It took a little bit to decide what to write for my first blog post. I’m not used to doing this sort of thing, so it didn’t come easily. And while this is my “first” post, it’s actually not, because I have another one in my drafts. That one is very long though and about a topic that some might not view positively, so you’ll have to wait patiently for that one. I thought sharing how I decided to illustrate my children’s book Meet Faith would be a nice start. I think it will speak to the readers of my book, who are curious about my illustration process. And hopefully it will help everyone else understand my main message of being yourself.
Self-publishing is a long road, with a lot of steps and a lot of work that lead to one final product that may or may not be successful. Some steps are writing, editing, formatting, and, in the world of children’s picture books, illustrating. Illustrating would prove to become the most time consuming portion of my book.
I admit, once I thought about the general idea of my book, the writing actually came pretty quick. And yes, I did some adjustments later, but the bones were quick. And keep in mind, it’s very short, so that also helped with the speed. But what really slowed me down were the illustrations (and the entirety of creating a book of course!) I knew my main options – hire an illustrator or do it myself. When I thought about hiring an illustrator, so many questions came up. Here were some things I thought about:
- Will they portray Faith right?
- What if she looks funny or I have troubles finding someone who can really capture who she is?
- How much will it cost?
- What if I’m so picky it gets really costly?
- Do they have equal rights to the book?
- Do they get royalties?
- How do I find someone legit, who isn’t a scam?
And then I thought about doing it on my own and had these thoughts:
- I’ve never illustrated or drawn a cartoon before, there’s no way I can make this work.
- I could use photographs, but will that really resonate with children as well as illustrations?
- Faith was so beautiful and lively – how do I capture that?
Rather than start researching illustrators and costs, I went with what came more naturally to me – creating graphics. I decided the story was so personal to me, I’d give it a try myself. And if I didn’t enjoy it, or find the right path, I’d look at hiring someone. I knew immediately it would be digital art. I was never good at finishing art done by hand. I can actually draw freehand pretty well, but I don’t enjoy it. I’m a graphic designer, so working on a computer is my strength. So I invested in an iPad Pro and an Apple pencil and started playing around.
Since I’d decided to take on this task myself, I realized how difficult doing traditional cartoons/illustrations would be, so I decided to use what I had…great photos. My husband who took most of our best photos, was more than happy to allow me to use them. So I played around with different was to use them – literally or as inspiration. I basically came up with a cartoon style where I traced the images with vectors, to create 2D style pictures. They were pretty kid friendly, but I wasn’t loving them. So I continued to play and then I recalled how much I love those adult coloring books. There’s something about mindlessly coloring a drawing with colored pencils that is therapeutic and while simple, they create a beautiful, final piece. So I thought “what if I tried that for Faith”? I could put the photo in the background layer, and build on top of it, sort of coloring it in. I tried one version (the one where Faith is on the paddleboard) and I immediately LOVED it. This allowed me to brighten up colors, remove anything in the photo that might not be great, and simplify areas, like some things in the background that help give it more of a sketched look. The first one was actually very loose and was pretty quick to do.
While I liked that process, I was still debating about which style to use, because the cartoon one was “the norm”, and the colored pencil style was different enough, I worried about what people would think. When I had my final debate about which style to use, I considered how they looked, as well as how I thought kids (and parents) would perceive them. And then I thought about the process of creating them. Spots of Joy is about finding joy everyday…so which process brought me joy? When I thought about that, it was an easy decision. The first style didn’t give me ease, I wasn’t confident about the final product and overall just didn’t enjoy the process. The second style was so much fun to create, brought me lots of joy and I had a lot more confidence in the final product. Plus, as a bonus, I’d never seen a style like it! (I have seen this style now, although not digitally and still not in a children’s book. There’s a lot of artists out there doing similar styles, but by freehand and using actual colored pencils – they’re amazing!)
Once I’d picked my favorite, I moved on to the next one and discovered it was getting more detailed. And the next even more so! I kept telling myself, “you could go a lot quicker if you’d loosen it up a bit – no need for all that detail!” But I loved it! I started to enjoy the challenge of getting them very detailed – to where some actually look like photographs from a quick glance. That’s when I finally found my style.
I had taken a project that I thought would be unachievable, weighed my options and then utilized my strengths and stuck to what brought me joy. So I hope that as you read this you can apply it to your own life. Whatever challenge you’re facing that you think you can’t achieve – try adjusting the “rules” to fit you. I chose a technique that is not standard in the world of children’s books and doesn’t make me a traditional illustrator. But it worked! It accomplished my goals and utilized my strengths. And most important of all, I found a technique with a process I really enjoyed!
Whatever you’re wanting to do, if you’re telling yourself “I can’t do that” or “no one will like that”, start thinking outside of that box and rearrange things to suit yourself better. Where do your strengths lie? What brings you joy? And when you do that, I’m confident you’ll find a way to make it work!