Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Illustrating a Non-Fiction Picture Book from Hazel Mitchell

This month saw the publication of a book I illustrated for Charlesbridge Publishing' imprint Mackinac Island. The book is 'Hidden New Jersey' and it's the third in a series featuring the States.Written by Linda J. Barth (of New Jersey), it's the first non-fiction book I've worked on - and it was quite a challenge! I thought I'd share some of the process looking at how I tackled the illustrations.

The book's a 'search and seek' concept with hidden objects on each page for children to find. There were a LOT of facts to incorporate on each double spread, each featuring a different area of the state.

This book came to me in an unusual way ... the developer, Anne Lewis, saw my work on my Facebook Fan Page and emailed me to ask if I'd be interested in doing the book. Hurrah for social networking!

I received the m/s in January 2011. At this point I realized just how much research was involved - I took a big gulp. Each area of the book was broken down into a list of facts and suggestions for hidden objects. The developer suggested I write notes on how I saw the images for each page before I started sketching. This was a great idea and saved me a bunch of time ... I spent a couple of weeks looking at images for each page and making rough notes on how I saw then working as a whole. The first thing I realized was that the objects suggested for 'hiding' took away many of the options for great compositions ... so I asked if I could choose what to hide instead. I began files of images for each illustration, making sure I had many different reference and bearing in mind the copyright restrictions on images. I made my own references sketches and often merged many different views, or worked from out-of-copyright photos. This kind of book is hard - there isn't time or money to go round taking your own photographs, which would be the ideal situation!

When I felt I'd researched enough I began to make rough sketches of each layout. In this case the rough sketch was pretty much how the finished image turned out.

I also researched the items I would hide on the page (which are all mentioned in the 'facts').
I also laid out a page to scale with the hidden objects and blocks for the text.

All the rough sketches went to the developer at Mackinac Island Press for approval .. then it was on to finished pencils.

I worked on all the images at the same stage. There were very few changes ... just minor ones to make sure things weren't in the gutter (page fold) and that the text would fit around the image.

I worked at 150% scale and scanned all the images in at 800dpi, reducing to 400dpi in CMYK at the finished size. It was a LOT of scanning. I think people forget about scanning time ... I like to do my outline work by hand and my colouring (in this case) digitally ... so scanning and then clean up time can take almost a week or more for a whole book.

NOW the fun part ... colouring! I coloured in photoshop ... it's something I have been doing for many years. I still love working by hand, but for a project like this digital painting means I can do it in a few weeks. Otherwise the time to complete this book would have been 3 times as long! (Total time was about 4 months.)

Here is the finished image and below are the hidden objects ...
     And this is the finished page in the book!

One of the hardest parts about tackling this project was no running narrative. Each page is it's own entity ... although we did have a couple of themes running through the book. The kids in the canoe appear on several pages and also a little bumble bee (who is the mascot of the book and the state insect) is on every page doing something different as a little extra thing for children to find.

I also created the front and back cover art and bits and pieces for the verso and title pages.

Now that the book is out there I've been busy helping to promote the book ... which is when the hard work begins, right?

You can see the book trailer I created here ...
if you want to learn more about how I did the book trailer, please visit my blog.

Hidden New Jersey is available to buy in all good bookstores or online!

Join the Hidden New Jersey Facebook Fan Page!

Thanks for dropping by. See more of my work online

Come back next week and visit Pixel Shavings to see what illustrator Russ Cox has in store for us.



  1. Great post Hazel! You did amazing work on this book! Thanks for sharing!

  2. That was an outstanding post Hazel! Loved seeing your process.

  3. For me this was the most interesting post so far about the book :)

  4. Great post! Thanks for showing how it all came together!

    You're right, scanning can take so long. Perhaps you already do this, but I thought I might share a tip I learned at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference in case anyone needs help in piecing their scans together. In Adobe Bridge, highlight all the files you need then go to Tools>Photoshop>Photomerge and it will automatically piece them all together and blend them into a seamless whole. Super handy!

  5. Awesome post, Hazel - What courage you had to take on such a complex piece - and so many little spaces for text to think about, too! It's so much fun to look at, love all the characters and the composition.

  6. Great tip, Jessica. I'll have to try that on my very next illustration!

  7. Fantastic Hazel, do not get how you can maintain the highest quality throughout the entire illustration throughout the project, really impressive Hazel. Congratulations!

  8. Thanks everyone for your encouragement and kind words.

    @ Jessica ... that's a great tip, I am stitching manually, so I am going to check that out.

    @ John .. cheers ... it was a bit daunting! But once I got into the concept it worked out.

    @ Andy ... it's pacing ... you have to give yourself a schedule and not over do it, otherwise quality suffers. Thanks for commenting!