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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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Illustrator Feature: Vanessa Alexandre

Freelancers are the backbone of the publishing world. We have an extensive network of freelance professionals who do fantastic work for our authors. This month, our featured freelance publishing professional is illustrator Vanessa Alexandre.


How did you get in to illustrating books? What made you decide to pursue this career?

I believe that from a very young age I had already decided to become an illustrator. My mother told me they had to stick a cardboard on the walls around my crib because I liked to draw on whatever was around me. It was very natural for me to become an illustrator, because I’ve always longed for this.

As an adult, I illustrated my first book and, since then, I have been working in the publishing market with children’s books.

How would you describe your art style?

I work in a mix of acrylic painting and digital art. My focus is always in the details of the illustration, and I like to use vivid colours and expressions in the images.

How do you decide what kind of style will work best for the book you’re working on?

I try to pay close attention to the details of the story. Each description from the author is very important to the process of creation and guides me in the style to follow. The most important thing for me is the feeling that each book is unique, so I try to do my best to make every illustration important during the process.

How long do test sketches usually take you?

Usually a whole day, or a day and a half. It depends on the degree of complexity and detail that I want to add to the test.

What do you enjoy most about being an illustrator?

The sensation of creating different worlds, the freedom, and the satisfaction that I have in every new book.

Do you do any other forms of visual art? (Graphic design, painting, photography, etc.)

Yes, I participated in the World Cup “Cow Parade” exhibition last time the Cup was in Brazil. I really enjoyed painting one of the cow sculptures on the streets for the “Football Parade.” In the future, I have plans to learn more about jewelry design as well.

How much do you rely on the book’s content to help guide your illustration?

Fully. Obviously, I try to give my point of view to each page, but I trust what the author describes because it is the first impression I have of the book! Thus, I try to show my vision of the story, while not losing the focus of the author’s initial description.

How many books have you worked on? (Either with Mascot or in total)

In total, I really have no idea because I also work with the creation of many school books and children’s magazines. At Mascot, I have 26 books completed or in the process of being illustrated.

What is your favorite Mascot Books project that you’ve worked on recently? Why?

Every book is meaningful to me, really. But there are three very special projects. The first one is Mommy Breastfeeds Me because it was my first book with Mascot. The second is What Do Monsters Eat?, which I loved to illustrate! And, at the moment, I am thrilled to illustrate You Can’t Stop Sophie Now!, which has a special and important meaning.

What’s your favorite kind of story to illustrate?

Animal stories, and fairies and fantastic stories in general.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m working on a few projects with Mascot, like the book The Tripsies. At the same time, I am finalizing my most recent book (I’m illustrating and writing it!), called Wajãpi, which is the name of an Indian tribe.

What are you looking to do more of?

A little of everything. I don’t seek a specific theme to illustrate, but I like fantastic stories or stories that are inspired by real children.


About Vanessa


Vanessa Alexandre is an illustrator, currently residing in São Paulo, Brazil. She hopes to eventually visit schools to talk about each of the books in which she works. Vanessa has been part of the Mascot Books freelancing team since 2016 and she loves it!

Find out more at vanessaalexandre.com.br

Check out a few of Vanessa’s latest projects!


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2014 Outstanding Illustrator Awards

   Congratulations to our 2014 Outstanding Illustrator Award Winners – Amanda Erb and Tim Williams!

You know the old saying – don’t judge a book by its cover, but at Mascot Books we know just how much work goes into those covers and the illustrations between them. So much goes into making a book AFTER the author has finished putting pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard as it is in this day and age. We are thankful to be able to work with so many talented Illustrators throughout the year, which caused the task of picking two stand-out artists among the group to be a daunting one! Our illustrators really listen to and understand our authors’ viewpoints and can translate that into beautiful artwork that not only complements the words, but helps the reader cross into that land of mystery and wonder that drew us all to a love of reading before we could even say the words. Over half of the books we publish are children’s books, so this is a topic that is especially important to us as we continue to introduce children to engaging and educational characters to start their love of reading at an early age! piginmudsketch headswhirlybird pic Amanda Erb, based in Boston, MA, graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013 with a BFA with Honors in Illustration and has been one of our go-to illustrators ever since! Amanda has worked on numerous children’s books with Mascot Books including A Whirlybird Ride by Teresa Zabierowski and Stinky Blinky by Troy Kent. This week we released her latest – Mr. Gobble Chops and Lady by Robert Burns, currently available in our online store. The creativity and energy that Amanda brings to her work shines through in each and every sketch. She truly does bring the story “to life”! timwilliams After winning a nationwide scholarship competition, Tim Williams graduated from The Art Institute of Atlanta. He spent time designing and illustrating billboards while employed by Ted Turner’s company – Turner Advertising. Tim started freelancing in 1984 and has since worked for ad agencies, corporations, magazines, publishers, and all 3 professional sports teams based in Atlanta. Tim has worked on a variety of projects for Mascot Books, specifically bringing his keen eye for detail to our Mascot A to Z series. We want to thank Amanda and Tim for their contributions and congratulate them both on being Mascot Books 2014 Outstanding Illustrators!

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The Book Production Process at Mascot Books

For my first blog post, and as senior project manager here at Mascot Books, I thought going over the book publishing production process in a general sense would be a good place to start. Each month following this post, I will delve more in depth into each stage of book production. I will also cover frequently asked questions (FAQ) within each post. Take a look at one of our children’s books in production: IMG_20150113_115615 (4) First Contact Once the contract comes in, the project is handed off to one of our two project managers (PM). The PM will contact the author asking some of the same questions each time (do you have a deadline or date to have books in hand), but many are specific to each project as no two are the same.   FAQ: How long does the production process take? Answer: It depends. There are many individual factors within each project that alter the timeline (illustration details, licensing, etc). However, we have found that on average a book takes about 4-5 months from when the contract comes in to when the author will have books in hand.   Script Children’s Book – The PM will also be your editor. This is when any suggestions for changes are made. Proofreading here is also a focus, but that is something that will also be done throughout the rest of the process. Once the script is finalized (though this doesn’t mean set-in-stone), it will be split into the spreads that will correspond to the illustrations. Novel – The PM will contract one of our freelance editors to work on your script. The edited script along with a message from the editor will be sent to the author for their review.   FAQ: Can I make changes to my script throughout the process after it’s been determined final and we’ve moved on to the illustration stage? Answer: Yes, but only minor edits and only they do not affect the illustrations.   Illustrations/Cover Design and Photo Insert Children’s Book – If the author is providing their own illustrations, the PM will provide them with the required specs. If illustrations are being done through Mascot Books, the author will then provide descriptions of the characters as well as descriptions of the spreads. The illustration process consists of a test sketch, storyboard, and final illustrations. I will go into this process in great detail at a later date. Novel – With any guidance provided by the author, our design department will create a couple cover options to select from and edit. Once all the photos for the insert are provided along with captions, the designer will lay it out for your review.   FAQ: How long do illustrations take? Answer: This timeline varies on the number of illustrations, level of detail, and kind of illustrations that are being created. For example, watercolor paintings will take much more time than digital images. On average, illustrations take about 6 weeks from the time the artist is contracted to when final illustrations are received.   Layout Once all materials are obtained, the project will be put in the design queue to be laid out from cover to cover.   FAQ: Can the designer start laying out my book with some of the illustrations to save time? Answer: No. We cannot proceed to the next stage of the process until the previous stage is complete.   PDF This is a fully laid out version of your book from cover to cover. Three versions of the PDF will be created that will include any edits the author requests and any edits found by the PM that are correcting errors.   FAQ: Will I get to see the final version of my book before it’s sent to the printer? Answer: Yes. We will only send your book to the printer once you have reviewed and approved the final version.   Licensing Not all projects require this stage. If so, the PDF will be provided to the licensing company or directly to the school as soon as it’s approved by the author. After any changes have been made that the school requested and we have received their approval, the PDF will be sent back to the author for a final review and approval.   FAQ: How long does this process take? Answer: It depends on the school or professional team, the time of year, and the amount of content for them to review. On average, it takes about 4-6 weeks.   Printing Once the final PDF is approved by the author, the files will be sent to the printer. Our office receives a physical proof from the printer (unless otherwise agreed to with the author) to check color and layout. All children’s books are read a final time in this stage. All novels will have their covers and dust covers read a final time in this stage, and the interior will be briefly reviewed for overall layout.   FAQ: How long does printing take? Answer: This depends on the printer and the time of year as each printer has busy seasons. On average, it takes 4-5 weeks.   Shipping from the Printer The author will be contacted with their estimated ship date and information to help them decide how many books to have shipped to them, and how many to ship to our warehouse.   FAQ: How much does shipping cost? Answer: This depends on the number of books being shipped, where they are going, and what time of year. Once the author has been contacted with the estimated ship date, they can request estimates on shipping to know what to expect on the invoice for shipping.   In my post next month, I will go more in depth on the First Contact part of the process. Feel free to contact me with any burning questions you’d like answered about the production process.

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