Creating a Storyboard – Simple Steps to Planning Out Your Children’s Book Illustrations

You’ve read the story…twice. You’ve sketched out a few ideas and in the spark of creative genius and created a dozen line illustrations for the story in one sitting. The author loves your work and concepts, and as you discuss the illustrations she brings up an interesting question, “why are all of these from the same, aerial perspective?” You stare at the sketches laid out in front of you, dumbfounded. Damn! You think. She’s right. Looking at all the drawings next to each other, you feel like you’re hovering over the scene, flying from one to the other.

Incorporating different views and angles into your drawings will add variety, create more interest and strengthen the story. It will allow your audience to intertwine their imagination and expectations into the story more effectively. Creating a storyboard will allow you to plan out cohesive flow of your illustrations, giving your visual narrative more strength. Below are a few points to keep in mind while developing your storyboard.

  • Know the characters, feel their story. Understand what you will be illustrating. Read the text several times and try to relate to each character, the space around them and their adventures.
  • Map out the breaks in the text. If the author has marked where the text breaks on each page, use that as a guide. The text needs to flow naturally from page to page, while leaving space for the artwork in strategic places. Look for changes in scenes or topic.
  • Number of pages. Once you have the text laid out and separated into page-by-page sections, note the number of pages you’ll be working with. Mark each page with the type of illustration it will contain. For example, half-page art, full-page art, accent detail, two-page spread, etc.
  • Create a storyboard template. Make a list of all the pages in the book, including the cover, copyright page, title page, dedications, table of contents, and any other additional pages. If you’re working with an author, ask for the list and outline the pages on your storyboard in two-page spreads, starting with the left inside cover page. Depending on the number of initial pages, your story may start on an odd or even side. Odd pages usually fall on the right sheets, and evens on the left sheets.
  • Paste in text as reference (optional). Depending on the length of your book, you may want to print out all the text in a small font and paste it into your template, next to (or under) the corresponding sheets. This step works well for standard size children’s picture books, which are usually 24-32 pages.
  • Start sketching! Once you have your template set up, start sketching out ideas to go along with the text. Add interest and variety by changing the angles and perspectives between illustrations. For example, show a far-away view of a scene on one page, then zoom into it on the next. Show all characters interacting from the side, then switch to a close up. Pay attention to the flow of motion in each illustration, as well. Readers’ eyes will naturally follow the direction of movement within the illustration, and a smooth flow in a clockwise, or left to right direction will keep the pages turning.

Have fun! Keep the storyboard loose and don’t get bugged down by details too much. Use this stage as a planning tool for the final drawings, and try various ideas to find what works best.

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