Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mike Herrod Hits it Home -- Plus a Prize!

Mike Herrod has been posting a lot of his illustration process on Twitter lately. It's this artwork that made me want to give him a shout. I didn't know what to expect when I asked Mike to write a post for Smart Dummies. It should be noted that I'm a bit thick in the head. If I would have thought about it, I wouldn't have been so surprised when I got back a process post (especially since we agreed to a process post via email). There is a lot of great information here, so I hope you won't be too surprised when you read it. Spoiler alert: It's a process post!


Taking it Home – Preparing Your Sketches to go to Finals

You finished your dummy! Congratulations! Now what?

As daunting as creating a full picture book dummy can be, making final illustrations poses a whole new set of challenges. But once you get the process down, this can be the most fun part of making book. After all that work, you finally get to see your art in full-color, just like a real picture book. (I consider this part the “dessert”).

The process below is by no means the way you MUST do things. It’s just what’s worked for me. But hopefully this post will give some tips and ideas that will help you out, no matter how you work.

Sounds good? Let’s go! Very Rough Rough’s

As shown here, my dummy drawings tend to be a little… rough. But that’s OK, really. The dummy doesn’t have to be perfect, as long it gets your ideas across. Here’s how to turn that messiness into a final piece.

Consistency is key!

If you’ve been working on your dummy for some time, there are things you might stop noticing. Maybe your characters look the same person from picture to picture. Or maybe the relative sizes of each character have changed. These things are easy to overlook. Your editor might spot some of these, but it’s really up to you to make sure everything is right. You don’t want to get notes after you’re done painting and waste hours of work.

I make a couple of special drawings to help me double-check my art. One is called the character “turnaround”. The other I call the character “lineup”.

Character turnarounds are an idea borrowed from animation. Basically, you spin your character around and draw them from all angles. I usually do this before making the dummy, and it does two things: First, it makes sure that your character looks like the same person (or animal), no matter how you view them. Second, it makes your pictures more exciting. (You don’t want to draw every character looking right at the reader, or in a straight profile. That’s boring!)

To keep the relative sizes of my characters the same, I like to use a character “lineup”. Draw all your characters right next to each other, and make sure their heights are correct. I like to use the “head” of the main character to measure everyone else. The farmer is four “heads” high, the donkey is two, and the chickens are one. Use this sheet to test all your pictures and your sizes should be all set.

To Resize or not to resize, that is the question…

Let’s face it, we’re not making picture books because we love math. You don’t need to do functions to draw fuzzy bunnies riding bicycles. But now it’s unavoidable – numbers are rearing their ugly heads.

Your dummy can be any size, really. Some people make small dummies. Some are the exact dimensions of the book.

Final images, however, MUST be proportionate to the final book size, and CANNOT be smaller. They can be bigger, however. Much bigger. So if your book will be 10” x 10”, your final art can be 15” x 15”, or 20” x 20”, etc. etc.

The size you choose for your final art depends on how you work. Maybe the final book size is perfect for your art. Or maybe you artwork is busier or has a lot of characters, and you need a bigger canvas to paint the details well.

If you need to resize your images, you have a couple options. You can scan the sketch, resize in Photoshop, and print out the page. Or, you can just redraw the images at the larger dimensions. Either way works fine.

Holy moly, we forgot the words!

Unless this is a wordless book (which is way, way easier), you need to make sure you can fit the words. Your dummy probably included these, but now you need to make sure the words fit in the finals.

I like to print out the words (resized if necessary), cut them out, and paste them on the final sketch. Make sure the font and font-size are correct (the art director can send those if you’re working with a publisher).

Now you can do your last, final check (Eek!) and start to paint.

Almost there!

How you create your final pieces will of course depend upon your medium and your style or art. If you’re working digitally, just load your drawing into your digital painting or vector program of choice, and get going! If you work traditionally, like me, there are a few more steps.

OK, say your drawing is ready to go – finished, checked and approved. But it’s on drawing paper. How to get it on your canvas or on a paper suitable for painting? Well, you have a few choices. You can redraw the entire picture, but that’s hard and could introduce errors. Or you could use transfer paper, which is fine, but can get expensive. For me, the light box is the best and easiest technique, by far. Light boxes are pretty cheap, and you just need a small one. Tape your drawing to the bottom of your art paper, put in on the light box and trace away. If you use ink, like me, you can draw with the ink right on the light box.

Beautiful! Now you’re ready to paint. Personally, I use pen and ink with watercolor. For more information on that technique, visit my blog here.

That’s it! If you’re preparing a dummy for submitting to publishers, remember you’ll need to include two prints of final art from the book (not originals). Or if doing a whole book, just keep going and going until those 32 pages are all done.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck with your art!


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The envelope from Tim Egan

PRIZES find out more about Tim Egan!

One lucky winner will win a copy of "The Trial of Cardigan Jones" by Tim Egan and an original Piece of artwork that never made it into the book! If you are the winner of this artwork you have to promise to take care of it!

Since this is a really big prize it will have to go to someone who has completed the Smart Dummies Challenge!

You must comment on this post to win.

It would be nice if you share this post with your friends!

Sorry, I'm keeping the letter and envelope. ^_^


  1. Thanks Mike for sharing your process with us. You have achieved what I consider the hardest part and that is keeping your sketches lively in the inking process.

  2. So much terrific advice. Thank you, Mike. I use a glass dining room table with a lamp under it for my light box. Ha. Whatever works.

  3. Thanks for this informative post Mike. I shared on FB with my illustration critique group.

  4. I am not entering for the prize, but I wanted to say, I really appreciate you shared your process. I see that each artist makes different choices. It's good to try new ways.

  5. Thanks, Mike (and Dani). I was just working and wondering, "How done must this dummy be before I submit it?" This helped a lot. And, gah, do my kids and I love Tim Eagan's books.

  6. Thanks for the great advice Mike. I especially like the tip about the character line-up.

  7. Thank you Mike for such practical information and ideas!

  8. Thanks for sharing your process Mike; that was supper helpful!

  9. Thanks for the post Mike. Very helpful advice.

  10. Thank you Mike! It is always so useful to see another artists' process - and your illustrations are so whimsical and energetic! A wealth of info in this one article!

  11. I find process posts so useful. Thanks

  12. wow, Love the post. I have been looking for the process for a while. Thank you So much Mike and for the self-sacrificing price

  13. Dear Mark, Consistency is the key that stood out while I looked at your farm animal drawings and compared this to mine. Of course I had to fix a few the invaluable sharing made my Dummy flow way better. My grandchildren will love your book. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Great tips, Mike! I like how you mentioned getting everything the right size and fitting the words in because I think that's something a lot of people forget about when sketching.

  15. Great post about process! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Thanks for the great advice and sharing your process with us, Mike.