“How to Illustrate Children’s Books” A review
Last month we awarded Will Terry’s instructional video series How to Illustrate Children’s Books to the winner of our “Epiphany Essay” contest, Maya Scharke.
Since I proffer my own online course on children’s book illustration I was ready to take a fine-tooth comb to this “competitor” that several of my illustrator buddies and colleagues were giving high marks to.
I didn’t get too far into the videos, though, before I put away the comb. How to Illustrate Children’s Books is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in doing any kind of narrative illustration.
Will Terry has illustrated children’s books for Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Scholastic. He’s also published his own e-picture books, like Monkey and Croc, which he sells for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook readers, as well as a downloadable PDF. So he’s able to speak to the digital revolution confronting traditional children’s publishing.
He teaches a course in children’s book illustration at Utah Valley University.
He explains how he’s painted most of his children’s books in acrylic paints, but tried his last couple in Photoshop after a friend showed him how to use the software. Now there’s no going back, he says.
He also sells separate videos on painting in acrylic and in Photoshop.
TheIllustrate Children’s Books series consists of eight 20-30 minute video lectures that feature mini-demos, mostly done in Photoshop.
Will shows how he starts by making gobs of 1.5 inch diameter pencil thumbnail sketches in his sketchbook — to get a feeling for the scenes in a story, article, or editorial and how to “manage the space” in each picture.
He enlarges his favorite thumbnails (via Photoshop or photocopier) to more comfortable 4 x 5-inch dimensions. He traces this. It becomes the comp, where he works out the most important shapes and details.
He next enlarges the comp — to a size that the finished illustration will be. When he’s completed his detailed outline drawing, he paints (via stylus, Wacom tablet, and digital “brushes”.)
The final stage (one often short-changed by aspiring illustrators, Terry says) is the tweaking and refinements necessary to bring the image to a professional finish.
Reading words about any artist’s process is one thing. Watching it demonstrated in a crisp live-action or screen capture video is a whole other experience. Here’s where the series shines — not just in the visuals but in Terry’s plain-language commentaries that give the universal lesson in what we’re seeing.
I particularly enjoyed #4, Illustration design, and # 6, Working with the color where he makes sophisticated ideas simple for the viewer.
I also appreciated the last one, #8, Submitting your work where he talks to us like an artist buddy about self-publishing opportunities and the “Oklahoma Land Rush” of the new digital publishing marketplace (and how it won’t last forever.)
That’s a refreshing virtue — that he doesn’t shy away from the hard issues such as “How much is your time worth?” and the imperative of having passion in your work and putting in that “time in the saddle” — significant time (as in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours) to achieve any real mastery of craft.
I’ll leave you with a couple of his quotes from the lessons — and my strong recommendation that you include How to Illustrate Children’s Books in your art instruction arsenal.
“You’re making characters from shapes and their placements. Be deliberate.
Shapes really matter. Shapes communicate your ideas.”
“Color harmony is colors relating.”
“Don’t let the image design your thumbnail.”
See the complete lesson #3, Character design on the website that also contains Terry’s online portfolio, store, and blog that’s characterized by the same good information and candor as his video presentations.
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We have another Epiphany Essay — this one by Lacy Morgan. (Readers were asked to write about, “What epiphany in connection to drawing, painting or children’s book illustration have you experienced in the past year?”)
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Becoming Child-like Again
By Laci Morgan
Epiphany Essay no. 2
As a freelance illustrator and animator, I think it’s important to learn from others to keep up on your skills.
This last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a few conferences in my industry by becoming a student volunteer.
At the Creative Talent Network Expo (CTN-X), a conference that focuses on character design and animation, I was in charge of directing VIPs like Pixar and Disney artists to their panels, making sure that everything ran smoothly and according to schedule.
During the talks, I would stand in the back of the room and observe the audience. What surprised me more than anything else is the sheer number of attendees that whipped out a sketchbook and were drawing their fellow seatmates or the speakers.
Though they were listening to the speakers intently, they were also using the time to brush up on their skills and add to their sketchbook!
It struck me as being something unique to artists…at no other type of convention would you find audience members doodling and have it be not only “OK to do,” but actually encouraged!
(It took me back to the days where my elementary school teachers would catch me doodling behind my desk when I was SUPPOSED to be learning math, and end up having to skip recess) I was hit by the thought that this is a mindset I myself need to get into.
These artists had a sketchbook on them at every moment and grabbed any opportunity they had to draw. I realized that I can’t even remember the last time I randomly whipped out my sketchbook and just drew what I saw around me…most of the time my “creative powers” are channeled into client work or school work, not creating for myself.
I was inspired to start bringing the sketchbook with me on a daily basis, and I’m trying to become more aware of the fact that it’s OK to draw just to draw…I don’t HAVE to be creating for the paycheck or the degree.
I also recently sat down with a client whose 7-year-old daughter had “helped” her dad by drawing out some logo ideas with crayon for him to take to our meeting.
While some artists would roll their eyes at this (“oh no, ANOTHER client who has an “artist” in the family), I have to admit that I was amazed at the creativity this little girl possessed in her drawings.
She had come up with pages of ideas and drawn detailed, intricate patterns and lettering, not limited by what logos “should” look like. (In fact, those drawings reminded me of myself at that age!)
I think as we get older and keep hearing things like “you can’t do that” and are forced to conform to what the public thinks looks good, we begin to lose that magical quality of imagination that children possess.
We start to get afraid that our ideas will be rejected, so we don’t push the envelope and stay with “safe” ideas. We as artists need to learn how to be unafraid to think outside the box and brainstorm without fear of acceptance.
Because of some of these insights, my goal in 2011 is to find a way to go back to that creative, child-like place again, and begin to “dream” and create more art for myself again!
I think that having this new mindset will really show itself through my work this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me!
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Learn how to impress an art director…
Join Lucy Cummins, an associate art director with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Priscilla Burris, SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator, and author-illustrator Linda Shute for a one-day event for committed illustrators who wish to hone their craft through hands-on activities and discussion. Read more and register for the Saturday, June 24 SCBWI Florida Illustrators’ Intensive 2011
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Animator, illustrator, and now author Laura Jennings has launched her new science fiction e-book, The Highsong Project. (Amazon Kindle users can go here to order.) She’s produced a compelling video book trailer, which she animated herself and a new blog, The Highsong Project, to promote her book and share experiences and discoveries on her e-book self-publishing and marketing journey. I’m pleased to add Laura’s blog to my blogroll.