The Story I’ll Paint: Part 1 – Getting Started

The countdown begins for publication of The Story I’ll Tell, set for release on November first. In celebration, I thought it might be fun to do a series of posts about the process of making the illustrations.

So, without further ado, I’ll start from the beginning.


Once upon a time, I woke up as usual, had my coffee breakfast, and got to work when—ping!— an email arrived in my inbox. (It didn’t actually go “ping,” but that seems like a nice idea.) It was from an editor asking if I might be interested in working on a picture book. It sounded promising! Emails were exchanged, manuscripts sent and read, deadlines were set, and contracts negotiated and signed.  After the whirlwind of activity and excitement settled, it was time to sit down, put pencil to paper, and do what might be the most important part of illustrating a picture book: getting started.

With The Story I’ll Tell, I was fortunate to have a lovely manuscript. Ideas jumped up in my mind, begging for attention. I started sketching and writing down notes, and created a folder where I collected evocative images from magazines and the Internet. Where did the characters live? What culture were they from? What kind of world did I want the reader to step into? These were some of the many questions that had to be explored.

Photograph of a pile of papers with hundreds of thumbnail sketches

After the initial brainstorming, it was time to start planning out the book with thumbnails. Some pages were clear in my mind while others were harder to pin down. After seemingly endless rounds of sketches, I sent in a complete set…

…and soon after, received my first round of detailed feedback from my editor and art director. Lots of feedback. For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to adjust to so many notes and suggestions. But at every round of revision, my art director and editor pushed me to make the book into something far better than I could have ever achieved alone, and I’m so glad they did.

Some pages didn’t change much at all:


…while other pages changed quite a lot:


This isn't even close to all the variations of this page.

By the end of the initial planning phase, I had drawn hundreds of thumbnails. The vast majority ended up in the reject pile. In the case above we ended up changing the text slightly in order to change the setting of the illustration. Once we had the basic concept down, it was time to start working out all the details.

Coming in part two: Finding a harmonious composition.
Other posts in the series:
The Story I'll Paint: Part 2 - Finding Harmony
Jacket Art

1 Comment

  1. Pingback : Jessica Lanan Illustration » Pictures and Words » The Story I’ll Paint: Part 5 – Painting with Guts

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