Leda writes: “I’m curious, John, just how detailed your story boards are. Can you post a portion of one?”
Here’s a complete storyboard for a coloring book idea I had to promote Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. This is only 12 pages; a typical picture book is 32 pages. Even so, this will give you a pretty good idea of what my storyboards look like: very rough thumbnail sketches with text indications. This storyboard is around 8 ½ x 11”. Each little page is 1 3/4” tall.
There are several advantages to creating a rough storyboard before diving into tight sketches. 1) I can draw these fairly quickly. If the AD doesn’t like any of the images, I can redraw them without having lost much time. I’d rather redraw a thumbnail sketch than a tight sketch. 2) You can see the entire story at once—how the action is paced, is there enough buildup to a dramatic payoff—which is harder to see with the larger tight sketches. 3) Once I get approval for the thumbnail sketches, approval for the tight sketches usually follows without major redrawing, because the art director and editor have been included in my process early on.
Before I start a new project, I read through the manuscript a few times. My first step is to doodle some aimless drawings—to warm up, I guess—then I begin the serious business of drawing thumbnail sketches in the form of a storyboard. As I’m doing that, I stop every so often to work on model sheets of the characters. The first ones are just like this sketch of Barnacle Bleackear, from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies and Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates.
To really get into a character, though, you need to draw the heck out of it. Here is a model sheet of the duck from The Perfect Nest. Drawing the character in a bunch of poses helps me to understand how it looks from different angles. After drawing the same character many times, it’s a whole lot easier to incorporate into a page sketch.
Here are the goose and hen from The Perfect Nest.
And here’s Jack the cat from the same book. I design each character before I begin the tight page sketches. It’s crucial that these characters look consistent throughout the book. My audience is 5-8 years old, and many of them are just learning to read. They need to be able to identify a character every time it appears. You can see that these sheets help me work out and understand each character’s proportions—and also allow me to develop the expressions, gestures and poses that establish its personality.