Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lauren Eldridge Puppetmaster and a Prize!

If there is one thing that draws me to Lauren Eldridge's work it's her extensive work in puppetry. It takes me to a happy time in my childhood seeing sets made of paper and figures made of cloth and clay. Lauren's video of her creating a set out of cardboard reminds me of all the wonderful how-to videos and art shows I watched as a child. Be sure to check out Lauren's website after reading this interview. You are in for a real treat!

Also scroll down to the bottom to see how you can win a full dummy critique!


Be prepared, Dummy!

By Lauren Eldridge

Congratulations! You’re about to create a beautiful, wonderful, one-of-a-kind thing… a picture book dummy!

Whether you’re illustrating for another author or putting pictures to your own story idea, the dummy is a monumental step in translating a tale that can be read or said into a picture book that can be seen and explored. This step is where you start narrowing down what your story looks like, how it flows from page-to-page, and what it feels like to the reader. You have 32 beautiful blank pages and every choice you make about visual representation is important!

That’s why I’m telling you to stop.
pre-dummy action/frame planning/options

No, I’m not suggesting you give up… what I’m suggesting is that you just take a minute, okay? This stage, the one right before you start making thumbnail sketches or stapling printer paper together, is arguably the most important and unique stage in illustrating a picture book. Thoroughly preparing yourself and your intentions now will not only make your picture book much stronger, but it also save you loads of time in the end.

So, what kind of things should you do to prepare? Welp, here we go…

READ… with intention!

Go to the library and check out as many Caldecott Medal-winning books as you can. At my library, I can get 30 at a time. Sit down with that stack of books and study them. Read through them looking only at the pictures first, then once again with the words. Pay attention to the pacing and page-turns.


Why did the illustrator make the choices she/he made?
How did those choices make you feel?
Would you have done anything differently? Why or why not?
Why was that book celebrated?

            Illustrative Aspects

How does the Illustrator use space? Is the spread full? Is the illustrator only using a portion? Is the space broken up into frames? Vignettes? Why?

Color aside, how did the illustrator use lines to guide your eye (and the story)? Were lines smooth or rough throughout the entire book? Did they shift with action or emotional turbulence? Did you even notice them at all?

Closely linked to lines is its best pal, movement. How did the illustrator show movement? Did the movement from one page flow to the next? How? Did the characters require the illustrator to show travel? Did s/he use frames to show movement? If so, did the character move or did the setting move (or both) from frame to frame?

Next up: pagination. That can be a tricky little bugger, huh? In film it comes down to when to cut from one scene to the next and how the cinematographer, director and editor decide to inform the audience. In picture books, the illustrator has to wear all three hats. Where are the natural breaks? How does the illustrator control the pacing and create tension with page breaks? Does the illustrator use a page-turn as a tool to surprise or detour the reader?
cardboard building planning

Since we’re already comparing to film, let’s talk about action and perspective. How does the illustrator choose to show readers what’s happening? In many cases the camera (perspective) is responsible for showing action. There is a reason why chase-scenes in movies often involve the camera as a player. The perspective of the viewer can be jumbled and tossed, as if her or she is also running. Just think of illustration as the slowest, most analog cinematography job in the world. Now ask yourself: how the illustrator use perspective to inform action, or lack thereof?

Ok, now color! What is the palette? Does brightness/intensity change with the story? Does the illustrator use add it in or take it out on purpose? Or use symbolism? How come?

Kind of like color, but not… light! How is light or tone used throughout the book? Do the eye-squint test. How’s the composition? Does the illustrator use frames or light to guide your eye? How? And more importantly, why?

Showing vs. Telling. Ugh. This is also a tough-y. Well, first… are there actual words in the book? If so… why? What is that word accomplishing that a picture couldn’t bring home? No, SERIOUSLY. And vice verse. REALLY. The choices about the visual story aren’t always connected to the words. Is there something else like another relationship, an important change of setting, or emotional turning-point that is only expressed visually?

character material prep
And so if there are words in the story… where did they go? Did the type distract or add to the story? Were words, sentences, and/or paragraphs placed well within the entire composition of the spread?

THE WHOLE SHEBANG. This is key. I assure you that anyone can illustrate a book? The thing that sets timeless picture books apart from those easily forgotten is the harmonious blend of all of the above… and it’s nearly impossible to do. THAT’S the challenge! So, when you’re finished reading the book… ask yourself what you liked about it. What didn’t you like? Where did it fall short? What could have made it perfect?
Now, it’s not necessary to hit this step each time before throwing down a dummy… that would be a tad much… but it is certainly worth doing (at least) once. For real.

Find the Right Vibe

Usually, this portion of the process is my favorite because it’s all about inspiration and style. How do you want the reader to feel? Answer that question. Write it down. Keep it somewhere visible when you start illustrating. It’s important!


In order to really find (and KEEP) my specific story’s vibe, I find a song. What song makes you feel how you want your readers to feel?  – OR – what song can put you in the mood to do the work?

Play that song each time before you start illustrating. Why? Because sometimes illustrating can take weeks, months, or years and a song can keep you IN IT… even if other influences are changing your style over time.

I’ve heard some people use a scent instead. If you’re scent-driven… do that! Same thing!

Pinterest (or something like it)

Alright. I’m not huge on Pinterest for most things but I LOVE it for picture book preparation. It’s a great way to keep anything inspiring and relevant in one handy place. I routinely add things that could help inform illustrative choices… graphic styles, line work, photographs, fonts, sculptures… you name it!

Print things out if it helps. Post them on the wall above where you work. Staying consistently inspired is incredibly difficult as it is. Help yourself out as much as you can because there will be times you won’t feel like putting in the work. Sometimes, things like this will pull you through and keep you focused.

READ… again.

I know I already said that but this time it’s different. This time I want you to find comparable books.

Find books that are similar in genre or topic. If you’re writing a book about potty training – you look at every (relevant) potty training book you can! Why will your book be special? What are you adding?

Additionally, you should find books that hint at a similar style or atmosphere, if you will. This will both help you see how a published illustrator achieved creating that “feeling” and will also remind you to stay fresh. Have your own style. Again, what can YOU add?


Gulp. This is the hard part.

There are a LOT of things to consider. Remember all of those aspects to consider when studying the Caldecott books? Yes! Now you have to consider those things… but for YOUR dummy! This is the wonderful, exciting, terrifying challenge of illustration.

Lauren’s Final Semi-Unsolicited Advice

Think of the dummy as a whole. 100%. You can fill it with any percentage of the things I mentioned above (space, lines, movement, action, perspective, color, light, showing, telling, words) but once it’s full, it’s FULL.

I simply mean that if you, as an illustrator, take and exploit every single aspect – your picture book will be the literary equivalent of a flamenco dancer after a questionable number of Red Bulls on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Very busy and maybe a tad obnoxious.

So pick one or two things that are REALLY important to your story and execute them like a boss.

You’ve got this, Sugar… Now let’s WORK!

Lauren Eldridge is a 3D mixed-media artist and photographic illustrator. Basically, she makes stuff... usually for stories. Her illustrative debut CLAYMATES by Dev Petty will be published by Little Brown in 2017. Lauren lives with her husband and two daughters in Madison, WI. For more information, please visit

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Lauren is offering a full dummy critique to one lucky person! In order to win you must comment on this post and finish your dummy (of course, how else will she have something to critique?). The winner's will be announced in early October.


  1. Thanks for the great tips and I really enjoyed your website and blog - more great tips! :)

  2. Wow such beautiful and intricate work I love it! Thanks so much for your insight as well, lots of great advice in there!

  3. Tanks for the tips. Your blog is amazing. It inspired me to try new things. So now I'm heading to the library to get those Caldecott PBs and match them to your list.

  4. I love your suggestions. I am amazed at your work and I'm hopeful I can create a great book dummy!

  5. Love the thought of using the same song to initiate your creative thinking. Similar to Pavlov's dog...without the drool:)

  6. Wow! I need to print out all this advice and read through it again. I love the concept of finding a song that inspires the work. Thank you!

  7. Thanks for posting your video...loved watching you work ;)

  8. I am so happy that you were able to do this post, Lauren! It's so detailed and positive. I can't speak for anyone else, but this is exactly the kind of post I need to read and come back to when I'm knee deep in dummy work. Thank you so much for being on my blog!

  9. This was a great post. I especially liked the advice to pick one or two things to excel at after doing research on other great books. Thank you!

  10. I'm so fascinated by your process and the final result of your work Lauren! Balancing all the Illustrative Aspects is no small feat. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  11. Thank you for this post. You have 'nailed' quite a few things to think about. I also check out about 30 PB at a time and study them. Great exercise in focus. Thanks again!!!

  12. Excellent! Always great to get a small view into an artists mind and/or workspace!
    I have four PB dummies and would LOVE to have one (preferably all) critiqued!