Skip to main content

Creating Picture Books As an Author/Illustrator

I have always loved the relationship between story and pictures. As a child, I would spend hours poring over picture books. In my teens I discovered the amazing world of graphic novels. At university I studied and learned the techniques of film and animation. This love of story led me to an established career as a visual artist in the film industry, and ultimately to follow my dream of becoming an author/illustrator.

Jami-Gigot-author-writer
Mae-and-the-moon-book-cover

Column by Jami Gigot, author/illustrator of MAE AND THE MOON
(Sept. 2015, Ripple Grove Press). Her book was featured as one of
The Best Children's Books of Fall 2015 by Foreward Reviews. In
addition to making picture books, Jami also works as a visual effects
film artist. Her credits include BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF
JUSTICE (March 2016), AVATAR, and the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA:
PRINCE CASPIAN. She is a member of SCBWI and is currently working
on another picture book with Ripple Grove Press slated for release in
2018. You can see more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter.

As an author/illustrator I tend to think in pictures. It all starts with some sense of action, some small drama taking place. From that initial spark, a story slowly begins to unfold as a series of images in my mind. It's then that I take pencil to paper. In my process, the images and text are linked from the beginning. I'll have a draft of a manuscript next to character sketches in my sketchbook. I'll have thumbnail storyboards and text written all over the page. It all starts out a little messy in truth, but slowly evolves to be more organized, as I make revisions and work things out.

Here's a few things I think about during the process of creating a picture book. I hope they prove useful food for thought for all the picture book creators out there.

(Before you send out your query, look over a submission checklist.)

Let the illustrations “write” the story as much as the words.

One of the wonderfully unique qualities of picture books is the harmony they create between the words and images. Picture books are a form of visual storytelling, usually read to a child who cannot yet read for themselves. Therefore, much of the story (or sometimes all of the story) will be told with the pictures. The illustrations will reveal details about the characters, the setting, and the action. It is therefore unnecessary to repeat that information in the text. On revision, I go back and cut out anything that will be “written” with the artwork, and make sure the words augment what the pictures cannot show.

Create a dummy book.

Even if you are not an illustrator, creating a dummy book is incredibly useful. Breaking up the text across the pages of a dummy book helps to give a clear understanding of the overall pacing and rhythm of the story. Reading the story aloud will help to see how it flows. Consider making use of the page turns. Perhaps they can heighten the drama in some way?

Image placeholder title

Are you a subscriber to Writer's Digest magazine
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

Consider wordless pages.

The first draft of my picture book Mae and the Moon had no wordless pages but in the end, I ended up with four full spreads with only images and no text. I have had many people comment to me about the impact those pages made. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true. Sometimes, you may not need any words at all. Many books that I love have used this technique. Anyone else thinking about wild things swinging from the trees?

Experiment with the story.

There are times when we all just get stuck. If I’m not happy with a story, I try to think about going in a different direction, and try not to force things. How else can the character solve the problem? How can I enrich the plot or add some deeper meaning? It can be overwhelming to think about all the possible ways a story can go, but that exploration can lead to some very interesting twists and turns.

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)

Think like a kid!

I love picture books because they not only inspire children, but bring out the child in adults. And let's face it, anyone that writes or illustrates picture books really is a big kid at heart. Tap into that.

------------------

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

From planning ahead to staying late, Alison Hill shares 10 tips for journalists while covering events as a freelancer.

From Script

Character Studies, Writing the Immigrant Experience, and Six Adaptation Steps Before You Adapt a Book (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, navigate different character study approaches in your writing, and tracking emotional journeys.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Author Lora Senf discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity.

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Critically acclaimed novelist Katrina Leno discusses the process of bringing her childhood memories to magical life in her new young adult novel, Sometime in Summer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A New Podcast Episode, "Your Story" Prompt, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our latest episode of "Writer's Digest Presents," the new "Your Story" prompt, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.