I write picture books and I don’t illustrate. Below you can see proof as to why nobody sane would let me illustrate. I suspect you've guessed that the bunny on the left is by a real illustrator (Sarah Gill, from our book Hurry Up, Birthday). And the bunny on the right? Yikes!
I envy those who both write and illustrate. They can be ambitious and meld words and pictures into amazing books. However, that doesn’t preclude non illustrators from writing picture books. No way! I've seen wonderous picture books where the author and illustrator aren’t the same person.
So how can you write picture books if you don’t illustrate? The simple answer is that you must think visually. For example, don’t include excessive descriptive detail in a story because this will be seen in the illustration. Think how words and images could work together to produce something that isn’t simply an illustrated story. Plus there must be opportunities for varied illustrations throughout the book.
Dividing up your story text into double-page spreads makes it easier to visualise the structure of the book (twelve is a good number of spreads). It also helps you to see if there are enough varied illustration possibilities. Some writers even make rough dummies for their own use (with scruffy line drawings for their eyes only!). I think it's important to remember that the turning of the page forms part of the story telling. It’s another form of punctuation: a huge anticipatory pause.
|Oxford Reading Tree|
If I haven’t bored you senseless in this blog, then you might be interested to see an excerpt from Best Friends or Not? (Piccadilly Books). Here’s the text and there are several illustration possibilities:
Spread 8 (pages 18/19)
Outside the cave, it had begun to snow.Nanook stood alone and watched the falling snow. Gusts of wind swirled the snowflakes into shapes.
“Dancing snowbears,” whispered Nanook.
Nanook danced. He danced with her silent snow friends.
At the publishers there will be input from the editor, art editor, designer, illustrator and maybe even marketing. Often texts are reworked. It really is teamwork, and in theory the writer should see black and white roughs of the page layout and illustration before final illustrations are produced. This allows the writer to make comments, although the writer never has the final say.
Below is the published double-page spread from Best Friends of Not?, illustrated by Gaby Hansen.
Did you imagine something different when you only saw the text? Can you see why writers don’t divide the text into individual pages? It would be too restrictive as there are so many layout possibilities. In this case there are three separate images, but there could easily have been just one. And guess what? When I wrote this I had a clear image in my head of snowflakes swirling in the shape of bears. The illustrator, Gaby Hansen, interpreted the story differently, and that’s absolutely fine. She even has the bear sticking out his tongue to catch snowflakes, and I think that’s delightful and I hadn’t visualised that.
Often the final book looks nothing like the writer had originally imagined. This doesn’t have to be a problem, unless you’re a control freak! The writer is the catalyst. Our stories must overflow with illustration possibilities, and then we must take a step back. Though I hope writers are never completely ignored in the later stages, because even if we can’t illustrate, we've seen pictures in our heads whilst we've been writing the words. Picture books are teamwork.