1. Sign contract with the publisher and receive the author's manuscript, which is usually 2-3 pages of double spaced text for a 32 page children's book.
2. Read manuscript about 5 times while musing and daydreaming... very important! This is where I see possibilities for interesting characters, layouts, color schemes, etc. It is best to sleep on it, then read it again, before sketching begins.
3. Divide up the text into 32 pages, including spot art page, title spread, copyright page, interior pages, possibly glossary, etc. Spot art is an illustration that sits in the middle of a page with white space around it. The title spread is a double page spread of art with the title, author, illustrator and publisher listed.
4. Make a small mockup (or dummy) out of paper and staple it. Make REALLY rough sketches of what's happening on each page, according to no. 3. I usually make several and try different scenarios.
5. For more complicated books, I make a larger dummy with more room to add other elements, such as borders, detailed drawings, etc.
6. Once I have a dummy I like, I layout the manuscript text in 14pt. type in Illustrator or InDesign for all 32 pages. I print out these pages and make detailed sketches around the text. I use this to copy fit my illustrations. I have to know how much room I will have to fit an illustration on every page. Some pages may have no text.
7. The pencil sketches are scanned in grayscale and loaded on my website with notes for the publisher to review.
8. Then I wait. Usually it takes a week or two before I hear back from the publisher. There are always changes, and sometimes corrections. Usually I get, "We love the sketches!", which is what I like to hear. While I wait, I prepare all the "panels" I will be painting. This means deciding if this book will be in oil, mixed media or watercolor, then cutting and measuring the watercolor paper I selected. I sometimes coat the panels in a gray paint before placing all the crop marks and gutter lines. A special over-sized panel is prepared for the cover dust jacket.
9. On historically accurate books, a team of editors will pick through my sketches looking for anything that is not period accurate. There is a second round of pencil sketches after the first edits and another review. Sometimes if the change is small, the publisher will say I am cleared to "go to color" on that page provided I make the change then.
10. Models and Props time. For books with realistic people, I find models to pose, usually in costumes and with props. Photos are taken of the models to represent as closely as possible my sketch. I use these as reference photos when working in color. Prop shopping is always on my mind and I have a good collection of Western props. I find most of my props in thrift stores or on eBay.
11. I now have all the materials I need to start illustrating the book! A 32-page book usually takes me 4-5 months to finish. Once I turn in the final art, and it is approved with no more changes, it is usually another 6 to 8 months until it is printed.
Julie Dupre Buckner