The Illustrations: Gracie swims into print

As an author, it was a wonderful privilege to have input on the illustrations and visual look of the book during every step of the publishing process. That’s rare, but one of the benefits of working with a collaborative-minded small publisher.

Illustrator Lillian Lai used Adobe Photoshop to create the colours, characters, and scenes for this book. She says: “PhotoShop is a great program, where I can paint in layers, use effects or layer textures.” The publisher laid out the book using InDesign.

Ten steps to creating visuals for a picture book

1.  Sample page illustration

Lillian Lai, selected from dozens of artists, created a sample page of the book, showing her concept of two characters. The publisher and author gave feedback regarding colors of the characters, their relative size, sense of movement, etc.

2.  Thumbnail sketches of characters

Lillian produced a series of rough sketches of the story’s three characters, trying out different facial expressions and body postures. The publisher and author provided suggestions for changes.

3. Character color test

After Lillian produced new sketches of the main characters, based on feedback from the author and publisher, she tested out some color schemes for each of them. We decided that Gracie needed more orange and that Freddie would have more of a blue tint in his fins.

4.  “Final” character test

Once Lillian received all of the comments regarding color and shading, she produced a “final” color test of each character.

5. Thumbnail page sketches

Once we decided on the desired look for the characters, Lillian drew thumbnail sketches of each page, offering different angles and interpretation of the story’s backgrounds and action. Again, the publisher and author listed their preferences and offered ideas.

6. Portraying action sequences

Lillian drew more thumbnails for every page of the book, offering choices for one-page and two-page visual treatments of action scenes.

7. Adding detail to each page

After she received approval of her general page design, Lillian focused on creating details for the foregrounds and backgrounds. The publisher added text on a few pages to see how it would fit with the illustrations.

8. Adding color to each page

Once we had made final decisions regarding backgrounds and the characters’ movements, expressions, and details, Lillian added color to each page. It was exciting to see the results of so many shared emails, drawing attention to every minute aspect of the visuals, finally laid out as a complete story, in color. 

9.  Getting every element right

We spent extra time on this particular page because at first, Lillian portrayed Gracie here as calm. Yet, in the story, she was trying to force events to happen, and the author wanted Gracie to convey resistance and frustration. Lillian captured this beautifully.

9. Visualizing the  front and back covers

After seeing a few of Lillian’s sketches for the front and back cover, the publisher and author chose this treatment. Lillian then presented it in color. The publisher added text and voila, Gracie’s Got a Secret became a book.

10.  Sharing the finished product

Once the final illustrations were in place, the publisher and author reviewed the text again and again, making sure that it flowed visually with the drawings. They hunted out hyphenation, typos, and orphans (one-line words), and made sure that no words or lines were missing. They discussed indentation and the placement of certain words and text. With no more changes left, the publisher sent off a final proof to the printers. This fun and creative collaboration was ready to share with the world.

Find out more about Lillian Lai and her process of illustrating this book on her Sketch Blog.

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