

Michael will trace/tweak the images he chooses for the book, transfer them to watercolour paper, then work the final colour quickly to keep it all light and alive.

PS: If you’re wondering why this post isn’t illustrated with drawings we’re talking about, there’s a certain amount of ‘keeping things under wraps’ involved with books which won’t be out until the end of next year! Watch out for more posts about illustrating over the next few months.


Here’s a link to a fab interview Michael just did with Julie Danielson on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. LOADS and LOADS of preliminary sketches to eyeball, chat about writing and illustrating picture books and growing up in a writing/illustrating household!

Click here to go see:


Catching That Expression

When your characters are going through extreme emotions sometimes you have to really feel their pain…

…then sketch the results! Selfies are so much better than using a mirror, because you don’t have to hold the pose while you draw.Michael faces

Michael really likes to get under each character’s skin when he’s drawing, so he often acts the story out to see how they move and express. He fills page after page of his sketch book, staying ‘in character’ as he draws, which means he’s muttering and exclaiming under his breath as he works. When he’s working on a text by Barbara Bottner that can make for some pretty noisy drawing as Barbara writes characters with full-on emotions and strong opinions. Annoying ABC (2011) had 25 preschoolers working themselves up into a group melt-down – that made for quite a bit of face-pulling and grumbling on Michael’s part.

The little girl in the book Michael’s currently working on is a typically feisty Bottner/Emberley creation. She goes by the name of Priscilla and she’s every bit as ornery as Missy from the Miss Brooks Loves Books books.  The photos show Michael playing out Priscilla arguing with her parents and teacher, trying to make them see things her way.

Miss Brooks Story Nook – the art (part 4)


missy 2 jacket finalb In Parts one through three of this blog I talked about creating the art for the children’s picture book, Miss Brooks Story Nook, (were stories are told and ogres are welcome), from the very first sketches, to finished pencil drawings ready for painting.

Below are finished drawings clipped up on my studio wall. You can see two smaller drawings clipped to the top, which is new art for this spread, I decided on after I supposedly had, um,  finished. I try not to do this kind of last minute endless changing, it can lead to madness. I’m never completely happy with what I’ve done anyway. But… sometimes it’s worth it. And this was one of those times. Miss-Brooks-studio-4b

For whatever reason I can only guess at now, I decided to paint the rejected drawings along with the new art meant to replace them. This turned out to be a dumb thing to do, as you’ll see later.paint dots

I used soft, tube watercolors for this book.  start all painting for a book like this,figuring out my palette of must-have colors. For instance, I know for sure all the kids will have skin…, so I start by putting in the skin tones. It’s an easy way to jump into the process without freaking out trying to decide where to start.  In this case a lot of that mock caucasian skin that looks a bit like the color of a Band-Aid. It looks a bit garish but experience tells me put it in stronger than might look right, because once all the other colors are in, if you make it look good alone on white paper, it will look too pale later. And I try to only make the same mistake 3 or 4 times before I wise up…


I mix the colors I will definitely need ahead of time – hopefully enough for the entire book. I’ll use good, expensive paint and brushes, and nice porcelain pots like the one above. (I think I might have stolen that one from my father years ago). It never pays to scrimp on materials. You always regret it.

I’ll mix skin colors for the main character, Missy, first, then certain specific colors for her blue overalls and the pink and green stripes of her hat, that have to be used as they are from the previous book. Then I’ll paint them all at once, so they look consistent throughout the book. I can spend an hour painting little green stripes. That’s why I put all the art up on the wall. So I can scan for every place the striped hat appears. And Yes, I do screw up sometimes and somehow not notice one stupid hat and have to try and salvage dried up paint to match it with the other hats as much as possible. IMG_0260b

It can be frustrating to not have a single finished painting until the book is all done. But it’s the only way I know to do it without color shifts.

Below you can see one of my aging brain tricks, which is to mix colors and label them since I forget instantly what exact colors I used for something. And it even matters what brand of color you use. Rembrandt Rose Madder Genuine will not mix the same way as Windsor and Newton Rose Madder Genuine. No two colors are exactly the same, and mixing the exact same color twice is practically impossible, which is why I mix a bunch of some color I plan on using. If I do run out, I can try and remember what I used. IMG_0240

As you can see first I did Missy’s skin, hair, then the striped hat, blue overalls, and Billy’s skin hair, and turquoise track suit. Then the rest of the colors.


Below is the final color painted art. The scarf is in similar colors as her hat, but it was OK to paint them at different times, because they are not the same. The top image is not going to be used in the final book , but, as I said before, I painted them anyway.


And below is the right hand page of the spread. It’s particularly important to make sure pages that will be seen together, if they have the same character, in the same clothes, they need to be the same.


Below is the first printed proof for the book, with my notes, and with the wrong art on the top left. And it’s all because I inexplicably painted it in. Someone naturally assumed this was the correct art. Who wouldn’t? I covered it with a piece of paper taped over but it wasn’t enough.

Story Nook FG notes031b

Below is the final, fixed spread as it appears in the book with the new art on top.

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By the time the book is finished, the studio is a mess, with palettes of color mixed paint, and test paint papers all over. A contrast to the small pile of neat illustrations to be mailed to the Knopf art director in New York.


See also:

Miss Brooks Story Nook – book page

More on the art for this book:

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part One.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part Two.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part Three.

Miss Brooks Story Nook – the art (part 3)

missy 2 jacket finalbIn parts one and two of this blog entry, I  talked about creating the sketches and then the finish pencil drawings for the children’s picture book, Miss Brooks Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome).  In this segment I’ll talk more about bringing the art closer to the finished, full color, printed artwork, some abandoned ideas, and evolving final layout.

Below are the finished pencil drawings for the spread in the book I’ve been using as an example. The scene is near at the end of the book, where the main character, Missy, confronts her nemesis, Billy. One of the themes of the book is about the power of storytelling.  As you can see, there is an element of fantasy in the book, where Missy’s story telling is meant to be so vivid it comes alive. This was a complicated idea to illustrate, but it happens a lot in children’s books so I’ve had experience dealing with it before.

Miss pencil spread blogMissy snake 2 blog

Missy, who is telling a tale about her neighbor’s snake she has been given as a gift, needs to be seen as both, “giving Billy her best ‘snake-eyed’ look”, but she cannot actually turn into a snake because I was told she couldn’t. At this point I can’t remember who rejected that idea, there are so many back and forth exchanges when I’m creating the art with the editor, designer, author (and possibly sales people). but it was one of many ideas that was shelved for one reason or the other.

But you can see in the finish drawing and sketch to the right, I still used the “snake-eye” idea as a three part point of view sequence, but removed it and any other suggestion Missy has become part snake. So I ended up using just two visual interpretations of Missy manifesting a snake through her storytelling – eyes and scarf.Miss Brooks bw scans057

Missy snake stair blog

In the sketches above and left you can see me working out the extent of cartoon vs. realism for the snake, and the rejected “missy-snake” idea.This one even has a scarf like tail… The snake popping out Billy’s eyes so that they bounce down the sidewalk(pavement) is in the text and in the final book art, but without glasses and hat. I rather like the Missy snake. It certainly looks nightmarish enough to scare away a thuggish brute like Billy.

The scene to the left is also in the book but again, the snake is not wearing a Missy hat and glasses as here…

Then there was a idea of what the snake was supposed to do to Billy. Before the text changed to popping his eyes out, it was a basic, “It’s gonna eat you up!” or something like that. So I drew that scene too. I like the idea of the bully being devoured. Like so many rejected ideas, maybe I’ll get to use it in some other book.

Miss Brooks bw scans011Miss Brooks bw scans012

On Friday, in part 4, the painting begins.

See also:

Miss Brooks Story Nook – book page

More on the art for this book:

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part One.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part Two.


Miss Brooks Story Nook, the art (part 2)

missy 2 jacket finalbIn part one of this post, I talked about creating the art for Miss Brooks Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome),written by Barbara Bottner,  beginning with the sketches and how they build from the very first loose drawings done directly on the text layouts, up to the final pencil line drawings. Below have a look at the final line drawings pinned up in the studio. The room I am renting at the moment is quite small so I must clip them up on a rack I made so I can see them all at once. It’s important to be able to see the whole book at once to see what may be missing or not up to snuff. And when the painting begins it’s important because I work a little bit at a time from one drawing to another. More about that later… the two color illustrations you can see are test images to show the publisher the look of the final art.


As you can see, I do all the final line drawing at once, before beginning the color painting. One big reason to do this is to try and have the the line work look as consistent as possible throughout the book. Believe it or not, I can draw slightly differently from week to week, day to day, maybe even hour to hour.

Below is the final pencil line art for the spread I talked about in Part One of this blog. I used a 5mm mechanical pencil in a B grade (I think), on cold press Arches 90lb watercolor paper. I use Arches as it’s readily available and there’s nothing worse than running out of paper mid job. The thin 90lb paper is because I use a light table to draw the final art from sketches.

As you’ll see later,  the bottom illustration is final, but the top image will change before the book is published. Both Missy and Billy will be replaced by new drawings.

Miss Brooks final line 009b

Below is the final pencil line art for the right hand page of this spread. It does not change. You can see I’m labeling the art, Miss Brooks Book Nook, not the final title, Miss Brooks Story Nook, but it was the working title I liked best so it was the only one I could remember.

Miss Brooks final line 005b

In part one I followed one spread, the climax of the story, from sketches to final pencil art, in which the main character, Missy, confronts her nemesis, Billy, giving him a serious stare-down with her “snake-eye” look.


Above is the art for this spread pinned up on the wall. Notice the two smaller drawings clipped to the page at left. I mentioned I made a late change to the art? Two things bugged me: one was that long coat – I loved it, but decided it was more consistent to have her wear her easily identifiable blue overalls – and I thought Billy should be showing more of how crazy he was.

Crazy BillyHere is Crazy Billy close-up.(above) He looked a bit angry before, which he is, but his madness I thought was a better way to play the scene. I’m so glad I did make the change. I love “crazy Billy”. Look at him – he’s crazy!

Two Missys

Above are the two Missy drawings side by side. Right is the new/final one. Like the coat on left but decided on keeping her outfit consistent.

Miss Brooks bw scans002b

These (above) are sketches I had done to further explore Missy’s “snake eye” smack down with a wild snake scarf. They were put aside when I created the animated sequence on the right hand page.  (Can you see  the little black arrows above? I use these all the time as a note to my self  indicating which sketches on the page I like and want to remember.)


Above is a close-up of the drawing I liked the most. You’ll see later in the third and final part of this blog – Miss Brooks Story Nook, Part three – The Color Art – this particular drawing, and the one of Billy, are not wasted. Due to another late text change, they end up being used, almost untouched, for the new climax scene following the snake-eye spread.

More on the art for this book: Miss Brooks Story Nook – book page.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part One

Miss Brooks’ Story Nook – the art, part 1

missy 2 jacket finalbIn my new book, Miss Brooks Story Nook, (written by Barbara Bottner) the illustrations took me over a year to finish. Which is not unusual for me. Why so long? Well, I’m slow, for one thing. But in general the work of illustrating a picture book is not constant. There are several stages you need to go through, from rough sketches of characters, layouts, final sketches, line drawings, then color, with breaks in between for the publisher, (editor, designer), and author to review what I’ve done, and send back comments, which I will listen to, or, ignore. They will listen to me and agree or disagree, and so on, back and forth, until we have negotiated the final look of the book.  Sometimes a decision is made by the author or editor, based on what I’ve drawn, to change the text. And sometimes a change is made to the text while I’m drawing. This all adds time.  So where do I begin? First I read the latest text over and over. Sometimes the editor sends just the written text, and sometimes the text is roughly positioned on layouts in the chosen typeface, as it might appear in the final book. This is helpful as it gives me an instant idea of how much room I have for art, and how the editor sees the page break down. This may remain unchanged, or, more likely, I will change things around a bit. For example, look at a spread below, where the main character, Missy, is staring down her nemesis, a boy named Billy, giving him, as the text states, her best “snake eyed” look. Missy book nook054b I almost always begin the sketch process right on the print-outs of the text layouts. As you can see above, I’m already working on ideas. This is a character I’ve drawn before so I did not need to completely re-create her for this book. The hair, glasses, overalls and stripe hat are a carry-over from the previous book. Missy-BillybNext I move on to sketch books, working at home, or in coffee shops, creating the characters first, then thinking about different scenes each character must “act out”. You can see the date of the above sketch of Missy and Billy, when I began the process – over a year and a half from the book’s publication date of Aug. 2014. This drawing (above) is one of the first sketches I did for this book. This seemed like the pivotal scene of the book, so I’m focusing on it. I still love this drawing, and as usual, I seldom get as good, and as fresh a drawing in the final book as I get in the first few moments of visualizing a story. Sigh. Snake eyes4b Missy book nook014b








Above (left) is the original sketchbook page and the detail on the right of Missy in the “snake Eye” scene. As you can see, I work on many ideas at once. So only one small drawing on this page is from this scene. Notice the unused raincoat outfit for Missy. I love the coat, but there was no room for it. Below I’m trying to visualize the “camera angle”. Notice I’m playing around with the idea of a long winter coat and scarf for Missy. The scarf acting like a kind of snake. Below that I’m developing the idea further but this actually will be the blueprint for the next page, due to changes in the text.

Missy book nook022b Snake eyes 5b               Missy book nook009b Snake eyes 2b

Miss Brooks bw scans001b Snake eyes b Above is a further refinement of the actual image to be used. Focus being on face front, and the view point of the eyes. Below you can see how I developed a new layout with a focus on the eyes/faces of both, in a cinematic “animated” panel sequence for the right page of the spread and a scene, (still desperately trying to get in that raincoat on the left). Changes like this often occur as the text changes because each new spread layout is considered as a whole. And there were more than the normal amount of text changes in this project. Miss-Brooks-Book-Nook-12b(Below) I went back to a face-on Missy on the bottom left, and fooling around with the idea, ultimately rejected, of her wearing a different hat than that in the first book. Also see refinement in the sequence of the two staring each other down… Miss-Brooks-Story-Nook-30-31flatbMiss Brooks final line 009b And here is the final BW pencil drawing for this spread. Notice the stripe hat is back but she is still in a long coat – which will change before the final book is printed, as will the drawing of Billy… More on the finish art in The Art – part 2…