When I first developed the style I used for my coloring pages, I was in a funk. And so I wanted to return to childhood creativity. Return to freedom and exploration.
And I was going to do it by restricting myself in every way possible.
The only way I could find the freedom to explore was to remove my tendency to sketch, erase, and correct. As I grew and developed my art, the strategies I learned also caused me to agonize over perfection I could never reach. So I restricted myself to a pen, a single page, and no preparation, setup, or references of any kind.
I felt good about it, better than I'd felt in a long time about my art. So I decided to explore it again. The result was a series of coloring pages that sprawl out across the entire page.
I see fantasy maps as a potential influence. I have been obsessed with them since childhood. Next, I see Benjamin Chaud, although he did not directly influence these pieces and some old Russian artists from children's literature that I can no longer name.
Childhood is that state which ends the moment a puddle is first viewed as an obstacle instead of an opportunity." -Kathy Williams
The key to developing a style is to stop worrying about getting things perfect. I know that advice sounds a bit enigmatic, but in practice, it means that you have reached your destination already, and now you must use the tools you have at your disposal to create. What comes out is truly you, the sum of your experiences, practice, and taste.
I also stand by the concept that style is developed naturally without any effort at all. You create it over time in an effort to convey meaningful ideas as clearly as possible.
Good luck on your journey.
If you are interested in taking home a piece of this style for yourself, buy my unique printable coloring pages.
Picture books are a great place to learn because children can gather information about the tone from textual and visual clues. Here is how you can convey tone through illustration:
There is an opportunity to use illustrations to teach children tone and build their reading comprehension. In turn, these steps will help you develop your story in powerful ways.
The practice of beginning without an idea does wonders to release creative pressure. And it is easier than it may seem. For example, you may start to write by taking notes on something you read, summarizing a book, or beginning a journal entry. You may begin to paint by working out the details in the process, clipping textures out of a magazine for a collage, or using a reference image.
One potential pitfall is to search the internet or Pinterest under the guise of looking for ideas. This practice almost always leads nowhere. Instead, do a quick Google search and pull the first image on page 3 as a reference. You could also open a random book from your shelf and blindly put your finger down on the page. Then, use the word or paragraph you found as a prompt.
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Layers are created by including various plot devices in your structure. Here are examples of a few plot devices:
Smooth and Refined
It is crucial to remove snags and reduce friction as much as possible. Friction will wear your readers down fast. Minor obstacles feel big when you trip over them again and again. When you read a picture book multiple times, one little snag hurts.
Snags include poor rhythm, rude or gross humor, and predictable plots. Political incorrectness is also dangerous, as well as generalizations or incorrect statements about a race or culture.
A snag could be unattractive characters, muddy colors, or awkward posing from an illustrator's perspective.
When your readers can make a personal connection with the story in one way or another, it is a sure way to keep them reading. If you understand your audience and keep them in mind as your write and illustrate, you are likely to touch their hearts.
There was a time that I was rooting for longer picture book lengths. It was a time before I had kids.
When I had children, I discovered that as a parent, you would re-read the same picture book over and over and over again until you "lose" it on a trip or little fairies come to pick it up.
Friends, I have memorized Goodnight Moon word for word, my children have memorized Goodnight Moon, and that is only one of many.
The primary criterion for picture book re-readability is that it is short and straightforward. There is a point when it does not matter how entertaining or well-written a book was when you first read it; it will not entertain you after you've read it every day for a year.
"Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief, but brevity makes sweetness, doesn't it?" - Stephan King, 11/22/63
The Most Important Criteria for a Re-Readable Picture Book:
Check out mylist of books that you can read over and over again!
"Deadlines just aren't real to me until I'm staring one in the face." - Rick Riordan
All Things Take Time
Imagine trying to ring water out of a dry cloth. It would help if you were full before you can produce anything, and that takes advanced preparation, study, and resources.
If you burn yourself out on the first deadline, you might set yourself up to miss subsequent deadlines.
For example, you might make a goal to exercise for one hour every day. But if you find yourself only exercising once per week, then you would do better to scale back to 15 minutes a day to avoid burning out and missing your goal.
When things get stressful, it is common to cut corners. As a result, you may sacrifice quality, quantity, or worse, you may plagiarise someone else's work.
Everyone knows that stress is bad for your health. Your body tells you that it is unhealthy by the way you feel during the process.
Relying on deadlines for inspiration and productivity is unsustainable for the reasons listed above, and I can't imagine that you would want to make it a habit. So why not try to break away from it and create positive habits? Practices without as many negative impacts on you and the project?
If you are in a creative rut:
You Don't Need Deadlines to Boost Your Productivity:
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Last week I watched a class on SkillShare by Andy J. Pizza called "Find Your Style: Five Exercises to Unlock Your Creative Identity." Let me share a gem that stuck with me:
"It is not about skill, not about what you can do, but what you can receive. The depth of your receptivity. Your pallet." -Andy J. Pizza
I have heard that you must be at least moderately intelligent to know whether or not you are smart. Similarly, it would be best if you had good taste in art to tell whether or not you've created good art.
Whether they are a writer or illustrator, one goal for every creator should be to fine-tune their reception. Learn to tell the good from the bad.
Make a goal to study one picture book every day. Develop your craft by building upon your creative intelligence.
While you read, you can use my Picture Book Writing Cheat Sheet to help you learn to analyze the text and story critically.
Hi, my name is Cory Shaw. I am an author and illustrator of books and book covers for children.
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