Thursday, October 6, 2016

Josh + Nash = Fun

Josh Nash's characters are so full of life! He does both animals and humans brilliantly. I'm particularly fond of animals myself. Josh is here today to share his personal dummy process. I didn't force Josh (or any other of the Smart Dummy posters) to write a funny post. Any statements to the contrary will be met with spoiled cream and decaf coffee or tea (your preference).


Hello there! Dani Duck so very graciously asked me to write about my process for creating a picture book dummy. And I am so glad she did because before she did I literally had no idea what it was. As you will see however, I have attempted to parse what I've done in the past into a reasonable sequence of steps. WARNING: I am a horrible instructor! But I make up for it in my complete inability to explain things. Let’s continue.


The first thing I require to begin a picture book dummy is a story. I personally need the words first to start visualizing the images. A lot of the images start formulating in my head as I write and I may scribble down a few doodles at that point, but the real work of constructing the visual comes after I have at least a first draft done.


Now that I have been living with the characters in my head for the duration of the writing process (anywhere from 6 months to 7 years) I want to see what they look like. So I sketch until I start to see them. Characters can evolve a bit during the dummying process for me but I need a pretty solid starting place.

Story Boarding the Page Layout

The next step for me is diving into the page layout. I grid my 32 pages onto a sketch pad and start filling in. This is for sure the part of the process with the highest leverage and impact. At this stage the text is broken up into page turns. Page turns are the language of picture books so a huge amount of story telling will be accomplished here. Emotional timing can be stretched out by using a full spread for one story beat, or a flurry of activity can be conveyed by filling a spread with a lot of action. Fun fact: I tend to get muddled in detail right off the bat and for that reason, thumbnails always feel like cheating to me. My advice: Don’t be me.


At this point I am ready to develop the thumbnails into sketches. Most of the time, I literally graduate the thumbnail larger and larger in a series of sketches, filling them in with precious, glorious details as they approach full size. I sketch out every illustration, adding props and details that help tell more of the story. A ball of yarn here, an abandoned book there. Fully realizing the sketches also helps me edit my text. Economy of language being so important in picture books (but hopefully not in blog posts), the pictures often do the job of the text. Once I have a picture alongside my original text, I can shed superfluous sentences and sometimes even paragraphs.

Finalizing Spreads

I finalize two full spreads for the dummy. These final images are going to let your audience know (at this point for me, prospective agents) how a finished book will look and feel. I go for the two spreads I either have the strongest emotional connection with and/or those that I feel will best sell the book as a whole. Remember your book is a business proposal so come out with guns blazing! But no, not literally. No firearms are permitted.

Let Go and Let God

I have done everything I can with my picture book dummy at this point. I have agonized, worried, doubted, fretted and oh yeah, ENJOYED CREATING it. It is time now to recognize my best work and send it sailing into the universe. More specifically, the inboxes of agents, but hopefully, dare I dream, a book deal and eventually into the hands of moms, dads, teachers, librarians and yes, that most coveted of audiences: children!

Thank you for reading (presumably) and best of luck to you in your picture book dummying!


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  1. Loved this post! Josh, your sense of humour shines through in your illustrations, too! I look forward to reading this book one day!

  2. Love your works and your words! Thanks for sharing them Josh Nash :)

  3. Thanks for sharing, Josh, and I love that bird character.

  4. Your pictures are full of energy. Just the thing for the intended audience!

  5. What a great way to approach the process! Thanks for the advice, Josh.

  6. Loved your illustrative style Josh ! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great point about being able to edit text from your story while making the dummy.Thank you!

    1. It is hard to let go of words sometimes but kind of magic when the picture does the job better, right? Thanks for reading Lisa!

  8. Thanks for sharing your process and hope to also "shed superfluous sentences".

  9. I love looking at all these sketches. They reminds me that you are doing this every day!

  10. I love looking at all these sketches. They reminds me that you are doing this every day!

  11. I love your sense of humor, Josh, and the life in your characters. Thank you for the specific advice. I especially love the advice about letting go and letting your creation "sale into the universe"!