Category Archives: Books


I’m happy to share some of the art for, When the Wind Blows.

This project forced me to stretch artistically.  Some of the challenges…

-getting the ocean surface to look right from various perspectives
-gaining some understanding of the inner workings of a turbine and depicting the important elements in an “abbreviated” way so young viewers can comprehend
-painting electrons :-)







In an effort to reflect the tone/setting/time of this story, I chose to give the art a feeling of memory.  I felt the illustrations should represent a fond recollection–light and form viewed through the gossamer filter of time.  I was careful to allow colors to merge so that edges are defined not so much by variation in hue or value but by the pencil marks that peek beneath layers of translucent paint.






A Matter of Mood

Jim Aylesworth’s, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo, takes place on a farm, and although Jim doesn’t specify when the story takes place, I imagine the early 1920′s. I always “picture” the paintings in my mind as I develop sketches for the dummy book. So… I’m sketching and the images percolating in my imagination are different than usual — they are completely without color! I continue sketching, and slowly a bit of color seeps in, but it is very subtle. The art in my mind’s eye is reminiscent of the hand-tinted black-and-white photos displayed in my grandparents’ house. It occurs to me that this might be an appropriate “look” for the illustrations in this book. I set out to simulate the look of a hand-tinted photo. I decide to fully render the image in graphite and then add a bit of soft color with watercolor paint. The effect is perfect!.. But something isn’t right. The style reflects the era but seems too somber for the story, which is quite lite. Now I’m torn. I really like the look of the piece, and I had a good deal of fun rendering it, but I can’t ignore the nagging notion that the mood just doesn’t fit the text. I decide to send the illustration to the Editor at Holiday House to get her opinion. My fears are confirmed when the Editor responds that after showing it around the office, the consensus is the art won’t appeal to a young audience because it isn’t colorful. Back to the drawing board! The second illustration is colorful, and while I still really like the first version, the bottom line is it just doesn’t reflect the mood of the story. So the remaining illustrations for, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo will have all the color typical of my past work. I will, however, find a way to use the “tinted drawing” style in a future story!!


Muted color illustration showing boy chopping wood
Version 1
Bright color painting showing boy chopping wood
Version 2


I build a dummy book by folding together sheets of drawing paper that match the vertical dimension of the book and double the horizontal dimension.  When assembled, the dummy has 32 pages.  Now I can draw fairly detailed pencil sketches on the pages.  I cut blocks of text from the manuscript and paste or tape the words where where they belong.

Here are a few sketches from the dummy book for, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo

Sketch of mom frying bacon Sketch of boy chopping wood Sketch of rooster crowing


The picture book begins to take shape in the storyboard phase. This is where text separation and page format comes into focus. The illustrations at this stage are small and rough.

Storyboard sketch for picture book
Storyboard sketch for a spread in, COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO, CREAK, POP-POP, MOO

The spare text for, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo doesn’t take up much space on the page, so it’s a great opportunity to jam pack every page with art!

Character Studies

It’s very important that characters in a picture book are consistent throughout. Little Johnny had better look the same on page two as he does on page 22! To make this easier, I begin by creating a series of sketches of each character so that I can refer to these images as I work my way through the final illustrations. In addition to the farm animals in Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo, there are nine people: mom, dad, grandma, and six children!

sketch of the family in, COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO
sketch of the family in, COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO

Collecting Visual Reference

Illustrating a story requires a vivid imagination. Initially my imagination is sparked by the words. The words build a framework for the illustrations, providing facts (and sometimes mere clues) about who and what is in the story as well as where and when the story takes place. Imagining a “scene” is predicated on the fact that I actually know what something looks like. If the words call for a crowing rooster perched on a fencepost, then I MUST know what a rooster and a fencepost look like!
 I can “see” these things in my mind’s eye, but some details are a little blurry. For instance… what exactly does this rooster’s comb look like? What about the texture of his legs? What about the tiny feathers on is face, the larger feathers on his neck, and back, and tail? And that fencepost… I imagine a hedge post, weathered by years of exposure to the elements. When my imagination needs a boost I try to locate what I need and photograph it. I also search for images on-line and in books and magazines.

Brad photographing a fence post
Capturing the texture of a weathered post

The story I’m currently working on takes place on a farm, so I’ll be collecting reference for cows, chickens, pigs, horses, and yes, roosters! By the way, in this story, water is drawn from a pump in the kitchen, and horses pull the wagon, so I won’t be gathering photos of a tractor, a combine, or a shiny 2010 Chevy pick-up!