Self-Publishing VI – Illustration Layout Challenges

Every story being self-published has a story of its own for the designer. What made it fun and appealing? What presented challenges? How were they resolved and could they have been avoided?

Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow is an 8×10″ picture book by Susen Edwards, illustrated by Lindsey  Johnson, and had two interesting challenges – one that is not so unusual for a first-time author and a first-time illustrator, and a second which, surprisingly, was due to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic.

Susen, the author, was a delight to work with, and she had found a young illustrator with a charming and simple style, though no experience in picture book layout. The story is about two cats, who, in the face of their little boy being ill, transform themselves into Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow to provide the special care that our animal companions so often provide.

What I sometimes find with first-time picture book illustrators is that they are not aware that their 2-page spread drawings have to accommodate the gutter in the center of the book. Once the book is bound, a portion of the illustration is lost in that fold, so the artist has to plan the elements of the illustration carefully. In this case, a couple of Lindsey’s illustrations had  cats placed across the middle of the drawing .

This is where a designer able to work in Photoshop is a great asset. In two cases, I literally moved one of the cats to another location on the left or right page, where no one would ever know they’d been “cut and pasted” with a new background “painted” in  where they had been. 

The two halves of the original illustration with Dr. Whisper across the middle, baseboards not lining up, and gray at the edges of the drawing from the scanner. Moving the images closer left the illustration not wide enough, and Whisper still in the middle. (White area is for text.)

After some work in Photoshop, we now have Whisper on the bed close to Bobby, the center section cleaned up and the baseboards aligning properly. Now neither cat’s image will be lost in the gutter.

The other challenge, which no one could have anticipated, is that when Lindsey took her illustrations to the local copy shop to be scanned, the shop was closed because of COVID. Her only recourse was to scan them on her own smaller scanner bed in two parts. This presented a problem because when lined up as 2-page spreads in Photoshop, they occasionally were a little “grayed-out” at the edges and didn’t always match up. This, unfortunately, left Susen with some unanticipated extra design time while I had to enlarge a little here, reduce a little there, and do a little extra Photoshop work to make the illustrations “whole” again.

Another example of the finished spread where each cat is now on its own page. The original drawing had Nurse Willow across the gutter with her head right next to Dr. Whisper’s. In Photoshop, I moved the entire cat to the left page, and re-created the center portion. 

The result, however, is a very lovely picture book, and the Photoshop work was actually an enjoyable challenge. I had fun with the cover in choosing a light, Victorian-style wallpaper which complimented the drawing style plus a frame for our two main characters. What could have been done differently?

As for the scanning? Nothing. This was just an unfortunate turn of events that no one could have predicted. The image of the cats getting lost in the gutter? That could be remedied by working with a designer who is familiar with children’s books (such as myself!) where a dummy could be put together before illustrating began, thus assuring proper placement of all pictorial elements. The key here is a dummy (and the subject for another post.)

Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow is suitable for young children, ages 3-6, and can be found on Amazon.

If looking for a skillful job in bringing your picture book to life, feel free to inquire.

 

Self-Publishing V – Picture Books

One of the best parts of any design project is the opportunity to create something new, unique, and appealing for your client and their audience. But it can be an exciting challenge to stay within certain parameters, such as size limitations, when you are provided with  a variety of elements created without those parameters in mind.

Such was the case in designing the picture book “The Little Girl Who Lost Her Words” for author MJ Zonfrillo. This was MJ’s first foray into the world of self-publishing. While she had devoted a great deal of time to her manuscript and hired an excellent artist in Sue Griggs-Bailey, the combination of a beginner’s level of experience and a portrait artist  who had never worked in children’s books presented a few challenges.

Let me first say that I am so appreciative of those people I work with, like MJ, who are so willing to learn and want to do everything they can to make the project go smoothly. Thank you to you all.
MJ had a dummy assembled in a looseleaf binder and came ready to work. The illustrations were provided on a flash drive in a suitably-sized jpg. format. However, because the dummy was created after the illustrations were completed – the reverse of the usual order of things – I had to sometimes work a bit in reverse. Also, the illustrator, being an accomplished portrait artist, provided a number of similar-appearing images in portrait style that would need to be presented in different ways so as to provide the variety needed in a 32-page picture book.

Above right is a beautiful image Sue had drawn of the main character, Ava, looking wistfully up at some butterflies. But this needed to be a 2-page spread — what was the best way to go about this? I could have used the image on one side of the spread and used the opposing side for text, but there was another option to make it more interesting. See below, the final spread, using Photoshop, and incorporating Sue’s own background to extend the image.

MJ had chosen an 8.5 x 11″ format.  Some of the images supplied worked wonderfully as single page images, and there were others that worked well as spreads. Very few were provided with an awareness of where the gutter would be and how it would affect the look of the spread. Others needed a variety of cropping, others needed to be made to work in page-and-a-half size, and in some cases, Photoshopping to make them work in the chosen format. This is where my being an artist, not just a designer, comes in handy!

Pictured above is the original art for a two-page spread. It would have been perfect for a horizontal format, but our final size for a 2 page spread is 17″ wide by 11″ high – quite a difference. What I needed to do was first trim the drawing down to clean edges all around, then see what I could afford to lose from the left and right sides. Next, I had to piece the two together overlapping, then eliminate a swath down the middle to fit the above dimensions, and paint the two together in Photoshop to create a continuous image so the finished piece looked like it had always been that way. Voila!

One of the things MJ learned from this experience is the proper order of: finalized MS, dummy, then illustrations. With such beautiful artwork and MJ’s trust in my design ability to modify Sue’s art respectfully when needed, I was able to bring it all together to make a beautiful finished book that all of us are really proud of. With such a lovely first book, I look forward to working with MJ again on whatever her next project might be.

Self-Publishing – III

One of the major differences between self-publishing and being published by a mainstream publisher can be in the imagery. When you sign on with a publishing house, you, as an author, will be paid for your story and unless you are an author/illustrator, they will make the arrangements and hire someone to provide the artwork. When it comes to self-publishing, you’re pretty much on your own to provide the images.

If you, as an author, wish to pay an illustrator you will find that it’s not an inexpensive proposition. Creating art takes time – and talent, of course – and may be beyond the financial wherewithal of the average author. For this reason, particularly in picture books where images are critical to not just the look and feel of the book, but also the understanding of the story, there is a preponderance of photography used in the self-publishing world.

So what can one do about that? Why not be creative with the photographic images? Pictured here is Daniel, Dog Camp Champ! by Loren Spiotta-DiMare, a picture book for an older picture book reader. Loren wanted more than  straightforward images cropped to accommodate the square format, so I had some fun with them and used a variety of techniques in Photoshop. Most of them were quite simple, but made all the difference in the variety of images from one page to the next.

In the image above, I used two simple techniques – I silhouetted the two dogs on the top, dropping out the background of the photo, and softened the edges. I placed the image low on the page, giving the feel of the dogs sleeping on pillows on the floor.

Another technique I used here and there throughout the book was to combine photos which were not originally related. So on page 9 we have our energetic Welsh Springer Spaniel having a great time romping on the shore of  the lake at the doggie agility camp. Was he ever there? Not at all. but with some handy silhouetting, combining,  and juxtapositioning … he is now!

Silhouetting can also be a very powerful tool in evoking a feeling from an image. Daniel, our little Dachshund hero, is fearful of participating in the agility challenges. Each time he tries one of the obstacles, he becomes afraid. He is more comfortable watching from the sidelines. I think silhouetting this particular photo is a strong way of showing that Daniel is not just looking on but may also long to be a part of the fun. It also removes background that may have nothing to do with the scene being written about. Again, I’ve used the soft edges as I have through much of the book.

This was a fun project to do. I had the opportunity of playing in Photoshop and designing a book that relied on photography have more of the look and feel of illustration.

The cover, at top, was also fun. Daniel, the trophy cup, and the biscuits were all separate photos combined for an image that tells a story by itself, but even the title font added some playfulness.

One could go and purchase a wood-y font that looks like summer camp, but why, when you can create something similar in Photoshop? Photoshop is any artists’s dream tool and with minimum effort, the letters can look like carved wood. This isn’t any major magic, just playing around with some of the program’s variables to get a result.

For those who are self-publishing a picture book but do not have the availability of an illustrator, consider the photos you plan on using – might they lend themselves to some creative effects to make your story more attractive and readable? If you think so and are looking for overall lovely book design, please contact me and we’ll talk!

p.s. Should you wish to talk design in person, I will be a guest speaker and panelist at the Animal Writers’ Workshop to be held on April 28th in Oldwick, NJ. There’s still time to register and tickets are still available. Read about the Workshop here.

 

 

Looking to Self-Publish?

 

Welcome! You have arrived at my official graphic design website. I hope you’ll take the time to become familiar with the many services I can offer you. Looking to self-publish? Let me help. It really does put a smile on my face when I can bring my design skills to your project and you are happy with the results. Need bookmarks? Swag for events? Let’s talk.

Self-publishing has become so big nowadays because people have discovered that it’s actually possible to have their own writing produced in real live book format and made available to the public. Prior to the concept of print-on-demand, there were really only two options – submit to mainstream publishers and wait to hear or keep your local copy shop very busy with projects with not very professional looking binding. Now all that has changed.

Here’s a recent example of a picture book I worked on:

Paisley, You’re Crazy is a 24-page picture book, published through Amazon’s CreateSpace.  In this project, I did the layout and design plus pen and ink drawings of the various items which I hid in the paisley columns placed at the outer edge of each page. Basic counting skills can be learned with Paisley the rabbit and his toys, food items, brushes, etc. as well as the opportunity of finding hidden objects. The book became twice as much fun for little ones with the help of the author’s adorable bunny. Paisley is an example of the unique look I could bring to your project.

You have big dreams for your books and/or other graphics projects, and I’m here to help.

Please check out more of my graphic design projects.