At least that’s what I told myself at the start of the semester, when I chose to do Designing and Producing Illustrated Children’s Books as my non-IT elective for my post-graduate studies. I’ve always been a creative soul, writing and drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil without thinking it was something to chew on. I have two novels at 25,000 words. I’ve churned out 2,000, 3,000 and 6,000 word papers for uni. Writing a 32-page illustrated children’s book should be a walk in the park, right? … Right? Yeah… no.
Coming up with the idea was one of the hardest parts. I think I went through about 6 different ideas (some of them more than once), before settling on my final concept (it contains dragons; are you surprised?).
It’s usually recommended that an illustrated children’s book contains 150-300 words. My first draft of the text came in at more than 600. The freedom of writing descriptive novels and the necessity of padding out academic papers with pointless waffle appeared to have broken my ability to write concisely. After much text-wrangling and hair-pulling I managed to get it down to about 200 words, and then started trying to work out which words would appear on which page, and what images should accompany them.
While writing the story, I also started playing with different background styles. I quickly settled on doing simplistic background with acrylic, since they were bright and bold and could be reused in several scenes (also experimented with watercolour, but it wasn’t quite vivid enough, and the acrylic gave me more control). The fact that they were simple meant it was fairly easy to redo them after many of them – along with some character sketches – were destroyed in a freak red lemonade accident (don’t ask). I’ve made some trees out of random bits of cardboard/felt/tissue paper, and I also created some nice fire and bubble effects by scanning bits of painted gossamer ribbon and vandalising them in Photoshop.
The character designs proved to be much more of a challenge. Since the originals (which were ruined) were more detailed, they had taken much longer to do; there was no way I’d have time to redraw all of them. To adapt, I had to change to a more simplistic illustrated style (the characters’ features are almost manga-ish), but I’ve still been able to have fun with the colouring, scanning in different materials or creating textures in Photoshop and using them to bring the characters to life (though there are some bits I’ve just coloured in with the good old paintbrush tool because I’m getting to the stage where I care more about getting it done quickly than getting it done to a high quality).
At this stage I’m still madly trying to get all my dragons drawn before tomorrow, when I’ll draw the children. Once that’s done I’ll more or less have everything I need to start putting together the final book layout with all the text and pictures. I have to send it to the printer by the middle of next week, so I’m on a pretty tight schedule. I also have to find time to keep working on my fantasy eBook prototype for my thesis, as well as keeping up with other assignment and tutoring commitments. No idea how successful I’ll be, though, since I seem to have come down with some sort of nasty virus and it keeps getting worse I’ll try to post an online version of the book once it’s completed for those who are interested.
Anyway, fortified by chocolate and energy drinks, and I shall continue to scribble away through the day and night, nursing the somewhat vain hope that I might actually complete this thing before the deadline (and that afterwards I can descend into the sweet, sweet oblivion of sleep).
I just hope I don’t end up like Bernard and Manny.