• Bethany Drake

Behind the Scenes: Making a Picture Book


Today I wanted to talk through my process of making a picture book. I am going to be focusing on my book 'The Balloon' for the most part, but I also want to share some of my previous experiences creating picture books to give more context to how 'The Balloon' came to be.


Firstly, a bit about my experience creating children's picture books. Before I created 'The Balloon' for my final major project for my illustration course at university, I had made several other picture books over the last few years both for assignments on my course but also as my own personal projects. Every time I start a new picture book project I strive for it to be better than the last. I want to improve my abilities in storytelling, world building and aesthetically through my illustrations. Because of this, I look back at previous projects and evaluate where I can improve and try and apply those improvements to the next project. In this way I'm able to work on a few improvements at a time which is far more manageable than striving for perfection straight off the bat! A lot of this process is trial and error, I will keep aspects of the stories, characters and environments the same but tweak a few things to see if it works or not. This process of constant improvement is very important and comes into play a lot when it comes to 'The Balloon'.


So when did the initial concept for 'The Balloon' first come about? Well interestingly enough I first starting working on the concept back in 2018 during the summer between my first and second year on the illustration course. I can't say exactly what sparked the idea, but at the time I was living in a flat above a bar on a busy parade of shops and perhaps subconsciously I dreamed that a balloon would come by and take me away on fun adventure. I sketched down a few of my initial ideas about the character and the story, but in realising that my drawing abilities weren't up to scratch yet I decided to put the project to one side and come back to it when I had made significant improvement. I knew there were so many areas of my drawing ability that needed improvement before I could undertake this project and wanted to do the story justice as I had a lot of hope for it.


































Instead, during that summer, I set myself a challenge of doing a drawing a day for 100 days with my main aim being to improve my characters. I needed to improve far more than just my characters at this point, but thought it was a good place to start! From this time onwards I carried on creating work for other projects, slowing making improvements along the way. Then finally during my final year at university I decided that I was ready to bring this project back and hopefully do it justice.


So what did I learn and improve upon during that time since the initial idea of 'The Balloon'? Well quite a lot! As I said, I set out trying to improve drawing characters, I also needed to improve drawing environments and backgrounds and during different projects along the way I worked on this. Another aspect I needed to work on was finding a drawing or painting material that really worked for me. During first year I had created a picture book where I used ink outlines and digital colouring, from this I discovered I really don't enjoy colouring my work digitally and so sort to find a different way to create my illustrations. In second year I experimented with watercolour for one project and colouring pencils for another but found they still weren't quite right for me. Between second and third year I experimented with watercolour mixed with digital collage but found it a very tedious process. And even at the beginning of third year I was experimenting with mixed media for my pre-major project. But finally, in challenging myself to complete the instagram challenge 'Folktale Week' alongside creating my pre-major project, I realised that gouache would be the right material to use to create 'The Balloon'! (If you are interesting in my journey with gouache then check out my last post!)


After such a long time from the initial concept of the story I felt I almost needed to start again. I still started with the same concept I had years previously, but pushed my ideas further. Initially my idea for the story was simply that a magic balloon appeared and took a girl adventuring around town. The balloon would then lead the girl to where another balloon was stuck and she would help to free it and then the balloons would fly off together. Although these things still happen in the story, I felt there needed to be more to it. I realised that the main character, Jenny, needed to have more of her own story and characterisation as before this the main character would have arguably been the balloon and not Jenny. Then I wanted to add context as to why there was a second balloon and so added a boy character in and gave him his own story too. These two characters ending up being far more important to the story than the balloons which I think was a great improvement.


From an illustration standpoint, I set myself a few goals in making 'The Balloon'. As mentioned previously, in every project I try to improve a few small aspects and 'The Balloon' was no different. Some of my goals for this project included: Drawing buildings (which I hadn't done much of before), drawing background characters - both human and animals (many of my books before had very empty environments), better placement of text, more consistency in drawing repeated characters, adding more details, using different perspectives and creating a well-executed front cover.


So where did I start in creating this book? Because I already had a rough concept of the story, I now needed to establish the way in which I was going to illustrate it. I gathered a selection of artwork from some of my favourite illustrators including David Sierra Liston, Rebecca Green, Vivien Mineker, Ira Sluyterman van Langeweyde and others that was relevant to my project and used that as a starting point. From there I starting storyboarding with little thumbnail sketches. In my opinion this is one of the most important stages in creating a picture book as it helps give an overview of the entire story and points out areas that are and aren't working. During this storyboarding process I also make sure I am considering placement of text within each page.


From this point onwards I went back and forth between character and scenery development and storyboarding. I initially decided to work on the storyboarding in sections to make it more manageable.



































After I was happy with my mini storyboard I then began sketching up the pages full-sized. Many times when doing this I end up finding issues with the pages that weren't obvious at a smaller size and so there are frequently several different full-sized versions of pages until I create a version I'm happy with.



Once all the full-sized roughs were done, I then drew out the pages on watercolour paper ready to paint. I used a light pinky-red coloured pencil to do this - some illustrators use a water soluble pencil for this, but I just use a standard coloured pencil.


Now it's time to paint! For 'The Balloon' project I decided to paint all the pages one colour at a time rather than paint each page fully in turn. In this way I could make sure the colours I was mixing would be consistent throughout the whole book. I started by painting all of the buildings first and adding all of the details and shading to them before moving on to painting the trees and leaves.


Once everything had been painted, I then scanned in all of the finished artwork and cleaned it all up in photoshop. During previous picture book projects this process had been far more laborious as when I was creating work with watercolour I found it didn't scan as well as gouache and so required far more editing. This would then result in some pages being over-edited and they'd often lose their original texture. I found that I didn't have this issue with gouache and so this process was far easier this time around.


Following the editing process, I then added the text and picked the font. I wanted to add a more playful element to the text as I hadn't done this before in previous projects. So I went through and changed the sizing, placement and feel of some of the words to add emphasis where it was needed.




Finally when all the elements were in place, I formatted the entire book in InDesign ready for it to be printed!


Looking back on this project I am still extremely pleased with the final outcome. Of course there are still plenty of areas I can still work on during future projects but I feel this is the best picture book I have created so far.


I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at my picture book 'The Balloon'. Let me know what you thought in the comments! Would you like to see more posts like this?

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