Illustrating a Kids Book 1

Illustrating a Children’s Book: A Production Diary By Toren Atkinson

So you want to know what it’s like to illustrate a kid’s book? Stay tuned for the lowdown from conception to consummation. In this online diary I’ll endeavour to provide you the maximum insight dosage, but you must understand that I am not in a position to release all of our deadly secrets since this is a work in progress and until the book is actually published, some things must remain on the “downlow.”

Note: if you just want to read the kid’s book posts and not the rest of my blog, which sometimes contains hilariously irreverent opinions on politics and religion as well as how much I hate commercials and love the Rio Theater, you can click on the “book diary” category link on the right and they’ll all come up.

How to Illustrate a Children’s Book, Step One: Learn how to draw. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon, but one doesn’t need to do that. I mean look at Brandon Bird. I think I read somewhere that he only started around 2000 and he’s nothing to sneeze at. When I was 13 or so I did stupid cartoons for a local newspaper which somebody somewhere–probably me—has in a photo album. I started doing jobs for friends and acquaintances—illustrations of people’s houses-to-be and portraits and tattoo designs that I usually wasn’t too interested in doing. I’ve also got the chronic perfectionist artist guilt (CPAG – please give generously at home or the office), which means that I have no idea what to charge someone for a commission, so I usually undercharge, and if it’s not absolutely perfect I feel like I left the door open so that their prize shi tzu ran out into the street and got killed by an ice cream truck. Actually scratch that – I hate those ugly, yippy dogs and wouldn’t feel bad if that happened. Plus readily available ice cream makes for a convenient and delicious consolation. Suffice to say, I always feel self-conscious and awkward doing work for somebody else, and it makes a low-paying field even harder to get by in when I always undercut myself. On the topic of tattoos let me just say that even the coolest-looking designs are cheesy because tattoos are cheesy and I have a policy of refusing such requests (even though I did my brother’s).

In 1996 I started illustrating professionally in the roleplaying game industry. Thanks in large part to the fact that I was (and am) in an H.P. Lovecraft tribute band. I started doing illos in Call of Cthulhu books published by the fine folks at Pagan Publishing. That led to Dungeons & Dragons and various card, board games, and similar work. The boom was 2000-2004, in which I was able to quit my office job. The bust was around 2004 in which I had to get one back. Looking to diversify, I started prowling around video game companies and other options, but in addition to my CPAG I also suffer from Self Promotion Deficiency Syndrome. Couple that with the fact that I’m juggling art with music and acting (not to mention precious time-wasting) means I did most of my job-shopping online, behind the safety of my computer monitor. Enter Craigslist Vancouver.

I saw a want ad for an illustrator for a Children’s book. As part of my “back to the workaday doldrums” initiative of 2004, I got a job in a book warehouse. Not The Book Warehouse, just a book warehouse. Well, Raincoast Books, specifically—printer and distributor of the Harry Potter franchise in Canada. If you don’t hate Chapters going in, you will by the time you spend a few weeks pricing their books. I spent about a year there, three days a week, and in that time I saw a lot of kids books. Some of them were intimidating in their grandeur, while others were inspiring in their mediocrity. The fact that I just wanted to get the hell out of the warehouse was also a contributor to my aspirations of creating (or helping to create) a kid’s book. So when I saw that Craigslist ad, I didn’t blink.

End part 1.

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