As a neuroscience major, I’m a part of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. One of my favorite parts of the college is the emphasis that the professors put on innovative teaching strategies. Several of my core classes have been taught as “Active Learning Courses,” in which the professors lecture very minimally (10-15 min out of a 75 min class period) and leave the remaining time for students to work together on problems and discover for themselves the importance and meaning of so-called “core concepts.” There’s a lot of fancy terminology, but take it from me, it works.
Don’t worry, I’m getting to the illustration part. I’ve found that this discovery-based learning style is really effective, not only in biology but also in art. Having never had any formal training in illustration, I discovered for myself the importance of storyboards. It’s incredibly helpful to view the bird’s-eye-view plan of the entire story during the planning process and also to the actual execution of the paintings.
During planning, it’s important to know how many pages your book is going to consume. This is from a financial perspective, but also from a layout perspective. As I’ll discuss in a later post about layout and publishing, the number of pages in your book will have to be a multiple of four. This includes your title page, dedication page, and so on.
This is also your opportunity to start shaping the arc of your illustrations. It should be noted that while the story will have a rising and falling of it’s own, you have the opportunity to shape the course of your illustrations independently. Yes, the images should follow the story, but there are things like color schemes, motifs, and atmospheres which are unique to the illustrations and that you are responsible for organizing and planning.
Enough theory, here’s what you actually do:
In your sketchbook, draw small rectangles, roughly in the dimensions of a full spread of your book. (When I say “full spread,” I mean the shape of your book if you were to open it and lay it flat on a table.) Make a dotted line down the middle to show where the crease will be.
On your script, number the paragraphs or groups of paragraphs that will be on each page. Your author may or may not have defined page breaks for you; if not, read through and decide where natural breaks in the story could be and mark it on the script. You should definitely have a print-out of the story that you can annotate and draw on.
Back on the storyboard, number your spreads accordingly to the paragraph breaks. At this stage, you probably don’t need to storyboard the front and end matter (title page, dedication, about the author, etc.).
Read through the script and as ideas pop into your mind’s eye, write them down below the spreads on your storyboard and make small sketches. Go ahead and draw inside the box; simple sketches can give you an idea of how things will fit on the page. The storyboard is an ever-evolving draft of what will actually become the illustrations, so feel free to just jot down everything and sift out the good stuff later.
Storyboards are an excellent resource for you to share with your author when you meet to discuss the direction of the project. It gives them a sense of the bigger picture and is actually an impressive sign of progress.
As always, comment or email your questions!