In How to Work with an Illustrator: Part 1, I discussed at length how to find a good match in an illustrator and the how-to basics while working with them on illustrations for your book. In this article I will outline the illustration process so you know what to expect when working with an illustrator, step-by-step.

Stage 1: Character Concepting

The first stage is concepting of your main characters. This is the stage where I can guarantee you, 99% of the time you will get something back from the illustrator that you don’t like, or it isn’t “quite right.” This is also the stage where you need to give the illustrator and yourself grace. If you chose a style for an illustrator to use, such as computer-drawn, don’t be disappointed when what comes back doesn’t look like an oil painting. Different mediums yield different styles, so give your illustrator and yourself a little grace as you enter this learning curve.

In the character concepting stage you can expect to see a series of either hand- or computer-drawn samples of your main character from your illustrator. This stage is where the illustrator will determine what you don’t like, as you may not be able to clearly articulate exactly what you do like, especially if what you like is a medium different than the one you chose for your illustrator to use (ie: oil painting vs. pen and ink sketch). Expect to see something you don’t like in the first concept. Then if the illustrator happens to nail it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! If the illustrator is way off, take time to articulate what you’d like to see to your illustrator do and give them a chance to create something you’ll love.

Remember, the concepting stage is simply concepting. It’s meant to be the time when you and the illustrator determine the overall look, feel and style for your book’s characters. It’s not proofing, and it’s not anywhere near final art. Most of the time an illustrator will be able to create something you love… eventually. But the first stage, concepting, is when they’re determining what you love and trying to match it.

Stage 2: Character Proofing

Once you approve the illustrator’s initial sketches for the overall look and feel of your characters in Stage 1, those characters will be further developed into a more final look. This can include colors, shading, adding elements of depth for a more three-dimensional feel, and polishing the lines. For example, if you want a cartoon-like computer-drawn illustration and in the concepting stage you only saw pencil sketches, this is the stage when the illustrator will scan those sketches into the computer and finalize the art into a more solid cartoon style and add gradients and color on the computer.

Stage 3: Scene Concepting & Proofing

This is the same process as character concepting, only with the backgrounds and scenes. This is the stage where you will see pencil sketches or rough computer-drawn illustrations of your characters in various environments discussed in the text. In this stage, you should make sure you like the position of the characters, size of the surroundings and general feel of the illustrations. Like Stage 1: Character Concepting, this stage may require a bit of back-and-forth communication between you and the illustrator.

Again, this is the time to give yourself grace as you try to explain what you want to the illustrator, and the illustrator grace in trying to read between the gray matter of your thoughts to create something you will like.

Stage 4: Final Art!

After the scene concepts are approved, the illustrator will begin creating the final artwork according to what medium you chose. For computer-drawn illustrations, the artist will scan in the approved sketches and begin overlaying computer graphics and colors. For oil, watercolor, or other artistic medium, the illustrator will transfer the sketches to canvas or paper and begin creating the scenes in living color. Keep in mind at this point in the process, illustrations are difficult to change. If you suddenly change your mind and you hired an illustrator for watercolor, even if it’s a small change to you, the illustrator has to use more expensive materials and more time to create a new scene from scratch. Try to nail down what you want in the concepting stage so there aren’t issues in the final art stage.

As you write, keep in mind that each page will be one scene. Books are not video (yet), so you can only show one event or one picture per page unless the illustrations are spot illustrations (such as showing various types of fruit on a spread of two pages). If you want a specific element of your text to be highlighted in the accompanying illustration, let your illustrator know.

Most of the illustrations in this stage should be final. Your illustrator will probably email you photos of each illustration as they’re finished, and you can approve them as you see the book taking shape. After all the illustrations are done, it’s time to hire a professional book cover designer and layout artist to combine the illustrations with your text in book format!

Kristen Joy

Kristen Joy

Kristen Joy Laidig is the founder of The Book Ninja. She has authored over 40 books, started over 50 publishing companies, trained over 10,000 authors worldwide, has her black belt in karate, and eats way too much chocolate. She currently changes lives through her students… one published message at a time, manages her two retail stores Toy Box Gifts & Wonder® and Nerdvana Outpost in the heart of her newfound hometown, Chambersburg, PA, is in the start-up phase of at least three new businesses at any given time, and generally causes anyone reading this bio to be out of breath. On her “off” time (what’s that?) she brainstorms business ideas with her awesome husband, the great Public Domain Expert himself, Tony Laidig, and hangs out with her two ragdoll kitties. She’s even been known to sleep... occasionally.

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