The Mascot Author’s Guide to the Illustration Process

In our holiday publishing timeline blog, we provided some ways in which authors can make the production process run smoother⁠—developing a writing timeline, deciding on the book dedication page and description, and most importantly to a children’s book author, figuring out illustration inspiration early. 

But what does this illustration process entail? How can you and your production editor work together to bring your vision to life? We’ve broken down our Mascot illustrations process and what you need to know as an author to ensure this process goes as smoothly as possible. 

children's book illustrations

1. Illustration descriptions

Once your manuscript has been 90-95% finalized, your production editor will ask you to submit your illustration descriptions. Illustration descriptions are short blurbs about your vision for illustrations that the illustrator may not be able to gather from the text. These descriptions can include your ideas for color schemes, specific details about the landscape, or character specifications. Illustration descriptions are also used to describe where you want to see these specifications
in a particular spot, on the left or right page, or on the entire spread (both left and right pages).

AUTHOR TIP: Figure out your ideas for illustration inspiration early! By thinking about your illustrations vision during the manuscript process. It will be much easier to write illustration descriptions when the time comes to submit them to your production editor.

2. Illustration style selection

Once your illustration descriptions have been submitted to your production editor, you will begin the illustration style selection process. Your production editor will provide you with a sample sheet of illustration styles, from which you will select your top seven or eight styles.

AUTHOR TIP: Start thinking about what illustrations styles you like and do not like (and what words to use to describe your vision). Do you want your illustrations to look realistic or cartoony? Do you want them to be done digitally, or would you rather they be hand-painted or drawn? Do you have a specific illustration style in mind from another children’s book?  Understanding what styles you gravitate toward and communicating these preferences to your production editor will help to speed along the selection process.

3. Illustrator portfolios

After you select your top three or four illustration styles, your production editor will send  illustrators’ portfolios based on those style preferences. These portfolios will provide you with a few examples of an illustrator’s work on other projects and give you a better idea of their overall style. After reviewing the portfolios, you will then select your top three or four for test sketches.

AUTHOR TIP: Understand what you can and cannot change about an illustrator’s style. While colors and specific objects or elements in an illustration can be changed, certain stylistic qualities cannot be changed. For example, you may ask the illustrator to change the color and look of the main character’s clothing, but you cannot ask them to adjust how they draw their characters’ eyes and mouths. 

4. Test sketches

Test sketches are draft illustrations of your main characters or a specific scene in your book and are completed by your top three or four illustrators. These sketches give you an opportunity to see how these different illustrators would portray your vision for your characters and overall theme.

AUTHOR TIP: Know that test sketches are NOT the final versions of the illustrations! Test sketches are typically done in black and white, and will not be colored in until after the storyboard step of the process has been completed. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to make edits on the storyboard before final illustrations are made.

5. Illustrator selection and storyboards

After reviewing test sketches, you will make your final selection and choose the illustrator you want to work with! From there, your production editor will serve as the liaison between you and the illustrator to develop the storyboard. The storyboard is a black and white line drawing of the entire story used to show what the illustrator intends to draw as final artwork. It is at this stage where major changes to the illustration can be made, such as adding and removing characters or elements, moving their location on the page, or changing an illustration as a whole. Once the storyboard is approved, no further drawing-related changes can be made.

AUTHOR TIP:  Be mindful of timelines. When making your final illustrator selection, please keep in mind that the time it takes for the illustrator to complete your storyboard is contingent on their illustration method and style. For example, a watercolor illustration will take longer to complete than one done digitally, just as a more realistic illustration style may take longer than a cartoony one.

6. Color!

Once the storyboard is approved, it is time to add color and finalize the illustrations! Just like the storyboard stage of the process, you are welcome to make edits and suggestions to the color scheme. Once illustrations have been finalized and approved, your book will move to the layout stage with our in-house design team.

AUTHOR TIP: Have a vision, but be open to your production editor’s advice. While you as the author are in the driver’s seat, our experienced and expert production editors are here to help you and offer their advice when needed. 

Are you ready to get started on your book publishing journey? Submit your book idea here. 

To see more author tips like these, visit our Mascot blog.

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