Illustrating My First Picture Book: From Rough Sketch to Final Page

behind the scenes, childrens books, illustration, process

Have I mentioned that my debut picture book is published next month?? Oh, I have? Jolly good. But just in case you haven’t heard, my debut picture book publishes in February thanks to the lovely folk at Beach Lane Books and Simon & Schuster. It’s an anthology of sweet poems for young children by Cari Meister, and it’s called ‘Pony Poems for Little Pony Lovers’.

Just before Christmas, I was sent an advance copy – it was so special to finally hold the book I worked on for almost two years!

With only a couple of weeks to go until publication, I thought it would be fun to share with you the evolution of one page, to demonstrate how long it took to get from the first rough sketch to the final image.

The illustration I’m going to talk about is for the poem ‘A Riding We Will Go’. It was one of the pages that took the longest to get right but it ended up being one of my favourites! Here is the first sketch I did, along with the text:

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version one.

There was no fixed visual style for the book at this stage, though I’d had an initial conversation with my brilliant editor, Andrea, about including lots of plants and flowers, and having a fantastical feel. So this first sketch was really just what jumped out of my brain as I went through the first round of ideas, just letting my imagination take hold. I envisioned the foliage fading away into the background, possibly rainbow coloured. I just knew I wanted a sense of adventure.

After reviewing the sketch, we decided the sense of adventure should come from the anticipation of a journey, and I should tone down the fantasy feel and ground the book more in the real world. So I moved the setting to be outside a stable, with the little girl getting her pony ready to go for a ride:

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version two.

We thought this was better, and heading in the right direction, but this particular poem is quite long, and the page looked too cluttered. It was also noted that the girl ought to be wearing a riding helmet and the pony needed proper tack, so I did another version:

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version three.

We then decided to remove the background completely, and keep the detail in the lower half of the page, to make more room for the text. I worked on some fun plants, and refined the pony and girl further.

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version four.

And then it was time to start painting! Now the thing is, when I started painting, I decided that the image wasn’t as balanced as I’d like visually, and I wanted to show more of the pony and girl rather than cutting them off in the foreground. I also wanted to give them more of a world. So I actually took quite a leap from the sketch, and produced this:

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version five.

We were all pretty happy with the painting, it was definitely on the right t(r)ack! But now it was painted, we decided the background was a bit too sparse. And in an unexpected twist (I discovered the book publishing process is full of these) it was decided to cut the poem short to make room for the illustration to take centre stage and I was given free reign to fill the page with wonderful things!

So I set about painting some background elements. I wasn’t sure which way I was heading immediately, so rather than paint onto the original, I thought I’d do them separately to keep my options open. Here are the original scans of the new scenery I painted:

Back to the mountains!
A pond full of jolly birds. I tried to sneak in as many different animals as I could in the book – keep a look out for them!

And when I put it all together…

‘A Riding We Will Go’ version six is not all that different from version two!

And here is a glimpse of the finished book, but you’ll have to get yourself a copy if you want to see the final thing!

‘A Riding We Will Go’ final version!

I hope this has been an interesting insight into the evolution of just one page in the book. Now imagine doing this for the other fifteen poems! Before I found myself part of the world of picture book making, it was all such a mystery to me. I’d never have thought that one page could take so long to get right, or how I could jump from that first sketch to the final page. It’s been a wonderful, exciting, frustrating journey and I’m so glad to be able to share it with you!

4 thoughts on “Illustrating My First Picture Book: From Rough Sketch to Final Page

  1. I understand better now how much time and thought had to go into creating such a beautiful book. I sensed when asking you during the progress how much effort was required but was puzzled during this period how long it seemed to be taking.
    Now however I have a much better understanding and I think you should be very proud about producing, along with the author of course, such a stunning work.

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