Leanne Maybury-Smith, is a friend and ex-student of mine who has written and illustrated a very good children’s book. I thought her story and process would be of interest to many others so asked her to write this article for you on how to produce a children’s book.
I have always had a dream to illustrate a children’s book for as long as I can remember. This book idea began to emerge in my mind during the beginning of 2021, when, as part of studying an Art Diploma at Sydney Art School, I was required to present a body of related artworks.
That year also became our empty-nest transition, as the last of our 3 children moved out of the family home. Thankfully, our little elderly dog ‘fur baby’ Ralph was still at home with Peter and I.
As we all know about 2021, it was especially challenging when we were all placed into a mandatory lockdown for our local area for 3 months. We couldn’t see our own adult children!
This prompted us to reminisce the fond memories of fun times when our children were younger, and I tried to incorporate the narrative of this theme into the book. I wanted it to be something mentally positive, if not for others, then at least for myself. We used to ask our kids when they were around the dinner table, “So what was the best thing about today?” Sometimes they would say “coming home from school!” The idea developed into what it is now really a book on how to be mindfully grateful for the little things in each day that bring us joy.
How to produce a children’s book process
These are the main steps of my book writing process broken down…
I had to plan out the number of pages and write the actual story. Writing the concrete words around an initial idea was challenging as I had not done any creative writing since I was in High School.
Keeping in mind that a children’s book for 3–8-year-old is 36 pages including “end papers” and the cover, I had to sketch thumbnails of those pages out. See my photo of my sketchbook of thumbnails below.
Writing the book and sketching the thumbnails was and is the most difficult part of the process, especially since this was my first time doing so. Thankfully, I had the help of my tutor Krista Brennan who is an accomplished illustrator of children’s books and Joe Cartwright who also advised me about self-publishing and how to go about laying out the pages.
Of course, there are also many fabulous resources on the internet about illustrating children’s books.
I pitched the idea and the main framework of the narrative to my tutors at school, and my husband muse and they all really liked it!
I sourced many photographic references of my family with Ralph from over the years to draw from. I also had to take some more photographs of Ralph in different places, like in the garden. He is a good little model. It does make representational sketching & rendering easier with good quality photographs to work from. I used my iPhone for all the photos I needed for this book.
I was trying to make up a style of drawing that would appeal to very young children, so I made lots of rough sketches and paintings and experimented with pen and ink and coloured watercolour pencils.
I checked out many illustrators whose work I admire using Pinterest and by visiting publishers’ websites. In addition I bought children’s books that I liked and borrowed other books from the library. Researching the topic was required for my assessment but I would recommend research as part of the writing and illustrating process-it’s good to see what else is in the marketplace like your topic or theme which you want to create.
Eventually, I found my natural style after much experimenting. My natural style is realism in a representational way, but I tried to make the marks look as fun as I could!
In this step is where I would suggest that planning the exact (as much as possible) illustrations for each page and the words on each page including which pages were going to be double page spreads. If I had spent more time doing this, the following steps would have been easier by far. Note to self-Leanne.
Now the real fun began!!
Using a 300gsm cold-pressed watercolour paper sheets by Saunders Waterford (a whole pack) I divided them into 4 quarter sheets, I began sketching and painting using watercolour. I then went over the watercolour with line work using a black fine liner pen which is waterproof. This took more time than I had thought -as all projects do-especially with the illustrations that I believed I had already worked out. Some just did not look as good on paper as I had imagined!
If I ever illustrate a book again, I will remind myself how important the end of step 3 is.
Here are the progress photos of one of the illustration pages I did.
It is of our daughter and her fiancé at her sister’s wedding.
Yes, the dog was there too!
When I had finished an illustration I was happy with, I gave the pictures to my husband Peter to scan into Photoshop. He then cleaned them up in that program and cut them out so that they could be put digitally onto a ‘’clean’’ white background for the book with the font for the story.
Finalise the layout of the illustrations in the order that helped the story and message the best. At this point I needed to add or change a couple of illustrations for continuity.
As I illustrated and drew the font for the title page, I wanted a font that was fun and playful as that. We decided, after receiving some advice, to make the font letters of varying sizes and we choose colours for the font that were bright and engaging and that would coordinate with the relevant pictures.
Finalise exact size of font, words and layout on Photoshop as I was self- publishing the book by using a printing company.
Thankfully using this amazing technology, we (the royal we 😊) were able to shrink and enlarge the scanned illustrations where required.
This is not always how it is done, and some publishers have different requirements for illustration formats and sizes.
Proofread, proofread, proofread!! Before sending to the printer! As I was bumping up against a tight deadline (how unusual) and we were both exhausted, I did not have time for a 3rd person to re-proofread before hitting send. I wish I had done that. Thankfully, the small errors we missed were tiny in the front dedication pages. Phew!!
Send to the printer and wait! I did not ask for a sample print first as I was short on time before our student exhibition, but I was pleasantly surprised by the result of the 100 copies I had done.
Currently, I am in the process of contacting publishers who I am hoping may like to properly publish a similar version of the book.
Hopefully, this book will prompt young children to think and talk about the day they have had and to be able to articulate what was the best thing that happened during their day.
Thanks for reading my process blurb and happy creating!
I hope you have enjoyed Leanne’s story and helpful hints on “How to produce and children’s book.” If you would like to see more of Leanne’s work you should visit her website: Leanne Maybury-Smith at Studio 17