Monday, October 17, 2016

Julie Rowan-Zoch: Visual Readability Master

Like most of my Facebook friends and colleagues I can't remember where I first met Julie Rowan-Zoch. I do know that we did a wonderful blog hop together called the "Not So Accidental Blog Hop" which was originally started by Crystal Collier.

I think I used that wonderful memory of mine to say that Julie was a part of another blog hop with me and that was wrong. Never trust me with your keys, people. Julie, on the other hand, is amazing with keys. I don't know for sure, but I assume. Most awesome people are good with keys.

Picture Book Dummies and Visual Readability

We've heard that picture books are a marriage of word and image, and that our illustrations should make use of sequential imagery beyond decorating the text. In picture books text and image share narrative responsibility, and meaning emerges through interplay. I'm pretty sure it was Mo Willems who said the text read alone should not make complete sense without the images - now more than ever!

Word count preferences have fallen on average, mainly because picture books target younger children, making visual readability even more important. As a part-time bookseller and Storytime-reader, I have the unique opportunity to read aloud to kids from 1-4yrs old, experience how group dynamics play a role in their attention span, and to examine which story elements strengthen that connection.

How we as author-illustrators go about the task of making stories come to life is as unique as our own fingerprints! Some start with a catchy title, some with an endearing character sketch. Some storyboard images in their heads first, some let them develop as they go. And then there are those who begin with the end! But we all have to be able to convey the story in a comprehensible format, and for author-illustrators, that's the dummy.

I'll pass on discussing dummy basics - they too can vary according to preference! I have chosen to focus on one aspect I find as important as laying a solid foundation for a house: layout. I'd like to share my process with a spread from one of the manuscripts I am working on, I'M A HARE! SO THERE!

In the following spreads I am looking for balance in the layout, and the elements to play with at this stage are text, characters, and setting. I shift the elements like weights, looking for an inviting visual balance as well as for overall readability. It's crucial that the reader can easily interpret flow across the spreads, and good layout should make the task seem effortless.

I've chosen a 'landscape' book format to enhance a desert setting, big sky, and a strong horizon. In the first spread I just slapped on the text to establish page turns. BUT it is difficult to distinguish between the dialogue bits, mainly because I did not use tags for the dialogue, but also because of placement.

In the next spread I turned the image around to show it is Hare who begins speaking first, but it isn’t quite clear. It is difficult to ascertain the order in which the text should be read.


In this last image I shifted the ears down, providing room to play with the text placement above the character so the dialogue flow is clearer - more or less! I suppose the ground squirrel’s comment could be read before or after the second comment from the hare.


From here I will focus on emotion and character connection, playing with the view. At this point I think I want to move in closer on the ground squirrel to make Hare's accusation more personal, and for the same reason, I will have Hare go back to calling him Chippie.




If this manuscript dummy were to be accepted, a book designer may well have different ideas, but the dummy is my opportunity to show what I understand about readability.

I hope this is good food for thought! Good luck with the dummy challenge!

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13 comments:

  1. Thanks, Julie. I'll give my dummy another look over today to check readability. So many things to check for - my list keeps growing.

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  2. Thanks, Julie, for sharing your process for checking visual readability. It really helps to see actual examples like this.

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  3. That reminds me we need to go to story-time more often and watch how kids react. Great tips, Julie.

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  4. What fun to peek over Julie's shoulder to see how a genius illustrator works!

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  5. Thanks for having me, Dani! And for the nice comments, Teresa, theartofpuro, Sussu, Doreen, and David!

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    1. Thank you for all your hard work! Your post is absolutely wonderful. <3

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    2. It was great fun seeing your dummy pages. Thanks for sharing. Also reassuring to know you don't get it exactly "right" the first time around!

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  6. I actually enjoy designing the images with the words! It's certainly not easy, but I like figuring out where the reader's eye should go first, then how they should travel across the pages. :D Fun! Thank you Julie!

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  7. Very interesting! So can a submitted dummy be as simple as your final example here? I've been intimidated (and thus paralyzed) because I've seen a lot of dummy examples that are beautifully rendered and shaded. Drawing's my weakest skill - my pictures come to life when I paint them - so I've felt blocked because it would take me longer to do that kind of sketch than it would to do a painting . . . and I probably wouldn't be happy with the result. Is a dummy a rough draft?

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    1. I always think of the dummy as a preview of how I'm imagining the final book. But I know an art director or book designer who has more experience will probably suggest changes. So I don't stress about having a perfect dummy. I know it will evolve before it makes it to final images.

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  8. So many things to think about! Thanks Julie for sharing a piece of your process. This particular aspect of book design is not something I've given much thought to, but now I will.

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