This week it is the one year anniversary of the big lockdown in 2020. Hmm, not much fun to remember. So here is something way better – it is also one year since Parker the very nosy cat was released into bookshops – now that is something fun to celebrate!

I asked Parker how we could celebrate his one year anniversary. He had some crazy ideas, but we decided to show you how a book gets made.

So how does it start? The first thing that happens is that you get an email from your publisher with something called a manuscript to read.

A manuscript is what the publisher calls the story. It will arrive looking very plain. Just the words organised into how they should fit onto the pages. The publisher or author will also put some ideas next to each block of words, things they think would look good in the illustrations.

This is what Parker the very nosy cat looked like as a manuscript.

Hmm, pretty plain huh? Doesn’t look much like a book yet.

The first thing an illustrator will do is start to brainstorm ideas for each page. You have to read the story and look for words that jump out or ideas that pop into your head, things that would look great as pictures. These get sketched out quickly into a storyboard. A storyboard helps the illustrator see how the pictures and story will work from page to page. The illustrator will try lots of different ways to show the action. They are also looking for ways to show more than the words say – to tell some more of the story.

Here are two storyboard sketches I put together for pages 10 and 11 “Then he follows us to the bathroom.”

This was one of the ideas from David Ling. David is the author of the story, and also the publisher, Duck Creek Press.

He has a cat called Sparrow who is very….nosy too!

David really wanted Parker to get right up on top of the shower rail to see what was going on. So in the storyboard I tested out drawing him from the front and back to see what would look better.

The storyboard sketches all get sent off to the publisher for approval or for changes.

Once the publisher is happy, the illustrator will go ahead with drawing the pages at close to the real book size (or some people make them slightly larger), with lots more detail.

I use a big stack of photocopy paper that I buy from the supermarket, and lots of lovely pencils.

Time to practice drawing cats – lots and lots of cats.

After a while the personality of your character seems to be just about right. And things start to look like this…

It’s also a good time to think about how the words will fit on each page. I really enjoy drawing the characters interacting with the words, it adds even more meaning to what the illustrations are showing. Another way to tell more story.

I also really enjoy using textures and objects from the real world. For Parker I used things like paint splotches, ripped up pages from a book, noodles, pieces of bread, newspaper, blankets and cushions from my house. Sometimes I photograph them and sometimes I put them on the scanner.

So the two drawings above, start to look like this….

At this stage, the drawings will go back to the publisher for any last minute changes. Sometimes something just isn’t working, and there is still time to make improvements. Or even throw it away altogether and start something new. Yes, I’ve definitely done that!

Once the publisher is happy, it’s time to bring everything together by adding lots of colour and texture, and finishing each spread.

This bit is really fun. The hard work is done and now it’s time to create crazy wallpaper, dress your characters in stripes or woolly jumpers and perhaps decide how much hair they have…

And then just when you’re having a cup of tea and feeling very satisfied, the publisher will email you again and ask…”What about a cover and a title page?”

Eeeek! Back to the drawing board for more ideas, a lot more ideas….

And after some more tests, some different ideas about colour and layout, it will all be done! The files get picked up by the publisher and it finally is time for that cup of tea.

I have one last thing I like to do for my books, and that is to make a book trailer. It’s a nice way to wrap things up – here is the trailer I did for Parker the very nosy cat.

For more fantastic books by Kiwi authors and illustrators, check out Duck Creek Press.

Thanks for dropping by to see how a picture book is made. See you next time!

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