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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Hinde

Prickles, spikes or spines?

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Last month I showed you the start of my process around illustrating a picture book - the initial thumbnails and why it’s so important for me to see an overall view of the book at this stage. Since last month I’ve been reworking those rough and hairy thumbnails, knocking them into a bit more shape, although I'm sure some of you may struggle to make sense of them. I also re-read the report from my manuscript assessor.

Having a professional assessment done is probably the most valuable investment I have made with my own picture book stories. Over time, I may not need to always do this, but at the moment I’m more than happy to hear the good, and the bad news about my novice attempts at writing picture books. My assessor gives an honest, accurate report on the manuscripts weaknesses and strengths - I have certainly learnt more about crafting a story with these assessments.

revised thumbnails

Thumbnails continued So, with the report beside me I reworked the thumbnails and resolved some of the problems. A couple of pages needed text moved to a previous page and in two places I changed the text so it kept the focus on the main character and the core message rather than diluting the impact of the story by introducing characters that slowed the pace down. Additional text helped make more sense of what was happening to the characters - I have to remind myself I am not writing a wordless book!

Left: the revised thumbnails of the first few pages.

Prickles, spikes or spines? It was pointed out to me in the report that hedgehog’s prickles are actually called ‘spines’. I know children like to use the words spikes and prickles, so to find out what word would be best to use, I asked my Facebook fans the question; “What do your children call the spikes on a hedgehog?” The response was amazing and prickles won hands down. Which got me thinking ‘what if I could include all the words that were suggested?’. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do that in a fun way, but I’m happy with the result. (see below).

I’ve now moved on to making larger (135mm x 70mm) more detailed sketches which I should have finished by Christmas. While I’m losing that world view of the whole book I can still see how the spreads work from page to page. Once these are completed I'll make up a dummy to check the flow, that the page turns are working and the characters are doing what they should – I tend to do the book design at this stage too, although the cover design is usually the last thing that gets done. I think covers and title pages are a brilliant opportunity for the illustrator/designer to set the scene for the reader, so I much prefer to do a few more hours work rather than re-use a spread or part of a spread.

Character development I’m sure every illustrator has their own particular way of working on their character sketches. For me I tend to work them up after I’ve completed the thumbnails/rough sketches, mainly because while I’m working on the thumbnails the characters start to reveal themselves to me in my head. Along with thinking about what makes those characters tick; I need to consider their physical characteristics, the challenges they are facing and what I am going to put them through to change them.

I’m still familiarising myself with the main character so I’ve left him for the time being.

Mrs Snuffle character sketch

Above: Mrs Snuffle an elderly hedgehog character sketches

When working with the characters it's important to become familiar with them, what makes them tick, their body shape, the clothes they wear, the placement of the features and their body language. To do this I generally start with a three-quarter side view of the character and then complete a front view, side and back view. I learnt a technique many years ago when I was designing souvenir characters for a Christchurch company that I still use today and it’s really simple and ensures character continuity. Basically, I draw lines across my page that line up with the top of the head, eyes, nose, ears, chin etc. so when I’m drawing a front view it’s easy to check the eyes haven’t moved further up the head, or that the ears haven’t suddenly dropped down to low. Character continuity throughout the book is important. I remember when I'd finished illustrating Baby Cow Power and had sent the illustrations off to the publisher, I received a phone call a few days later - one of the people in two scenes had different coloured tops! Fortunately it was an easy fix for their designer - but it was an important lesson for me. Of course working digitally makes it much easier to fix things but even so things can slip past unnoticed.

Next month I'll share with you the completed thumbnails, the dummy and full colour character. Bye for now!

Below: Hodges Mum and initial sketches for Maddy.

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