Friday, July 16, 2010

Illustrating Floyd: Getting Started

It’s time to get my second Floyd book going so I thought I’d share a bit of my process as I go along. The second book in my series of three is titled Floyd and the Mysterious Night Time Noise and I plan to have it released in spring of 2011.

This is not the only way an illustrator might create a book project, but this is the method that works really well for me. Today I’m writing about the beginning stages, which starts with the sketching phase.

Even before I start the first sketches, there are a few important things to have ready. My manuscript is typed and edited first (thanks to my dedicated editor Andrea Melo!). Next, I break the manuscript up into sections that will work within the number of pages I plan to have. This is important since the cost of book production depends partly on how many pages the book will be. Due to the printing and book construction process, pages are always printed in multiples of 4 (28, 32, 36...). You can have a book that ends on an odd number of pages, but then you may have blank/wasted pages. Finally, I print out a copy of the manuscript from my computer.

Now I start the art work with thumbnail sketches. Thumbnail sketches are small practice sketches that artists often use to plan composition. I create a thumbnail box in pencil that is the same dimensions as what the spread will be, but reduced in scale. A spread, by the way, is the the two pages in the book that will face each other. It works really well to design the composition knowing how images on those pages will span or visually compliment each other. I like to put one thumbnail box on each page of my sketchbook in the order of the story, so it works a little bit like a story board.

I also lightly draw a line in the center of the thumbnail so I know where the page fold will be. It is not a good idea to draw images on the page fold unless it is really carefully composed, so its important to know how your space works in what will be near the page “gutter” area.

Next I print out my manuscript and cut out the sections used for each spread. I glue them below the thumbnail, so I can keep track of the story and know exactly what text I’m illustrating. Even though I wrote the story, I don’t have it 100% memorized. Sometime the text may get edited further at this point, but I try to have it as close as possible to the final version.

I also create a thumbnail for the cover design. My pencil design shows Floyd looking up at the night sky and uses my original Floyd title font as seen on the first book, Floyd and the Irresistible Cookie.

Now I draw the compositions for each spread in pencil, using just a few sketchy lines. These drawings don’t take a long time to do, but I may go back and change parts of them as I go along. I try to vary the images and views, especially when it comes to Floyd, Tiny and Larue, so the pictures do not seem too repetitive. I put the text in as just sketchy lines with key words so I generally know where I will put the words when I do the typesetting in Photoshop later. I don’t work from photos just yet; I’ll do that when I get to the more detailed work of the final paintings.

At this point, if I were working with a publisher or author, I would have those preliminary thumbnail sketches approved before going onto the final full-scale illustrations. But I’m self-publishing, so I just have to ask me!
Me: How do you think those thumbnails look?
Me: Great! How many do you have done?
Me: Ummmm...
I have a few more of those thumbnails to work on so I’m getting back to work!

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