Illustration process: First steps

GREEN for camera angle. RED for shot size.

One of the first things I do when illustrating a book is to draw up or print out a storyboard. This is an outstanding tool for planning out illustrations! Here I make chicken-scratch thumbnail sketches and map out the emotional arc of the manuscript. Once I establish the emotion I want each illustration to portray I start making decisions on “shot size” and “camera angle.” Borrowing these techniques from the film industry has transformed my illustration process!

Sketch from recent book dummy.

Next, are very rough sketches using the information I established on my storyboard to build a book dummy. If the emotion I want to capture on a page is embarrassment, and a feeling of everything gone wrong, I might use a dutch angle in my composition. If I want the character to appear to be powerful or have more agency I might use a low angle in my sketch. I establish the size and position of each element on the page based on the emotional arc of the story. For a more action-filled manuscript, I will do the same until I have where the characters are positioned in each illustration.

Now I have my “shot list!” Armed with just a bed sheet, phone camera, and a really big window, I’m ready to shoot a photo session for images to use for reference as I illustrate the book. I did this recently. First, I went through my shot list with my model and explained the story’s emotional arc. Then we took several shots of each scene for expression, body position, and lighting. Her mom was a great help holding the big sheet and being an extra model! I feel like a got a little (tiny) peek into what it’s like to be a movie director. Now I’m ready for the next level of sketches to send to the art director!

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