Acclimating to change, even a good change is not always easy, but love and patience help! That’s the theme in Hazel Mitchell’s debut picture book Toby (released this week  by Candlewick Press.) The beautifully drawn story will tug at the hearts of five-year-olds and adults alike. You can get a sense of that from the book trailer below, which Hazel made herself.

Hazel has developed an effective process of drawing with a 6B pencil on either hot-pressed or cold-pressed watercolor paper, laying a watercolor wash (of either blue or burnt sienna, depending on the mood of the story) for an underpainting and converting the whole thing to a grayscale image in Photoshop, where she completes the illustration with two or three Photoshop brushes in a limited palette. She showed us how she works in a fascinating Google Live Event hangout, during which Toby made his first ever online appearance.

The audio issue we had with the hangout merely contributed to the interesting, creative chaos, while Hazel demonstrated the two key qualities required of a children’s illustrator (besides sheer dedication and hard work) – flexibility and a sense of fun, even mischief! You can see a short excerpt from the ‘workshop’ below. Or sign up to watch the whole 90 minutes here.

As I mentioned you can sign up to watch the whole session replay here. It’s free and we’ll keep it up through the month of September.

Today is Hazel’s blog book tour stop on this blog! We’ll send one fresh copy of Toby to the person who leaves the best comment about the challenges, perils, wonders and/or rewards of making one’s own beloved pet the hero of one’s picture book dummy. Leave your comment at the bottom of today’s post by midnight, Friday, September 23.

On building Toby’s fictional picture book world – our interview with Hazel Mitchell

How did it work for you, as both illustrator and a brand new author, to fictionalize a real life character? Did it make it easier, or more daunting to have Toby already around in your life as a ‘family member?’ Can you address this question as first, an author, and second as the illustrator of this ‘make-believe story’ about Toby?

It was fairly easy to fictionalize Toby, perhaps because I was observing him constantly. I took the things he did and slotted them into new situations in the fictionalized world. As an author, it was a fast decision to place him in a make-believe story. I felt a story that was based on Toby’s real life would not have a great story arc and I wanted the reader (the child) to have a character they could relate to, so I gave Toby a young boy owner and to mix it up I gave him a single father. The storyline evolved as the book went along. It made a nice triangle – the dog – the boy – the somewhat harassed father – all going through different emotions and interacting with one another. There aren’t many words in the book, but there are lots of undercurrents. What could have just been a story about a scared dog overcoming fear became a story about a child learning to be patient and to keep on trying until he succeeds.

As an illustrator, I had to discover what sort of world Toby lived in. What kind of house, boy, father? Really, that’s no different to any story I’ve illustrated. Researching, sketching, thinking about color and medium and line. Because I’d already drawn many pictures of Toby before beginning a dummy of the book drawing Toby himself was easy!

Leaving in, cutting out…

Hazel and TobyThere are A LOT of illustrations in Toby – at least 60 (from, did you say in the video) about 120 images in one of your first dummy versions of Toby. The published book has 40 pages and your images are sometimes grouped on a page or a spread in comic or graphic novel style panels. Can you talk about your occasional ‘light use’ of the comic panel format for a picture book for ‘readers’ pre-school through 1st grade? Do you find younger children perhaps more acclimated to this format than previous generations have been?

I had far too many images in my first dummies! There was a lot of cutting to do. (I worked with a great art director at Candlewick, Ann Stott who has worked with John Klassen on his wonderful books), she helped me edit the ‘moments’ in the book – especially those that were not moving the story forward. I’d also seen the story in more of a graphic novel format for young readers, so changing it to a regular picture book format altered a lot of the layout (for the better). The layout of the book was quite an organic process. At one point there were way too many small panels and a bit chaotic. I laid the panels out so they were much easier for a young child to follow. I discarded a lot of ‘4th wall’ images and highlighted text. The book is much cleaner. It became obvious where double spreads that bled were needed and also spot illustrations. They just kind of happened to suit the mood and the text. At one point we did have many single spreads that bled off the page, but when finals were finished we decided to give everything a white border except for two double spreads that give impact.

I think younger children are very used to the use of panel formats in picture books now. In fact, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Children look at cartoons and graphic novels for their age group (like Babymouse and Owly). I’m not sure if they are more acclimated than they were in the past, but when it works in the story I think it’s great and gives the reader more visual interest.

What were the thrills and challenges of paring story and art down from the many illustrations and sketches to something a little more resembling a typical picture book with 30-40 pages of pictures and text? Do you see the traditional children’s book genres bending and morphing into new forms?

Well, maybe it’s just how I began writing the book which meant I’d far more illustrations than I needed. If I’d written the manuscript first it may not have happened like that. I drew lots of little thumbnails of scenes I was thinking of and then put them into a dummy format. Words happened around the pictures. The most I ever did that came close to a manuscript was putting all the scenes on index cards. That way I could juggle them around! Maybe that was the main challenge, taking lots of different (but not necessarily linked ideas) and making them coherent. This is my first picture book as author and illustrator so I’m also still figuring out how to work. I have the feeling it will always be visuals first. I am sure that books will continue to bend genres and become even more creative as this century goes along. Just like they have in the past!

Good characters count

Toby painting by Hazel Mitchell

Emily Wayne won the original painting of Toby and his boy awarded by Toby and Hazel at last week’s Google+ Live Event when Hazel demonstrated her watercolor + Photoshop painting technique. She talked about the process of creating her debut picture book published this week by Candlewick – from a big pile of thumbnail sketches of Toby, her miniature poodle. You can watch an excerpt from the 90-minute workshop here.

Can you give us an idea or some examples of how the story character of Toby developed , changed and grew before your eyes, perhaps in surprising ways, in your sketchbook and in your text, even though you already knew the real Toby quite well and he was already part of your life? (Again, speaking as both writer and the illustrator.)

I began by drawing Toby in a realistic way, as I saw him every day. Gradually, and without realizing, he became more stylized and more cartoony which made him easier to draw. He did take on a different character during the drawing and writing of the book. I think, perhaps, that I was projecting on to Toby, in his fictionalized world, the feelings and attributes I wished he would develop faster in real life! As the writer I had to make some changes to the time frame – the story in the book happens in fall, maybe over a couple of months, maybe less, maybe more. I originally thought to make it closer to life and spread it over a year. But this would complicate the story line and might confuse the reader, who is, after all, very young! In writing the book the fictionalized Toby is, I think, the dog the real Toby has almost become. He is still on the journey to recovery, many things are still hard for him and he is fearful of new situations and people, but he’s come a very long way in the time he’s been with us.

Now that you’ve been through your own journey crafting an original story, what one piece of advice would you give an illustrator who wants to create or is already working on her own original story that she’s also illustrating?

Always serve the story, both with words and illustrations. If text/illustrations/characters don’t work within your story arc you need to sort it out. It’s easy to get carried away with the intricacies of the characters and the scenes and drawings, but is it moving the story forward? Or is it just included because you are in love with it? Always write and draw from the heart, because if you don’t put your heart into it the reader will know!

Toby, the new picture book by Hazel Mitchell (Candlewick Press)


Toby Links: toby
tweet@meetToby meettoby/
Buy Toby here http://www.indiebound. org/book/9780763680930 and here http://www.barnesandnoble. com/w/toby-hazel-mitchell/ 1123282586.

Sign up to watch last week’s Toby-Hazel workshop session replay here.

Leave your comment on this post (bottom of the page) to possibly win your free copy of Toby.

About Hazel Mitchell

Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated several picture books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? Toby is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press.

Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental, Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Charlotte/Mecklenburg , Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended

Originally from England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips, but is learning to love lobster. See more of her work at Repped by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd, N.Y.

Hazel’s picture books:
Do Fairies Bring The Spring? Down East Books Spring 2017
Toby Candlewick Press Fall 2016
Kenya’s Art Charlesbridge Publishing Spring 2016
Animally Kane Miller Publishing Spring 2016
Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? Down East Books Fall 2015
Imani’s Moon Charlesbridge Fall 2014

You’ll enjoy this visit with Hazel on Kathy Temean’s blog,  Writing and Illustrating with many photos and illustrations and this great Q&A from a few years ago (Wednesday, September 4, 2013) on Felicia Lilley’s blog, In the Studio. Find more interviews with Hazel from the blog tour here.

Virtual field trips! (picture book learning opportunities)

Cover by Larry Day

Ready for an intriguing lesson and a nice little exercise showing you how to analyze a composition? Award-winning children’s book illustrator and advertising  storyboard artist Larry Day, our guest instructor for the September Guest Group Critique shares them in this video.

Did Hazel’s use of Photoshop with her watercolor artwork open your eyes to the value for kid lit artists of Adobe’s world standard imagery manipulation software? I recommend this fine video course by Leda Chung from the Children’s Book Academy, which focuses specifically on Photoshop for children’s book illustration: Fun with Photoshop. (A Marks & Splashes affiliate link.)

Deadline for the 2017 SCBWI Tomie dePaola’s Illustration Award is December 1, 2016.
Find your assignment here.

Colored Pencil Bootcamp assignment

One of the smaller assignments done by me in Cindy Wider’s Coloured Pencil Bootcamp. Don’t miss this live course just starting from Cindy and Stuart Wider. I’ll see you in the class!

Today Cindy and Stuart Wider launched round two of their delicious course, Coloured Pencil Bootcamp far and away the best color pencil instruction I’ve found online. Yes, there’s still time to get on board for this highly interactive training. Seven weeks of lessons, with personalized video critiques of the assignments. Cindy’s art and curriculum are nothing short of wizardry. Check it out here: Coloured Pencil Bootcamp(A Marks & Splashes affiliate link.)