I love these looks at people who make things inside their studios, talking about process. This one's a bit longer, but it's a great look at how Aaron Blabey goes about his day and his work. I especially like the part when he compares picture books to writing pop songs.
On the surface, picture books seem like horribly simple things. Just a few words, some illustrations, paper, and glue. Digging even a little deeper reveals that there is an absurd amount of work that goes into each one. After looking more deeply at the picture book making process, I've discovered that I now have more questions about picture books than I have answers.
In no particular order, here are a few of them. These are the kinds of things I aim to learn over the coming weeks, months, and years.
- How do you come up with picture book ideas?
- What do you use to write them?
- What's the editing process like if you don't have a publisher?
- What's it like when you do?
- How do you find an agent?
- Do you even need an agent?
- How the hell do you get publishers to look at things without an agent?
- Why don't more publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts?
- How do you properly format a manuscript for submission?
- How do you submit when you're both the author and illustrator?
- How much work do you put into a submission? Full dummy? Full spreads? Finished book? Just sketches?
- What size do you make your artwork?
- Does that page size include bleeds?
- Who sets the type?
- Are there any limits on what typefaces you can use? How does font licensing work with picture books?
- Should you worry about keeping typesetting simple for future international editions?
- Should you work in RGB or CMYK?
- What DPI is preferred for digital artwork?
- How do you come up with memorable characters?
- How much dialogue is too much?
- How much description is too much?
- How do you submit a book with little or no dialogue?
- How do I meet other picture book folks?
- Are there any current trends I should know about?
- How much do trends in illustration and writing affect publication? Sales? Caldecott nominations?
- Are there any quantifiable similarities between past Caldecott winners?
- What makes a picture book great?
- Who says?
- How do I do this?
- What am I doing?
I remember seeing this video a few years ago up on his website, but this footage of Quentin Blake working on Mrs. Armitage is always worth revisiting. It's almost absurd watching him ink—so refined and elegant, but still so damned sketchy and simple. This is part two of a three-part series, be sure to catch part one here and part three here.
If you’ve ever learned to play an instrument, you have probably heard stories of average musicians going off to practice and coming back as the legends we all know today. One famous example has the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker retreating to a resort in the Ozarks for the summer after being laughed off stage during a particularly embarrassing solo. After months of intense study, he returned full of ideas and the chops to realize them.
There’s actually a term for what Charlie Parker was doing—woodshedding. Woodshedding is the act of hiding away to hone your skills through focused and intense practice. It refers to the early days of American music, when blues and jazz musicians would go out back to the woodshed to practice in peace, without the fear of others overhearing their sometimes awful racket.
Learning to play guitar as a teenager, I was always enthralled with the idea of woodshedding. Turns out I still am.
I want to make picture books, but don’t have the benefit of an art school degree or years of writing experience and industry connections to help out. While I’ve sketched occasionally over the years, I haven’t spent every free minute making art and honing my style.
So, I’m left with only one option. I need to woodshed. I need to learn as much as I can about picture books, illustration, children’s literature, and the publishing process. I need to practice my skills, both as a writer and illustrator. I need to go out back and chop the wood before I can light a fire, as the saying goes.
So, that’s the plan. I figure the first year of pursuing my goal of publication will be almost entirely spent in the woodshed. The difference between me and all of the musicians that have come before is that I plan on sharing the experience. That’s mainly what this website is for—documenting everything I learn.
What I write and share here won’t always be the best. Drawings over in the sketchbook will be full of half-realized ideas and different styles. Things will work in starts and fits. But it’s all in the service of progress.
So keep that in mind when you’re poking around the site. I’m in woodshedding mode—things might get a bit messy—but I plan on having something that wows people when it’s all over.