Creating a Children’s Book!
Article by Janice Phelps Williams
As a child I spent most of my time taking dance lessons and practicing ballet. I loved Swan Lake and my toe shoes. But when I reached junior high my best friend and dance partner moved away, and I made the choice to discontinue lessons. I started playing guitar instead, and then I discovered drawing and crafts when I was 14 years old. I had to spend a lot of time in bed due to an illness, so I would gather my papers, pencils, sewing basket, small TV, and toy poodle all up on my bed and draw for hours. I was lucky to have a friendly art teacher, Mrs. Lotze, and she shared with me her love of watercolor paints and taught me how to draw.
I also loved to read and when I was healthy again, I went to the library and checked out all kinds of books. This is a love that has continued throughout my life.
When it came time for me to graduate from high school and go to college, the only thing I wanted to study was art. I was always happiest when I was creating something, so I did study art and graduated from Kent State University in Ohio.
As life went on, I found many opportunities to keep drawing and creating things through a variety of media. Sometimes I was paid for my work, at other times I worked just for the joy of creating.
In 1997, I started working as a book designer. In 1999, I started my own company and began designing book covers, designing the pages of books (layout), and editing books. I was also given the opportunity to illustrate books. A few of the books I illustrated were novels for adults: the books in the Will Turner Novels series by British author Chris Davey, for instance (www.turnerlogs.com).
Then, I was given the chance to illustrate a picture book by Kidzpoetz author, Robert W. Kurkela. The book is Still Her Spirit Sings and is about a wonderful real-life dog named Spirit. Here are two illustrations from the book. They were done in Sharpie and Prismacolor permanent markers.
Last year I was very excited to work on creating the illustrations for a book written by David Boyce: Two True Blue Dragons. I presented the author with pencil sketches, then black and white ink drawings for approval. Once those were approved, I colored the drawings in with Prismacolor colored pencils. I loved drawing these friendly dragons!
I have just finished illustrating a fun picture book for kids of all ages. If you check my website in September, you’ll be able to learn more about this surprising book. Below are a few little watercolor “snippets” from the new book.
My work for authors and publishers involves many steps:
1) The author provides me with the electronic file for the text of the book.
2) I then begin thinking about the story, how it will flow on the book’s pages, where the breaks in the text will be and what scenes should be illustrated. At this point I begin making a storyboard, which is a map for how the book’s pages will be laid out.
3) I send the author sketches of the main characters so that he or she can approve the look of these important figures.
4) I then draw two or three illustrations in pencil and send to the author for approval. (All of this is done using email.)
5) When approved, I then complete these two or three illustrations as they will establish the look and style of the book.
6) I refine the storyboard and come up with basic looks and illustrations for each page.
7) I send the pencil drawings for each illustration to the author for approval. If any changes are requested, I make them.
8) Then, I finish each drawing and send to the author for approval. Changes are difficult at this point, but if any are needed, I make them.
9) I then design each book page, importing the author’s story and my illustrations. At this point, it begins to look like a real book! We also work on any editing to the story that might be needed.
10) While all this is going on, I am also creating the book’s cover. Some books are paperback, others are hardcover, others have dust jackets, and others are also in ebook format. Each format has special issues to consider.
11) When everything is approved, I then consider the printer’s requirements and prepare PDF files for the printer, following their guidelines very carefully.
12) The day the books arrive from the printer is a very happy day.
Designing, illustrating, and editing books has been a wonderful way to earn living. I have met so many interesting people through my work and I am happy that I studied art and had the opportunity to work in publishing.
When I am not illustrating books for authors and publishers, or designing book covers, I am at work on personal projects such as a book I am writing called “Finding Pletonia.” It will be for 10-12 year olds and will be illustrated with drawings of all sorts of fantastic imaginary animals. Like this “elusive poplyn!”
Janice Phelps Williams has worked in publishing since the early 1990s and has brought over 250 books “to life.” In addition to designing, illustrating, and editing books for others, she is also the author of Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals and is working on a middle-grade novel called Finding Pletonia. When not working on books, she likes to create altered books and take photographs.
Janice blogs about creativity at Appalachian Morning.
Find her book design business here.
Janice and her husband, Mark Van Aken Williams (a writer and a poet) live in Northern Michigan.