Illustrating and writing a book takes some careful planning. And there’s more to it than you might realize!
Here are the steps I took to create my new book “How to Pet a Cat,” so if you’re interested in creating your own illustrated book, you’ll know where to start.
Step One: Plan!
The first step is to create a plan! You’ll want to hone in on a particular style, so all the illustrations look cohesive and like they’re all part of the same story. You’ll also want to make sure you really enjoy whatever style you choose, because — you guessed it, you’ll be spending many hours creating in that style!
Step Two: Sketch!
The next step is to sketch. Lots and lots of sketching. This is the step where you can let your creativity run wild! Feel free to play with different perspectives, compositions, and moods for your illustrations.
As you sketch, consider the “big-picture” (so-to-speak…). What story will your book tell when it all gets put together? What is the narrative driving these illustrations? You don’t have to have it all figured out right away, but these are some good things to be thinking about.
Step Three: Set up a Template
For “How to Pet a Cat,” I set up a template that was the actual spread size (the pages in the book!). My publisher had already confirmed that they wanted the printed book to be 6x6 inches square. So I simply printed a series of squares and used those to create my sketches. This helped me get a feel for how it would look when it was all printed.
Step Four: Finalize
Once I had my compositions and “style” in place (I wanted to keep my illustrations fun and hip!), I worked up a few illustration examples to show my book editor. We worked together through several iterations to make sure we nailed down the perfect vibe. Did we want the cats more realistic or more stylized? More quirky or more elegant? These kinds of questions were explored at this stage!
Step Five: Choose Your Medium
The next step was figuring out how I wanted to make my illustrations. Would I paint by hand the old-school style with paint on paper? Or would I go high-tech with an Apple Pencil in Procreate on my iPad?
I know some people have preferences on how they create their art, either traditionally (on paper, canvas, etc) or digitally. Personally, I’m not really picky.
I will admit, I gravitate towards creating traditionally, but I also see the time-saving methods that creating digitally provides. Yup, it’s SUPER easy to make any color adjustments, move things around, change up the sizing of elements, etc. in a digital file. Annnnd, when you know you’re creating a book, there inevitably will be gobs of edits!
So, I actually chose to do a mixture of both — traditional and digital.
For each illustration, I started with acrylic paints on paper and got a solid base created with my editor-approved sketches. Knowing that I’d have some edits to my cats’ body and facial expressions, I decided to create those details on my iPad. And, as you may imagine, I had quite a few changes to all those fur babies!
In the end, my illustrations were a happy little mixture of all the things.
Step Six: Send in the art!
Most publishers request digital files sent over the cloud for your finished artwork. For my illustrations, I needed to make sure the specs were right — 300 DPI (dots per inch) at 100% of printed size.
But even that can be negotiable if your publisher is willing to get your art scanned in for you. The reality is that there are many ways to bring your art to the table and you should work with your publisher to find the best way for you.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to create your book art. You just need to find the process that best suits your creative process. These are the steps I used to create “How to Paint a Cat,” and hopefully it helps give you some inspiration for your own project!