SCBWI Canada East Blog

February 14, 2013

9:42 PM 10

Late last year I was hit with a white hot bolt of inspiration! Well, actually a thought more along the lines of: “Hey, this would make a really fun picture book!”, after Patricia Storms commented on this photo of my daughter on Facebook:

Above: Zoe, 2012 – Little Miss Crazy Hair

As an Illustrator, I Start by Writing Visually

I immediately (and by “immediately”, I mean as soon as I had a break between deadlines) started brainstorming by sketching and developing character ideas. After a few weeks of brainstorming, I let my sketches and notes sit for a few days.

I then came back to my sketches and notes with a fresh eye. I looked at all of the ideas I had generated, and came up with a simple story outline. Next, I started sketching some really rough storyboards — trying to capture specific scenes and moments that I wanted to make a part of the story I was going to write. I usually begin my writing process this way — by collecting the various scenes visually until I have a whole series of small vignettes that work well, and may fit into a story.

At this time I also write down any script or dialogue ideas that pop into my head as I draw. I find that I can “write” scenes much more effectively if I visualize the action or expressions of the characters first, and let the words percolate in my head as I draw. This might be an unusual way to write, but I find this works much easier for me than trying to type my way into a story with words. I’m just not wired that way.

On to the Actual “Writing”

After I had some rough visual scenes and situations sketched out,  I then switched gears and actually sat down to write the script. During the writing I refered back to my sketches and incorporated some of the scenes I had sketched out. Some scenes were cut, and new ones were added. I worked this way until I had a rough first draft. Next, I went back and did a full storyboard working from the script I had written, tweaking, fixing, and adjusting things as I went along.

I draw my storyboards quite small. I find it helps me to focus on the overall page composition and the balance of lights and darks, without worrying too much about the details. I’m a sucker for details, so I have to be be mindful to keep the sketches small or I would get lost for hours adding detail that is a waste of time at this stage.

Once I had the storyboard complete, I chose three pages that I thought would make good samples, and worked them up into final illustrations:

Click on the image above for a larger version

What’s this? A Promotional Postcard!

Around the same time as I was working on the final sample illustrations, I needed to make a new promotional postcard. Perfect! I’ll just use a couple of the sample illustrations. Who knows, maybe an Editor, Agent or Art Director will see the postcard and be intrigued enough to ask “So, do you have a story to go with this crazy-haired character?”

Above: Postcard front (notice the cool rounded corners!)

Above: Postcard back. Actual size is 5″ x 7″

Manuscript Critiques and Fine Tuning

Right now I’m in the middle of tweaking and fine tuning the manuscript. I’ve gone through a few rounds of having it critiqued, and after a lot of helpful feedback I think I’m getting close to finishing it!

Wrapping my head around query letters, getting my submission package ready, choosing publishers to submit to, and some unique promotional ideas I’m thinking of trying.


  1. First off, your daughter is ridiculously cute. That is some mighty awesome hair!

    Secondly I am a huge fan of your artwork and this manuscript looks fantastic. Can't wait to see which lucky publisher gets their hands on it first. Looking forward to how this story ends ;)

  2. Very interesting Chris. How close to a fully finished dummy are you going to have? A few sample pieces, or the whole nine yards?


  3. Thanks Adrian. I'm going to have a full sketched out dummy, but I'm only working up 2 pages and 1 full spread into final sample illustrations.

  4. Looks so great Chris!! Exciting stuff.

  5. A great documented journey Chris! Are you creating a digital dummy, physical or both?
    Love your little "inspiration", she is adorable and reminds me of those little cuties with the bed heads, in the pampers commercial.
    I'm really not sure you can go wrong with a girl with wild red hair, keep us up to date on work and the submission process!!!

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  7. Thanks Christine! I'm creating the dummy both digitally and in hard copy - depending on whom it's going to (some publishers prefer all digital)

  8. Great stuff, Chris! Illustrated Zoe is ALMOST as cute as real Zoe:-) Thanks for sharing your process. It's helpful and inspiring for us aspiring picture book author/illustrators.