“How I Write a Picture Book” — Author Steve Light Explains His Process



Column by Steve Light, who has drawn corporate illustrations for
AT&T, Sony Films, and the New York Times Book Review. He has
published 12 children’s books by Abrams, Candlewick Press and
Chronicle Books. His latest book is ZEPHYR TAKES FLIGHT (October
2012, Candlewick). School Library Journal says, “Light’s story is engaging,
but the true star of this book is the art showing Zephyr’s sadness or
determination. Another aspect of the book that really stands out is its
take on gender roles.” Steve Light has also had his Steve Light Storyboxes
produced by Guidecraft. Teachers, Parents and Children can use the
props in a storybox to tell a story. Steve loves to draw and sharing his
art and stories with children. His website is www.stevelightart.com.


Here is how I create a picture book:

1. All my stories start with pictures.

2. Usually from pictures I have drawn in a sketchbook.

3. Then a story builds until it needs to come out of the pages of a sketchbook and become a book. I never think of myself as a writer! Writers are these magical people who can turn a phrase and craft a novel. I consider myself a storyteller and artist, a maker of things. Even when I am telling a story with one of my storyboxes, I see pictures of the story, like a movie in my head. I never think of the words, they just come out of my mouth to describe the pictures I am seeing.

When “writing” a book, I present a sketchbook to my Editor and Art Director that is about an idea. I have been lucky to find an Editor and Art Director who understand me and the way I work. They understand that the visuals come first and embrace this. So the sketchbook I show them could be filled with flying machines or dragons that live in the city, all drawn with a fountain pen usually.

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The sketchbook is filled with pictures and possibilities of what the story can be. I leave it up to my Editor and Art Director to pick out the things that they think our audience will respond to. Then I start figuring out what is going to happen inside this wonderful 32-page picture book I get to create. Some writing will take place at this point but only of plot points or beats I want to hit in the story. Sometimes a line or a phrasing will appear.

Once pencil drawings have been made in a 32-page “dummy” book then the words for each page can be written. Once the words and pictures are approved then I get to create the final art.

Creating the final art is like being transported into the pictures that have been filling my mind since first drawing the ideas in a sketchbook. That world is a most wonderful place, a place I love to be. Writing for me is an escape from the world outside and the pictures are the doorways. I do not know how others create picture books but this has worked for me and I love doing it.


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One thought on ““How I Write a Picture Book” — Author Steve Light Explains His Process

  1. rich olson

    As an children’s book illustrator, I relate to your approach. I too like to create images first and then let the the images suggest a story. It is a very creative way to weave a story and can lead your brain in directions you otherwise would not have gone.

    Rich Olson
    SCBWI children’s book illustrator


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