Q and A: How do you address the daunting nature of doing a picture book?

Thumbnail sketches for “ The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair. ”

Thumbnail sketches for “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair.

I got an email the other day from a Mr. Nathan N. who says:

I do arts and crafts as a hobby. I just wrote a children's story that I would really like to illustrate and self publish. It is something I've been wanting to do for a while.

How do you address the daunting nature of doing all those spreads? Especially if you're totally amateur?

Good question. I thought I’d share my response here since it might be helpful to other people in Nathan’s same position.

Here’s what you do:

1) On a couple of sheets of paper make 18 rectangles with lines through the middle. Make them small enough that you can fit 8 per page. These all represent the pages of your book. 

Underneath each page write “endpapers,” “title page,” “copyright page,” “page 01,” “02,” “03,” etc. If you’re not sure what pages to include, look at a published children’s book to pattern this after.

2) On each of these spreads just draw the stick figure version of what you think should be illustrated on each page. This is the hardest part of doing a children’s book. So don’t worry if you get frustrated or overwhelmed by this. Don’t forget to leave space for where your words are going to go.

3) Now that you have a loose idea of all the illustrations you need to do, begin roughing out more detailed sketches of each spread. These should be done at the size you’re going to actually draw it. Add the words to these pages as well. 

4) You’ve got an entire children’s book sketched out! Pat yourself on the back. Now start chipping away at each illustration one drawing at a time. Start with the fun one first, then do the hardest one second, then do an easy one next, and keep going in that order until the book is finished.


It also helps to make a checklist with a box for each page. Cross off each page as you finish. Seeing the progress this way helps you realize how far you’ve come and have a realistic idea of what you still have to do. Plus it’s so satisfying to cross things off as DONE.