30 Lessons Learned, #4: Getting Ideas Down on Paper (Part One)

Hi all, just a quick note to let you know that I am SWAMPED with work. I may not be doing Illustration Friday quite as much (sniff) but I'll still be posting on Wednesdays. I hope to be back to IF soon. I miss it already. Now, on to the topic of the week:

People tend to be curious about my process and whether I begin with words or images. In my case, both are woven together. Most projects begin with a spark of inspiration—usually a character idea or an observation of a quirk that develops into a character. After that initial spark, I do rough sketches of the character. I keep them very loose and try various poses and expressions. This helps me get to know the character.

I also begin to consider dialogue: what does the character think or say? This guides me into the story. I try to envision the character’s environment and how the character exists within that environment. I also begin to envision the other players in the story and their relationship to the main character.

Next, I like to think about spreads. What are the moments of action in the story? I jot down notes about various scenes, sometimes with sketchy thumbnails in my notebook. I brainstorm and put as many possibilities down on paper as I can. This stage is not about the plot. It is about getting to know the character(s) and key interactions. I am drawn to humor so this is often about the moments—either visual or written—that make me chuckle.

After some time has passed, I review the scenes with a fresh perspective. I circle the most cohesive parts. Often an order begins to suggest itself. At this stage, I like to do thumbnails of the whole book. In art school, I didn’t understand thumbnails. It frustrated me that I couldn’t put any detail into those little squares. It wasn’t until I began to work as a designer that I came to value them. Now, I love thumbnails for their ability to show size relationships, positive/negative space and pacing at a quick glance. In my studio, there is a drawer full of legal sized sheets, each printed with thumbnail rectangles. There’s no need to mess with rulers or drawing rectangles or anything else that might distract me. I write. I sketch. I write. I sketch.

(Part two will be posted next week!)