I bet, next to those dusty engineering and design textbooks on the shelf, you have a few picture books that have led to endless inspiration since you were a child. No? A comic book? Dilbert? *cringe* Nothing? Well, perhaps you had a favorite as a child, There Are Rocks in My Socks! or Where the Wild Things Are. Over at Muddy Colors, Author/illustrator Adam Rex describes the process he goes through to turn an authors words into illustration that eventually become the 32-40 page picture book you buy for a child. Grab a cup of Keurig and delight yourself in the process of what it takes to make it happen.

Picture this

Adam Rex is an American author and illustrator from Tuscon, Arizona. You may have heard of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich or a book he did with author Neil Gaiman called Chu’s Day. There may not seem like a lot to a picture book, but Adam puts the perspective into the process, starting with the manuscript.

So I print [the] manuscript out and start marking it up. I draw brackets around sections that I think ought to stay together on a page or a spread. This turns into a bit of a puzzle for at least a couple reasons–because you want to be deliberate about where your page-turns are falling, and because virtually all printed books have a page count that’s divisible by eight… Once I know what’s going where I can start sketching the thing out, and I always end up doing something like this:

adam rex-illustration process-01adam rex-illustration process-02adam rex-illustration process-03adam rex-illustration process-04

Alex doesn’t side step the not-so-fun details. As with product design, there’s that stage where you get feedback and input from customer or colleagues. Changes are discussed, changes are made, re-made, sometime scraped and started again, refined, revised and finally released. Adam starts with a storyboard of thumbs, turns that into character sketches, creates a dummy book, then compiles that into a pdf version to present to the publisher.

Now’s when I start entertaining comments from the editor and art director, and make changes, and fight for things I don’t want to change… At this step I consider why I fail to meet deadlines, and why I’m such a constant disappointment to all who depend on me. You may want to skip this step, but I can’t seem to… Once the editor and I agree on everything, and the author either likes it or else the editor decides the author is wrong for disliking it and therefore doesn’t tell me, then I finish the illustrations.

Perhaps when you’re done with a project, you move on to the next. Maybe you obsess over the details that could have made it better. I tend toward the latter in almost anything I do, thinking of improvements, nit-piking, but there’s definitely a time when it’s finished to which eventually I focus on what I like about it. Adam relates a similar experience.

When I turn in the art I’m worried that it’s totally inadequate. When the book arrives in stores a year later I only see mistakes. A few months later I love it.



Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.