I’ve written a handful of children’s stories and it’s always the same: inspiration strikes, I get it all down, I hone it…And then I get all wrapped up in the mechanics and it ends up in the no-go pile with the other stories that fell victim to the same routine.

The latest (a pirate story) is now planned, plotted, roughed and halfway comped (is that even a word?). I’ll update this page and the blog with my process and WIP pics as I go.

Writing The Story (Feb 2011)

It came to me one night as I was doing some character sketches for another story…this is what tends to happen when I’m writing. I can’t just sit down and tell myself ‘I’m going to write a story’ because I’ll be as blank as the sheet in front of me. Inspiration has to strike, I can’t strike inspiration.

Initial Process

I wrote a plan. Well, to be honest, I copied a plan and adapted it. Then I ignored it. I’m not very good at following things that go in a line. I also came to the conclusion that just because someone has written about doing something one way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way (which is partly why I’m writing this down – the more examples of the ‘process’ you see and explore, the more you realise its a personal thing).
I doodled. Lots of character doodling (‘but what do his feet look like’ kind of thing), nothing detailed, just outlines and characteristics and exploration (‘but what if I made him fatter…and shorter….and with smaller eyes’ etc).
I made a teeny weeny dummy.  This helped me to break up the text (see pic below). I decided on the shape of my book (short sided rectangle), then I cut 8 strips of card measuring 8.25″ x 2.75″. I placed them all on top of each other then stapled them together in the centre so it looks like a little book. Then I used a dummy layout to help me identify which pages I’ll be using for the story and which will be taken up with covers, end-papers, info etc (I used Uri Shulevitz‘s layout). There are no planned double page spreads – I made that decision pretty early on. The intention was that the text would be hand rendered but that’s something that might change. So, I split the text up into 14 sections and decided that the book will start on a single page and end on one with the 12 sections in between running across two pages (facing pages – one page for text, the other for illustration).


I did what I always do with a storyboard -  I drew the first thing that came into my head for each section of text. My storyboard remains a work in progress and from here gets updated as I go. If I do it any other way I get stuck in a black hole that I can’t get out of. The whole process has to be organic from the get-go for me. Once I have a fully completed storyboard (remember, this is extremely rough at this stage and features mainly stick men), I get my sketchbook out and start working on whichever section takes my fancy. This is where I start exploring what I really want the illustrations to look like. I do this until I’m happy with the composition, then one at a time I draw up a large pencil drawing for that page. This has all the details that will be in the final illustration and is pretty much ready for painting. Then I set it aside and go back to my sketchbook and repeat the process for the next section I want to work on, all the time using my teeny weeny dummy as a guide to page numbers and text sections.

Comps/Prelims (Mid April 2011)

For the comps, I’ve drawn everything (I have 14 pages) in outline only – I haven’t added any shading at this point as I’ll be photocopying these before I go any further with them and a couple will be painted for the dummy. That way, I’ll have the original pencil outlines to make any minor changes, when I start to add tone, without having to start over.

Cover & End-papers

I had an idea for the cover just before I finished the comps, so I made some quick sketches (around playing card size). Then I drew up a s/s rough with shading to make sure of enough room for the title text. I was happy with it so I’ve drawn it up (I haven’t drawn a full double page spread wraparound cover with a marked out spine, just a drawing the same size as the pages at this stage).

I was going to draw a pattern for the end-papers, but resourcefulness struck and I remembered that I have already made a pattern perfect for this book.

At this point I had a change of heart – I was planning on using traditional media from start to finish, but decided to go digital for no reason other than logistics – I’m having trouble with scanning.

Roughs (Early May)

I’ve (badly) scanned all of my line drawings separately and saved them. I’ve also placed the text for each page into A4 documents. I’ve done this now so I can gauge the flow of everything as I work by making an InDesign document with everything in place; a digital dummy.

The roughs that I’ll be submitting as part of the dummy are all done in Photoshop using grey shading. Like this:

I’m over halfway through the b&w roughs with 2 colour pages left to do.


Before I started on detailing the roughs, I decided to do a full colour version of the cover – I did this to keep me motivated. Seeing the cover in colour makes me feel like the book is a possibility rather than a dream, so I picked out a colour scheme and saved the swatches in Photoshop. That way, I can load the same colour palette for each illustration. If I was working in acrylic/watercolour I would have done a similar thing and picked out my colours beforehand – not a huge amount, just 5 or 6 colours. Colour schemes are a matter of personal taste – I’ve chosen a warm muted palette for my book.

Finishing off and Preparing to Submit (Mid-May 2011)

The dummy is now finished and saved as a .pdf in spreads. The two full colour illustrations took around 5-6 hours each (including tea-breaking, faffing and chin-stroking). I haven’t printed everything and made up a physical dummy as I am not yet approaching publishers directly. I want to go through a literary agent if possible and the agents that I want to submit the book to first prefer email submissions. I’ve narrowed the agencies down to four where I feel my book would be a good fit by visiting their websites, visiting the websites of author/illustrators that they currently represent, and reading the agent profiles (where available).

So there you have it, my dummy process from start to finish – I hope this has been/will be interesting to you if you are about to start the process yourself. I’ve found writing about where and what I’m up to has kept my motivation up so if you decide to do this yourself, please let me know so I can link to your progress/process.

So, fingers crossed…I’ll update with any good/bad news. Thanks for reading and wish me luck 🙂

Max x

A Very Late Update 15th August 2011

As I was sitting here, stuffing my face delicately nibbling a doughnut, it hit me that I never actually came back and updated my book dummy adventures. For those of you that were following or just like to read a happy ending (well, more of a happy beginning in this case) I’ll do it now (as soon as I’ve finished this cake).

That was lovely.

As I mentioned in my last dummy-related update, I digitally submitted it to four literary agents. I sat back and started to think about the next one but I had an email from one of the four the same week. I was completely taken off guard…brilliant!

After speaking initially with Lauren I knew straight away that I was going to accept her offer of representation. The conversation was laid back, Lauren was lovely and I felt at ease to ask questions (even the stupid ones). As I’d done my research beforehand, I already knew that on a professional level, this was one of the four agencies I wanted most.  I withdrew my submission from the other three (one of them sent me a lovely email about my dummy and wished me well for the future too, which was nice).

So, the update is, I was offered representation (literary and illustration) by Bright and I have to say, I’m over the moon about it.

As for the dummy itself, it needs some tweaking, but it’s looking better with each one. And in between tweaks, I’ve written and started to develop another.

My portfolio at Bright is HERE where you can also see a couple of colour roughs from the dummy.

Thanks to everyone that followed my process, I hope its been helpful,

Max x

Book Dummy – Newsflash! (30th December 2011)

Well, it would have been a newsflash if I’d updated sooner. As it stand’s, it’s just news. But great, fantastic, brilliantly-brilliant news.

My little tiny book dummy is going to be a real book. I signed a contract with Caterpillar Books a couple of weeks ago and will be starting work in January 2012.

Watch this space and don’t forget to look out for Caterpillar Books on Twitter and Facebook

Lauren, Bright and Caterpillar Books – Thank you all for being so amazing x

March 2013

A final pic/link to round everything off – I always hoped this would happen and it did. Keep your chin up folks. It’s not a case of knowing the right people or being in the loop, it’s hard work and dedication – so don’t give up! Release date: 5th August 2013

Click on Pi-Rat for more info over at Little Tiger (Caterpillar Books)


7 thoughts on “Process

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  4. I really enjoyed your dummy story, It really inspired me to get my stuff together for my own agent submission. Bonne chance with the publishers. Your work it cool btw.

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