Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Friendly Bear Diana Toledano -- Plus a Prize!

I fell in love with Diana Toledano's blog at first site. She has absolutely wonderful advice for both illustrators and writers. The information isn't just available for English readers. Diana writes her posts in both English and Spanish!

The artwork that Diana creates is absolutely wonderful. It's like something out of a dream. Even when her work is based in the real world it still has magic. Much like the way a child sees the world!


Hello fellow picture book lovers! My name is Diana Toledano, and I'm glad to be here with you (in spirit) sharing some basic (but usually overlooked) tips on how to create a dummy book. All the images of the article are taken from the making of my last book: a picture book called “Une Place Pour Edouard” (A Place for Edouard).

Let’s fast forward: you’ve had a great idea for a picture book, you've written the story, you’ve edited the manuscript, you’ve developed your characters, and you’ve drawn a storyboard. Now what? It’s time to create your first dummy! (and I say “first" because you probably should do a couple more before finishing the book).

Since making books is such a long and lonely process, you might need some help making it through. So I’ve gathered up some friends you can count on while making the best dummy on earth:

- Stick figures are your friend.

I'm sure you can draw a proper kid/bear/koala. After all, you're a fantastic illustrator! But while you’re making a dummy book, try to forget you have drawing skills at all.
I know, you’ve seen X illustrator’s dummy and it was beautiful. You want yours to look just like it. If you are one of those super talented human beings who draw as easily and fast as they breathe (like most animators), your dummies might indeed look great… Mine don’t (I’m not *that* cool).

Remember: by making a dummy you are trying to figure out the composition of the illustrations, the rhythm of the book, and where the text will go; you are NOT trying to create a work of art that art historians will compare to the Sistine Chapel. Don't make it pretty, it doesn't need to be.

- Photocopies are your friend.

You've drawn a tiny storyboard. You love it, it's working. You decide to take the next step: making a real dummy. So you take a pencil and... Stop right there! Don't redraw it. Instead, make a copy and blow it up. I'll give you three reasons:
  1. Drawing the same stick figures twice is a waste of time (it's also quite boring).
  2. If you draw the same thing twice you'll feel the need to add details, correct the shapes, etc. You'll be making it pretty, and that will make the editing process a lot harder. Your favorite drawing might be the one page that doesn't work. Will you tear up a beautiful rendering of the night sky that took you 6 hours to make? Probably not.
  3. It's amazingly hard to keep the proportions right when changing paper sizes. Try this: 1. take one spread from your small (and simple) storyboard, 2. blow it up to the size you want your final dummy to be, 3. hide that copy and redraw the spread for the dummy, 4. put the photocopy on top of the redrawn spread and look at them on a light table or through a window. Did the composition change at all? 

- Glue is your friend. Double-sided tape is a great pal too.

Make an actual dummy book. You need to see what happens when you physically turn the page. You won't know what it isn't working until you do. Also, it's a fantastic feeling to hold your own book, even a fake one with circles and blobs.

So take those photocopies, cut them out, fold
them in half and stick the pages together with glue or doble-sided tape (I prefer the tape). Cut the cover a little bigger so it can go over the inside pages that you previously stuck together.

- Friends are your friend. 

What is obvious for you might not be obvious for everyone else. So find some friends to look over your dummy once it's done. Ideally, you should get someone who works in a creative field and someone who doesn't.

In my case, I always bother my husband (he's a computer programer) and a couple of my illustrator friends. Why? Well, fellow illustrators will tell you what's not working and how to fix it. But they are biased because they understand why you did things *that* way. Someone who knows nothing about books won't solve your creative problems, but they'll see your story as most people out there will. And that insight is incredibly valuable.

I hope these tips were helpful! Making books is an amazing experience, but it’s also hard. Know that the light is at the end of the tunnel. Be patient and enjoy ALL parts of the process… I know book dummies aren’t glamorous, but they get the job done!

Follow Diana:
Diana Toledano's website (blog & portfolio):



One lucky winner will win "Manners Are Not For Monkeys" by David Huyck! (This book is up for a 2017 Rainforest of Reading Award.)

In order to win this book you must comment on this post.

It would also be lovely if you shared this post with your friends!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us. Monkeys Have No Manners looks like a real hoot! Can't wait to get my own copy.

  2. The tip about not redrawing the book dummy pages, I probably needed that awhile ago! I'm constantly drawing out pages that might not work. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Gahhhhh!

  3. Thanks, Diana. It's great to see inside another persons process. Thanks.

  4. I am not entering for the prize, but I want to thank you, Diana, for offering this quick guide to dummy composition. It is appreciated.

  5. Great advice, and a lovely encouraging post - thanks!

  6. Thanks for sharing your insight re: making an actual dummy. Most of the publishers I've submitted to accept PDF versions but some ask for actual ones. It's fun to see all those sketches in sequence.

    1. Hi Louann, that is a fair point, I do send my publishers and agent PDF dummies. But let me add something that I should have said in my article:

      You should create an actual dummy because you are committed to making the best book you can.
      You are not making that dummy for your publisher, your friends, your cat, or your agent. You are making it for yourself, because you care... Wouldn't you rather make a GREAT book than a good one? ;)

  7. Thanks everyone for the lovely comments!

  8. And Dani, thanks for inviting me to participate, and thanks for the lovely introduction. Loved how you described my work! I never thought about it that way, but I love it.

  9. This is wonderful advice. It helps to understand details about what other artists process is like. Makes me realize I'm not so strange in my own
    processes after all. Thanks!!

  10. This is great Diana. I especially like the advice about keeping the storyboard simple.

  11. Small and simple and voila! Thank you. I wish I had found this post a while ago. Thank you for sharing your secrets.

  12. Dear Diana, the title brings a smile to my face. I think it can be fun testing out the mannerless-manner? Your enthusiasm is contagious and I took your glue hint to the next level. It worked pretty well for me to put rolled tape behind the insect's wings and move this until it looked right. That will be so much fun to win a signed copy. Thanks again -

  13. I absolutely loved seeing the dummy pages next to the finished art! I'll have to bookmark this post and come back to it again and again, it is so awesome. Thanks, Diana!

  14. Love this post. I especially like your advice: "If you draw the same thing twice you'll feel the need to add details, correct the shapes, etc. You'll be making it pretty. " I'm afraid I fall into that all the time, as an illustrators I just can't leave characters alone. Thanks for sharing. I would love a copy of, "Manners Are Not For Monkeys."

    1. Dayne, it's taking me years to follow my own advice. I use to do that too!

  15. Diana- your artwork is so beautiful! I really love the colors, patterns and textures you use, and I love how you manage to get a sense of calmness and energy in your artwork all at the same time.