How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

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How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

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During the last couple of months, Rebecca (our 9th grader) has been working on a project with another homeschooler. Specifically, she was given the job of illustrating a book written by a homeschooled author from another state. Today is all about How to Collaborate As an Illustrator and I hope you’ll gain some insight on how to start a project like this with your students.

Being Invited into the Illustrating Process

How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

Illustrators are usually matched with authors by a publishing company. Sometimes, an author will choose an illustrator to work with, especially if they’ve worked the person before, but whether the author has published once or many times, it is usually the publisher who will pick an illustrator for a book.

We had a wonderful opportunity to meet with Anne Mazer, the author of, The Salamander Room and many other books including, Spilling Ink (a book she co-authored) which is book written for young writers. She came to our home to talk to our Writer’s Workshop group and shared with us how the publishing process works. Ms. Mazer told us how authors work with illustrators and showed us her galley copy of The Salamander Room. Galley proofs are unbound copies of a book given to authors, illustrators, editors, etc for proofreading purposes.

The kids in attendance were mesmerized by the stories of how her books came to be.

How to Collaborate as an Illustrator

In this case, Rebecca was chosen to be the illustrator after the author had been seeking an illustrator for a year. The author’s mom is Jamie from The Unlikely Homeschool and she asked for an illustrator young enough to work with her daughter and I knew Rebecca would adore the process of illustrating a book.

They’ve been working together for a few months on this project. I know there will be a post from the author’s perspective on the publishing process, so stay tuned for that. Today, I will outline how this process looks from the illustrator’s point of view.

Opportunities to Collaborate with an Author

How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

When the girls first connected, as moms we took the time to introduce them to one another before they got down to the business of book illustrations. From there, it went like this:

  • The author shared with Rebecca her vision for the style of illustration she was looking for.
  • A copy of the book’s manuscript was sent to Rebecca.
  • Rebecca read through the manuscript and took notice of the book’s characters and the plot.
  • She began to think through what scenes would make good illustrations.
  • Weekly meetings were established so that they would work through the book together.
  • The author shared with Rebecca who the characters were and what she thought of how they appeared and who they were- this was a cool session watching as a mom. It was neat to see how the author envisioned her characters and how she wanted them portrayed in illustrations.
  • Rebecca worked up initial sketches of each of the characters to share with the author.
  • Since those first sketches, they’ve met just about every week to go over Rebecca’s work.
  • Rebecca makes a sketch which she draws in ink for the final illustration.

If you like to see authentic projects for your students to work on, this is a perfect project. The author has entered into the process of seeing her words come to life in a fully published book. Rebecca is getting the chance to collaborate with an author and share her drawings as part of the book publishing.

Whether you have writers or artists in your home, encourage your kids to publish!

Using Technology for Collaboration

How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

Every week the girls meet to discuss Rebecca’s sketches and drawings along with the book’s next chapter and the new assignment. Since the girls live half a country apart, technology is an important piece of the puzzle.

  • Email was used to share the manuscript with Rebecca- She was able to read the book before getting started on the sketches.
  • Skype– This is how their weekly meetings are held. Skype is easy to use and allows them to talk real time with one another. Rebecca can hold her drawings to the camera for the author to see. Other choices might be Facetime (for the Apple users of the world) and Google Plus hangouts. The nice thing about a G+ Hangout is you can have multiple people on video with no problem. I think it’s nicer if you have more than two people meeting.
  • Scanner– This is how we will put Rebecca’s drawings into digital form before sending the final copies to the author.
  • Color Technology– Rather than Rebecca coloring her own illustrations, they’ll be using digital color set by the art director who will layout the book when the illustrations are complete. The author’s dad is an art director and has the expertise to do they layout for the book. We are looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Using these simple pieces of technology has opened up a world of learning which would have been difficult before. Not only can the girls collaborate, but the ability to self-publish has never been easier and it brings an authenticity to the project which can’t be beat.

Lessons for the Illustrator

How to Collaborate As an Illustrator

This has been a great learning process for Rebecca. I asked her what has been valuable to her:

  • Listening to the author talk about her characters helped her to draw the characters with detail that depicts who they are and gives them distinction throughout the book.
  • She learned to draw in the style the author wanted by picking up a Henry and Mudge book and drawing Henry.
  • Rebecca had not really drawn people much before, so this has been an opportunity to practice and learn more about drawing people.
  • Choosing what will make a good illustration within a section of the text is a fun challenge for an illustrator and honing in on the items from a scene which might be important makes a great subject for her drawings.
  • Meeting weekly and having deadlines has been a great lesson in being ready!
  • Having regular deadlines means drawing often which is good for getting better.
  • Keeping a schedule and arranging on her own and keeping the appointments is a great skill and it’s been going well for them both from my perspective!

It is important to note that this is a unique experience for an illustrator. Most times, the author won’t even see the illustrations until the galley copy is sent. It’s quite unusual for an author to contribute to illustrations along the way.

If you ‘d like to learn more about the process, just read on how books come together and about the lives of illustrators. I love to see how much the illustrator familiarizes himself with the subjects in a book before illustrating or while he’s working the job. Garth Williams visited the Little House locations while he illustrated for the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Robert McCloskey hosted ducks in his bath tub while drawing Make Way for Ducklings.

Resources for Studying Illustration and Illustrators


Artist of the Month Garth Williams– A study of this prolific illustrator and how he worked with the books and his drawings. Many childhood favorites are remembered through his depictions.

Five in a Row– Studying illustrators and their style of illustration is just one of the many aspects of art which are found in Five in a Row.

Eric Carle Art Lessons– My blogging pal at Harrington Harmonies has a great series on the art of Eric Carle. This is an excellent opportunity to work on the life of the illustrator along with his art.

Dr. Seuss Acrylic Art– by Tricia at Hodgepodge is a nice project with The Cat in the Hat.

Storybook Art– A fabulous book on the art of children’s illustrators. Not only are there biographies, but you’ll learn about the style of the illustrator and there are projects to try.

Illustration 101: Dovetailing Art and Words in Illustrating for Books– This is an overview of the illustrating process written by and illustrator for Craftsy. Rebecca’s been following the illustration posts there for over a year.

Hospitality and the Holy Imagination– This is a great post from illustrator Zach Franzen on how to honor others with your art. This one speaks to young illustrators and all of us alike in what it means to create art which points to Truth.

How Illustrations Nourish the Imagination– This is a free podcast from The Read Aloud Revival which features Zach Franzen, the illustrator of, The Green Ember.

This has been so much fun that Rebecca is seeking to collaborate with her brother, Ethan who is a writer. He is working on a new novel at the moment, but I’m trying to convince him to write a short story on time travel and Rebecca is eager to illustrate his prose. We’ll see where this project takes them.

Pouring into kids’ passions includes allowing time for exploring projects and authentic experiences. When they happen in your homeschool, make the time and enjoy the process!

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