Miss Brooks Story Nook – the Art (part 3)

missy 2 jacket finalbIn parts one and two of this blog entry, I  talked about creating the sketches and then the finish pencil drawings for the children’s picture book, Miss Brooks Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome).  (written by Barbara BottnerIn this segment I’ll talk more about bringing the art closer to the finished, full color, printed artwork, some abandoned ideas, and evolving final layout.

Below are the finished pencil drawings for the spread in the book I’ve been using as an example. The scene is near at the end of the book, where the main character, Missy, confronts her nemesis, Billy. One of the themes of the book is about the power of storytelling.  As you can see, there is an element of fantasy in the book, where Missy’s story telling is meant to be so vivid it comes alive. This was a complicated idea to illustrate, but it happens a lot in children’s books so I’ve had experience dealing with it before.

Miss pencil spread blogMissy snake 2 blog

Missy, who is telling a tale about her neighbor’s snake she has been given as a gift, needs to be seen as both, “giving Billy her best ‘snake-eyed’ look”, but she cannot actually turn into a snake because I was told she couldn’t. At this point I can’t remember who rejected that idea, there are so many back and forth exchanges when I’m creating the art with the editor, designer, author (and possibly sales people). but it was one of many ideas that was shelved for one reason or the other.

But you can see in the finish drawing and sketch to the right, I still used the “snake-eye” idea as a three part point of view sequence, but removed it and any other suggestion Missy has become part snake. So I ended up using just two visual interpretations of Missy manifesting a snake through her storytelling – eyes and scarf.Miss Brooks bw scans057

Missy snake stair blog

In the sketches above and left you can see me working out the extent of cartoon vs. realism for the snake, and the rejected “missy-snake” idea.This one even has a scarf like tail… The snake popping out Billy’s eyes so that they bounce down the sidewalk(pavement) is in the text and in the final book art, but without glasses and hat. I rather like the Missy snake. It certainly looks nightmarish enough to scare away a thuggish brute like Billy.

The scene to the left is also in the book but again, the snake is not wearing a Missy hat and glasses as here…

Then there was a idea of what the snake was supposed to do to Billy. Before the text changed to popping his eyes out, it was a basic, “It’s gonna eat you up!” or something like that. So I drew that scene too. I like the idea of the bully being devoured. Like so many rejected ideas, maybe I’ll get to use it in some other book.

Miss Brooks bw scans011Miss Brooks bw scans012

More on the art for this book in part 4

See also:

Miss Brooks Story Nook – book page

More on the art for this book:

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part One.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part Two.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Jacket.


Making an Ape – part 1

Priscilla Gorilla, start to finish.

(all text © 2014 Barbara Bottner)

This is part one of a series showing how a picture book develops from words into a finished book. A process that can take over a year.

I both write and illustrate books, but this is a project where I am illustrating someone else’s words. In this case the story is by the legendary American author, Barbara Bottner.

The first thing I do when receiving a picture book manuscript I am to illustrate, is print the Word document out and read it through fast,  for pace only, thinking about where scenes might break. There are logical page breaks and sometimes specific direction from the editor/art director/author about what should be in what scene. But usually I ignore this at first. Cutting it off the page with scissors if need be…In this case you can see I did not actually cut out the picture cues, but I may have taped them over… I can’t honestly remember on this text. This is the actual first pass sketches. I don’t have a plan here, just taking visual notes really. But it’s amazing how many images make it all the way to finished book. But you can see I drew lines where I thought pages would fall and scenes that would be illustrated. A page turn in a picture book is a pause, a beat, part of the rhythm of the book. The book is almost always read to someone, a parent to child for example, so it is really a performance art as much as literature. A bit like a play script.  A page turn is as much a part of the story as the words. (Imagine it being similar to how they decide where to break up TV shows for commercial breaks…)A book text must be broken into images on pages. It’s never meant to be read like you see it here, except by authors, illustrators, editors, agents etc.  A “true” picture book will be a balance of words and pictures, where removing one or the other will render the story either incomplete or impossible to understand. Often when the author is also the illustrator, text changes will be ongoing as sketches progress, but even when it’s two people, I will suggest, subject to approval, changes in text based on design. 

The most likely text change would be removing some text that is clearly going to be in the art. Also re-phrasing the text to reflect the possibilities art opens up, not readily apparent when writing in Word.

You can see here I am drawing a female teacher, Miss Nellie. That was a change I suggested. Eventually Miss Nellie became a man. I just felt it was a nice idea to go with a non-traditional Miss so-and-so teacher.  There is fairly persistent stereotype of the young unmarried teacher in the younger age classrooms. Male teachers in elementary schools are out there, and doing a great job BTW, but are still a tiny fraction of the whole, so there is a push in the US to encourage more men, particularly non-white men to get into the field. They’re out there, but don’t get as much attention. Here’s to you, guys!

Next time I’ll show how I got into the making of an ape-child. What does she look like? what does she wear? What does she do? How does she sit, stand, move???? All answers left up to the illustrator… More thinking, more sketching…..

Deb - May 30, 2017 - 12:03 pm

Can’t wait to share this with my students! Thanks, Michael! #1 fan

Halloween – You Read to Me

Halloween night,

Words by Mary Ann Hoberman… good memories.


I loved inventing this “ghoul”. The tattoos, sleeveless hoodie, and yet another excuse to put a bike into an illustration…halloween006His arms are like this Aunt I used to know as a kid…halloween005Flies are better than lice, aren’t they?halloween004xxA ghost is harder than you’d think to invent. How do you make it look invisible yet visible…Untitled4Ah, trick or treat. I loved making everyone wearing a mask here. The zombie from the earlier poem, and two new little dragons…nobody’s who they pretend to be. halloween003

Miss Brooks Story Nook, the art (part 2)

missy 2 jacket finalbIn part one of this post, I talked about creating the art for Miss Brooks Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome),written by Barbara Bottner,  beginning with the sketches and how they build from the very first loose drawings done directly on the text layouts, up to the final pencil line drawings. Below have a look at the final line drawings pinned up in the studio. The room I am renting at the moment is quite small so I must clip them up on a rack I made so I can see them all at once. It’s important to be able to see the whole book at once to see what may be missing or not up to snuff. And when the painting begins it’s important because I work a little bit at a time from one drawing to another. More about that later… the two color illustrations you can see are test images to show the publisher the look of the final art.


As you can see, I do all the final line drawing at once, before beginning the color painting. One big reason to do this is to try and have the the line work look as consistent as possible throughout the book. Believe it or not, I can draw slightly differently from week to week, day to day, maybe even hour to hour.

Below is the final pencil line art for the spread I talked about in Part One of this blog. I used a 5mm mechanical pencil in a B grade (I think), on cold press Arches 90lb watercolor paper. I use Arches as it’s readily available and there’s nothing worse than running out of paper mid job. The thin 90lb paper is because I use a light table to draw the final art from sketches.

As you’ll see later,  the bottom illustration is final, but the top image will change before the book is published. Both Missy and Billy will be replaced by new drawings.

Miss Brooks final line 009b

Below is the final pencil line art for the right hand page of this spread. It does not change. You can see I’m labeling the art, Miss Brooks Book Nook, not the final title, Miss Brooks Story Nook, but it was the working title I liked best so it was the only one I could remember

Miss Brooks final line 005b

In part one I followed one spread, the climax of the story, from sketches to final pencil art, in which the main character, Missy, confronts her nemesis, Billy, giving him a serious stare-down with her “snake-eye” look.


Above is the art for this spread pinned up on the wall. Notice the two smaller drawings clipped to the page at left. I mentioned I made a late change to the art? Two things bugged me: one was that long coat – I loved it, but decided it was more consistent to have her wear her easily identifiable blue overalls – and I thought Billy should be showing more of how crazy he was.

Crazy Billy

Here is Crazy Billy close-up.(above) He looked a bit angry before, which he is, but his madness I thought was a better way to play the scene. I’m so glad I did make the change. I love “crazy Billy”. Look at him – he’s crazy!

Two Missys

Above are the two Missy drawings side by side. Right is the new/final one. Like the coat on left but decided on keeping her outfit consistent.

Miss Brooks bw scans002b

These (above) are sketches I had done to further explore Missy’s “snake eye” smack down with a wild snake scarf. They were put aside when I created the animated sequence on the right hand page.  (Can you see  the little black arrows above? I use these all the time as a note to my self  indicating which sketches on the page I like and want to remember.)



Above is a close-up of the drawing I liked the most. You’ll see later in the third and final part of this blog – Miss Brooks Story Nook, Part three – The Color Art – this particular drawing, and the one of Billy, are not wasted. Due to another late text change, they end up being used, almost untouched, for the new climax scene following the snake-eye spread.

More on the art for this book:

Miss Brooks Story Nook – book page.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part One

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part three.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Jacket.


Miss Brooks Story Nook, the art (part 1)

missy 2 jacket finalbIn my new book, Miss Brooks Story Nook, (written by Barbara Bottner) the illustrations took me over a year to finish. Which is not unusual for me. Why so long? Well, I’m slow, for one thing. But in general the work of illustrating a picture book is not constant. There are several stages you need to go through, from rough sketches of characters, layouts, final sketches, line drawings, then color, with breaks in between for Knopf – the publisher, (editor, designer), and author to review what I’ve done, and send back comments, which I will listen to, or, ignore. They will listen to me and agree or disagree, and so on, back and forth, until we have negotiated the final look of the book. Also sometimes what I do changes the text, or a change of text is made after I’ve begun drawing. This also adds time to redo things. So where do I begin? First I read the latest “final” text over and over. Sometimes the editor sends just the written text, and sometimes roughly positioned in layouts in the chosen typeface, as it might appear in the final book. This is helpful as it gives me an instant idea how much room I have for art, and how the editor sees the page break down. This may remain unchanged, or, more likely, I will change things around a bit.

I’ll take one spread in the book as an example of how the art develops. This one is marked as pages 30-31, so it is almost at the end of the 32 page book. It is the climax of the story where Missy confronts her nemesis, Billy the bully.Missy book nook054bI almost always begin the sketch process right on the print-outs of the text layouts. As you can see above, I’m already working on ideas. This is a character I’ve drawn before so I did not need to completely re-create her for this book. The hair, glasses, overalls and stripe hat are a carry-over from the previous book. Missy-BillybThen I move on to sketch books, working up characters first, thinking about different scenes each character must “act out”. You can see the date of the above sketch of Missy and Billy when I began the process. This is one of the first sketches for this book. This seemed like the pivotal scene so I’m diving in here early. I still love this drawing. I seldom get as fresh a drawing in the final book as I get in the first few moments of visualizing a story. Sigh.Missy book nook014bAbove you can see the original sketchbook page and (below)detail of Missy in the “snake Eye” scene. As you can see I work on many ideas at once. Often only one small drawing on a page is from a particular scene. Notice (above) an unused skull pattern raincoat outfit for Missy. I love the coat but there was no room for it in the book.Snake eyes4b  Above in the sketchbook detail of Missy for the “snake Eye” scene is the only drawing on this page is from this scene. The snake is on the ground here, but this will soon change. Missy is in her signature  outfit from the previous book.  Missy book nook022b  This is another example (above) of trying to visualize “camera angle”. This angle would be above and behind Billy. It would not be used. Also notice I’m playing around with the idea of a scarf for Missy. The scarf acting like a kind of snake. And thinking about a long winter coat as part of her outfit.

Snake eyes 5b  Below is a version of the spread using the art. It was rejected.



(below) I’m developing the idea further.  The snake scarf is really getting out of control, dominating the scene. I rejected this as too much for this scene. But even though this does not get used where I am expecting it to,  it was not wasted work.  I was able to re-cycle it for the next spread of the book, due to changes in the text. Yea!Missy book nook009b  Detail (below) of the snake scarf going wild.Snake eyes 2b  Below you can see how I developed a new layout with a focus on the eyes/faces of both on the right, in a cinematic “animated” panel sequence.  You can see on the left I’m desperately trying to get in that raincoat. And the idea of the snake scarf is completely gone. Probably because it would be too much to have a skull raincoat and a snake scarf. Fashion faux-pas.Miss-Brooks-Book-Nook-12b  Changes often occur as the text changes and each new spread layout is considered as a whole. There were lots of changes in art as there were more than the normal amount of text changes in this project, so I kept on changing things…

On another sketchbook page (below), once again, you can see my mind moving around the book as ideas come up . But in the middle, you can see I’m still working on the snake eye scene.Miss Brooks bw scans001b  Detail (below) from the above sketchbook page (above). You can see further refinement for the eventual image used for the page. Focus now is her face, and the view point is looking directly into her eyes. On the right you can see me continuing to think about this idea of showing the POV sequence from each characters face.Snake eyes bBelow see how I used the face-on Missy on the bottom left. There’s also more refinement in the sequence on the right hand page of the two staring each other down. (I’m also fooling around here with the idea, ultimately rejected [by me], of her wearing a different hat [the beret] than she did in the first book. The new hat was just too much distraction. You want the reader to be certain who they are looking at. Why couldn’t I just leave her clothes alone?)Miss-Brooks-Story-Nook-30-31flatbHere (below) are the final BW pencil drawings for this spread. Notice the stripe hat is back but she is still in a long coat, (which will change before the final book is printed. Again, trying to keep her as recognizable as possible in a signature outfit for both books). She has one new accessory – her snake scarf. Billy looks like he’s snarling here. (even though this is “finish” art, I change him too before publication. more on that later.)Miss Brooks final line 009bHere is (below) the right hand page of the spread. I’ve refined the images but the basic design has not changed. Again, the striped hat is back. I went back and forth about using a box around the images but in the end left them out. It’s a very cinematic solution. Two different viewpoints, two different people, both trying to stare each other down, only one succeeds. It captures quite well, I think, what, in the text, is a rather complicated concept.Miss Brooks final line 005bA shorter version of this blog post first appeared on: the Belugas are Watching.

More on the art for this book:

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Jacket.


Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part two.

Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Art – Part three.


[…] is the final pencil line art for the spread I talked about in Part One of this blog. I used a 5mm mechanical pencil in a B grade (I think), on cold press Arches 90lb […]