Friday, September 25, 2015

Delicious Dummy Direction by Diandra (Wonder Woman) Mae

I am delighted to have Diandra Mae on my blog today. Diandra is such a wonderful person to chat with. She does so much for the kidlit community. Diandra is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Houston SCBWI. She has created the unofficial Tomie dePaola Award gallery and she co-hosts #kidlitart chat for Illustrators Thursday nights on Twitter at 6pm PST/ 9pm EST.

Both #PBDummy and #Writedummy was created through the #kidlitart group. If you are interested in writing a dummy join the #Writedummy challenge (Details here). Keep tabs on because the #PBDummy Challenge will start in January. Unlike Smart Dummies, this challenge lasts longer, but includes every single part of picture book dummy creation from thumbnails to submission! This Challenge was another inspiration for Smart Dummies. I'm going to participate so I hope you do too!


Growing a Delicious Dummy
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about creating a picture book is how ‘easy’ it all must be. A bunch of pictures, and a few words? How hard could that be?

But the thing is, every step in the process of creating a picture book counts. Every one. Just what could possibly be so important about these steps? Well, let’s take a look at laying the groundwork for the making of a dummy.

Building a Garden

-I can’t begin to tell you how important reading is to your creation process, so I’ll let a master storyteller do it for me.

-Making yourself familiar with the field you hope to work in is just common sense. This is where your friendly neighborhood library comes in. Check out as many picture books as possible. Get the classics

 and the hot new contemporaries 

-And look, Lauren Eldridge wrote a fantastic post on how to critically consider the illustrations in the books you read.

Planting the seed

-You have to come up with an idea for a story. Inspiration is found all around us and as a creative your job is to be an observer. See what’s around you and ask questions.

-Don’t limit yourself. Don’t think about the market, or the latest best seller. Don’t even think about your favorite childhood title. Just imagine and suggest and let your brain go a-wanderin’.

Digging for Ideas

-Create an extensive list of ideas, because the fact is that many times our first inclination for a story isn’t always the best or strongest. Many times we have to dig past the easy-to-reach top soil in our creative garden to get to the really juicy ideas deep down. Sometimes this means writing a list of 50 ideas. Sometimes it means we fill a sheet with characters of all shapes and sizes until we find the one we’re looking for.

-If you’re working with a manuscript written by someone else, consider this the version of going to the nursery and picking up a starter plant. ;)


-This is the time to head BACK to the library. Some people say you should grab comparable titles to your story, but personally I find that there can be too much influence (and really, if you’re reading extensively, you’re already aware of those titles). I like to look for books related to the world of my story. Books about trees, or folklore, or desert photos. Books that will help inform my illustrations, palette, and my sense of where I take the story. Research can lead you to pleasant surprises and inform your work in unexpected ways.

-Pinterest is also a great resource of inspiration/reference images. Use the search wisely, and you’ll be delighted by what you find there.

Gathering the Harvest

-Now that you’ve done all of this. Now is the time to DRAW. Gather your pens and pencils, styluses and brushes, close to you and put them to work. You need to figure out who your characters are. How they interact with each other. What each of them has to say. What each of them is repulsed by/attracted to. How do they express themselves? How do they move? How do they a range of emotions? This is where you put your characters through their paces. And you do it as many times as is necessary, sometimes more, until you find those characters that have that special spark. You’ll know them when you see them.

-This is also the time for you to build the world these characters will inhabit. Are they in the woods? On a farm? In a city? On a spaceship? Do you have reference images for these places or are you so into drawing these that they are part of your illustrative vocabulary? Do you have any idea what a character’s home is going to look like? What clothes they wear? Their favorite toy or belonging? What are the rules of this world? Do animals talk? Do they have jobs? Are kids romping about on their own or is family nearby? You should KNOW your character’s world inside-out.

Writing the Recipe

-As creators of picture books, it is so easy to get caught up in the numbers: page count (usually 32, but can be 40, or even 48) word-count, how many spreads or spot illustrations, etc. when what really matters most is the STORY. And in order to get to the story, you have to do the work. You have to put in the time and effort, over and over and over again, to get the best results for what you’ve created.

-This means when you create your character sketches, setting studies, and thumbnails there is no limit on the number of times you must draw. You draw it until you get it right. You must be willing to draw not just one set of 32 pages of thumbnails, but multiple sets. Consider that some pages deserve to be considered in multiple ways.

-And in order to make the most of your thumbnails, be sure you have an understanding of how the pages break down and how your story will fall on the page. Stephanie Ruble has a link to Tara Lazar’s fabulous layout post here:

-Check each set of thumbnails multiple times: check page turns, flow, visual variety, and composition. Don’t forget words will be falling on most of those pages! A standard resource that is a little outdated, but contains wonderful information on fundamentals is this book.

Tweaking the Seasoning

-Once you get the main flow of your book down, it’s time to move into roughs and final art. A dummy book is expected to be mostly unfinished art, but the art should still be refined. Your pencils should be clean and the illustrations clear.
ou’ll have a chance to show what the feel of the entire book will be when you complete a couple of spreads in full, finished color in the medium of your choice.

Plating the Meal for Serving

And finally, once you have the art drawn, the text laid out on the pages, a mocked up cover and title page, your dummy will be ready to be sent out to the world. Whether it’s headed to an agent or an editor, The dummy should be a reflection of what the final book intends to be. Now you can sit back and enjoy a job well done.

Bon Appetit!


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