Monday, May 3, 2010

10 Putting the Picture in Picture Books

Yesterday, I attended a workshop called "Picture Books: From Idea to Printed Page" in Fairfax, Virginia. The guest speakers were both from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Patrick Collins is the Creative Director, working on the art and design for books, and Noa Wheeler is an Associate Editor who has worked on many well-known projects. While picture books are a collaboration of text and pictures working harmoniously, I thought the information provided yesterday was more relevant for illustrators. Still, since we spend a lot of time on the writing aspect on our blog, I decided to take detailed notes and share what I took away about the illustration process. Forgive me, in advance, if I'm being "Captain Obvious" here, because artwork and I aren’t exactly old friends.
  • The colors used in the images must reflect the appropriate tone of the manuscript. The speakers yesterday used an upcoming picture book called Alligator Wedding by Nancy Jewell, illustrated by J. Rutland, to make this point. Initially, the illustrations were a little too dark even for the bayou setting. The publishers asked the illustrator to brighten them to more accurately convey the mood created in the text, and the final illustrations are fantastic.
  • There is a lot of back and forth, at least at this publishing house, in the illustrating process. They try out a variety of cover images, fonts, colors, and layouts before committing to anything. I gained a whole new appreciation for their pursuit of perfection.
  • The text shouldn’t hamper the image. In one of their books Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, they made the decision to move the text into a column off to the side so it was not overlapping the image at all. That way, the integrity of the image remained pure. Even on the cover, the shadowing behind the title allowed for it to pop.
  • This may seem obvious, but the image should reflect the text. They mentioned in a few books that what was being said in the text was not coming through in the pictures. Sometimes objects were missing or other times, things were not drawn accurately. Revisions had to be made to fix these problems.
  • The importance of the cover was emphasized heavily as being something that must draw the reader in and appeal to kids. In some cases, they can choose to put one image on the jacket flap and an entirely different one on the hardback case itself.
  • Images for double-page spreads should consider the “the gutter,” the 1/4" space where a book will be physically bound in the center so that nothing critical is lost. Knowing at the composition stage that the center of the image will be slightly tucked down into the binding can help maintain image integrity.
  • The presenters strongly advised against submitting as an author/illustrator. If they like one aspect of your work over the other, they may reject the entire submission rather than tell you that one aspect is not up to parr. Stick to your strengths.
  • If you submit a dummy, Henry Holt recommends including sketches along with one or two fantastic, finished pieces to demonstrate the final products you can produce.
  • Finally, 8 1/2” x 11” are standard trim sizes. This goes back to the all-mighty dollar and the idea that bookcases in bookstores only accommodate a certain size. Don’t invite rejection by deviating from the norm.
That's about it. I hope there are some tips here that you'll find useful. As a picture book writer, I certainly learned a lot about illustrating and have a whole new respect for the process!

Happy Illustrating!



  1. Thanks for sharing this very useful info!

  2. I'm so glad it was helpful for you. I think even as a writer, this information is relevant and thought-provoking! After all, they are called picture books :)


  3. Marissa, I've so enjoyed your comments on my blog lately! Thank you for adding your thoughts to the discussions!

  4. Hi Jody, I'm afraid I'm the guilty party on your blog, which I love BTW. I have to remember to start signing things. Thanks for stopping by!


  5. The world of illustration sounds fascinating. I can appreciate the hard work that goes into it.

  6. T. Anne, so true! I had little understanding of the process until yesterday. It really is useful to have insight into illustration. Thanks for your comment!

  7. another phenomenal post!! i don't know how you do it!!

    thanks so much for taking the time to put all of this information together :D :D

  8. Tahereh, thanks for being a part of our community here! Martina and I are loving the participation and it's our pleasure to share what we find :)

  9. You are NOT captain obvious! Your post was full of info I've never heard before. Thanks!

  10. Julie, I'm so glad to hear it. So much of this information was brand new to me because my artistic abilities extend only to the realm of stick figures! There's no denying as a picture book writer that you truly should understand the job of the partner who will bring your tale to life through images. Thanks for your comment Julie :)


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