Painting a 32-page picture book is a huge time-consuming project. When you’ve been coloring the same scenery and characters for 2 or 3 months the charm wears off. This is dangerous, because it’s important for each image in the book to look as fresh & lively as every other one.
It’s best that all the coloring decisions be made before you start painting. I used to do that by painting little color sketches of each image. That method is a big help, but it doesn’t take into consideration all 32 pages. When I did a color study for each painting, I was only thinking about that one painting.
Recently I stumbled across Lou Romano’s blog. Lou worked on the Pixar movie Up as a color consultant. His blog shows how he tells the movie’s story using a color script—a kind of storyboard with roughly-drawn images in color. He uses color to create the mood of the scene, paying little attention to how well it’s drawn.
This is the bit where the old man’s life-story is told. Look at how the colors change from happy and bright to gray and subdued—to reflect how that character’s life and mood have changed.
I think this is a perfect way to plan color for a picture book, as well. Here are some color scripts I did for recent projects:
Pirates Go To School
Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes
The Year without A Santa Claus
Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex
In Pirates Go To School and Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex, the narrative is simply a series of sight gags—so the mood of the story doesn’t change much. The main challenge was to keep the color from being too static. With T Rex, I needed to give the reader’s eye a break from the big green dinosaur—who dominates every spread—by making sure there were patches of other bright colors.
In Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes, the story switches back and forth from Joe to his arch-enemy Stella the storytella, so his scenes have warm, bright colors and Stella’s are cool and dark.
In A Year without A Santa Claus, the story begins and ends cool and gray. The middle section is warm and bright. Even in the gray scenes, though, there’s always warm light around Santa Claus.