Monday, October 10, 2016

David Huyck in: Washing Hair, but for Dummies -- Plus a Prize!

David Huyck does amazing things. He does picture books, he does comics, and he does .gifs. David made this infographic for Diversity in Children's Books: David's last name is pronounced "hike". He knows that I pronounced it wrong. He hasn't smited me yet (figures crossed).

When David mentions that he can see you, he can actually see you. He's magic. I just hope you are dressed appropriately to read this post. If not, go, get changed and then enjoy David's words.


This may surprise you, but I think about books a lot. All the time. I love the way they look, I love the way they feel in my hands, and, of course, they’re filled with amazing things like words and pictures and stories! If you’re here reading this (and I know you are! I can see you out there!) you probably like a lot of these same things. You are probably my people.

So, my people, I present to you a three-part magic formula for making books:

Read, Write, Draw.


If you want to make books, you have to read books - a broad variety of books. And if you want to make picture books, you have to read picture books. A lot of them. I know this may sound like a hardship, but I believe you can get through this difficult task. Perhaps you should bring a friend for moral support, and so you can get feedback on your grumpiest, glum-est voice for poor, old Eeyore, and corrections on your pronunciation of “wingardium leviosa!”

I joke (maybe?), but in order to really understand the form of picture books, you have to read a so-crazy-your-family-will-question number of them. I love picture books, and I thought I had read tons of them. But I didn’t really immerse myself in picture books until I had small kids. At the library, they will pick everything and anything they can, and I read what they choose because I love my children, even when they have bad taste. Sometimes, it is a wonderful way to discover stories I never would have pulled off the shelf. Other times - oh, those other times! - I wonder how long the editor could have possibly lasted at their publishing house after allowing such horrid books to desecrate the remains of a once-thriving colony of aspen trees.

I still joke (maybe?), but there truly are some awful books out there. Read some of them to the bitter end in order to anchor the deep end of your pool of understanding what picture books can be. But also read the best books. Read the ones everyone talks about. Read the ones that the librarians say they can’t keep on the shelf. Most of all, read the underappreciated gems that make you feel like a high-dive, that feel like you are the only person who could possibly love these books they way you do. Those are the ones that will thrill your heart and shape the books that you want to make.


Obviously. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Simple.

But writing picture books - as you have surely heard or discovered on your own - is not as simple as it sounds. Fitting your brilliant idea into those 32 or 40 pages in an efficient, meaningful, engaging way can feel like a bar set higher than the ones used by Olympic pole-vaulters. But don’t worry - you don’t have to clear that bar on your first try. In fact, one story I am currently working on is now in its 27th draft (not a joke this time.) I may never stick this landing, but as long as there is something in this story that matters to me in some way, I’m going to keep charging after it.

On the flip side, an idea I had last week is still in draft zero. I haven’t written a single word of it. Right now I have a clear vision of the characters and the setting and the beginning and the end. What I don’t have is a good, squishy nougat in the middle to bite into, so I’m letting it stay fluffy in my mind while I work on other things. I am trusting my process and my subconscious to put together the pieces, so that one of these days, when I sit down in my studio, I’ll be able to tell myself that story: beginning, end, and middle (and hopefully in the right order.)

Picture books are amazing. They come in so many shapes and sizes. They can be filled with encyclopedic facts, they can sing with lyrical verse, or they can be entirely wordless. It is entirely up to you. But even a wordless story has to be written somehow.


This part has always felt most natural to me. I am an artist. A draw-er. I am a doodler. I can’t watch TV or a movie without a sketch pad handy. And because I am always drawing as I ingest stories, I think the two - drawing and storytelling - are thoroughly tangled in my synapses.

Drawing is thinking. Drawing is a way to study the problem. Drawing makes the ideas in your head into something you can look at and rearrange and add to and trim and sculpt. And when you make picture books, drawing is writing!

Just because I have a story in draft zero does not mean I haven’t worked on it. On the contrary: I have sketched the characters in dozens of ways. I have drawn them talking and digging and worrying and doing all manner of silly things as I figure out who they are, and why they do the things at the beginning and at the end of my story - all in pursuit of finding out what they do in the middle, of course. Let me know if you come across any good story-middles.

Read, Write Draw, repeat

Not every story can be captured in the same way. Some of the ones I have written need all their words in order before I can add images to them. Others don’t make sense to me verbally, but instead flash through my mind as scenes and pictures. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between, and I’ll work back and forth from text to sketch to dummy and back through it all again.

I’m tempted to say there isn’t some magic formula for making picture books, but that would make me look pretty dumb, since I offered you exactly that about 1,000 words ago. But like making picture books, we all know that magic is never as easy as it looks - it takes concentrated effort and practice to pull it off. But I know, and you know, that you, my people, have the power to read and write and draw your way to a glittery, sparkly, magical picture book of your very own.

Good luck this month as you create your smartest of dummies! I will see you on the bookshelves!
David Huyck has been drawing for as long as he can remember, drawing picture books since he was in college, and publishing as a children's illustrator since 2012. The third book he illustrated, If Kids Ruled the World, won both the Shining Willow Award in Saskatchewan and the Blue Spruce Award in Ontario in 2016, and his fourth and latest book, Manners Are Not For Monkeys, is up for a 2017 Rainforest of Reading Award.

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  1. Constant revision of thumbnails, sketches and dummies - thanks for the confirmation. It's good to know even experienced illustrators tweak their work constantly.

  2. 27 drafts?! Yay I'm not the only one haha.

  3. Thanks, David. Great seeing a little inspirational advice before diving back into this dummy.

  4. I also see writing and illustration as ideas you rearrange, trim, and sculpt. Your sketches of monkeys and kids with a very intriguing title looks TERRIFIC. Read-write-draw, read-write-draw, and read-write-draw until it's done. :-)

  5. Thanks for sharing your humor and approach to creating picture books. It really helps to read that even the most productive artists sometimes struggle to find the right approach for their projects.

  6. 27 drafts...??? i've feel like i've got a very long way to go now..... arghhh

  7. Thanks or the post! I enjoy peeking over the shoulder of other author/illustrators.

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process...very encouraging. Matt De la Pena, said he wrote 70 drafts for Last Stop on Market Street! Read, write, draw, repeat :)!

  9. Your wit, vocabulary, and picture book wisdom are spot-on. Thank you for being a vein of gold for other picture book writers and illustrators!

  10. Ah, I have a number of 27+ drafts stories that I've not given up hope on yet. :) I've got the Read, Write part down...I need to work on the Draw part more. It was fun to read David's journey to being a PB author!

  11. Thanks for the wisdom David. I learned a lot from your PB making process

  12. Thanks for the magic formula and the inspiration!

  13. I am not entering for the prize, my bookshelf would break down :) But I enjoyed reading about your processes. And yes, books are like a magic box and jee do I enjoy being surprised by what it contains.

  14. Love the artwork and inspiration. Thanks

  15. 27+ drafts, I can't get that number out of my mind. I have a few manuscripts that I'm sure are only up to 17 or 18 drafts (I don't really keep close track of these things). I thought I was getting close to finished. I may have to rethink that. Thanks for sharing your process. I would love to own a copy of "If Kids Ruled the World."

  16. Hi David, I never thought about drawing right on the print-out thumbnail graphic organizer. Now that's a good little time-saver! I seem to want to make my initial sketches a little larger, but I should try that out. Thanks for taking pictures of real things, like crowded bookshelves, massive piles, and for sharing about your 27 drafts. You're keeping it REAL. :)

  17. David- I loved reading about and seeing a bit of your process! Thanks for sharing!

  18. I loved this post! It's always fun to hear about another's process, and David was very encouraging! Thanks!