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How to make a picture book

Have you ever wondered how to create an utterly showstopping story? Picture book author and illustrator Nadia Shireen takes us through her process, in five easy steps.

Nadia Shireen

Step 1: Pondering

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I tend to come up with the best stuff when I’m relaxed, doodling ideas on paper. I’ll probably have a cup of tea and some music on. As I draw and ponder, I will be trying to silence the voices of self-doubt and worry that I think almost all writers and/or illustrators get from time to time. The key for me is to try and ‘play’, which can be tricky when you are also worried about work deadlines. Basically, I like to stress out loads about not being relaxed enough. 

Step 2: Further pondering

Little wolf

Sometimes it’s useful to draw ideas into tiny notebooks, other times I like to tape a big bit of paper to my drawing board and let rip. There is no right way. Once I like the look of a character, I then proceed to draw it over and over and over again. I tweak eyes, add fur, and play with different colours and materials. Often, characters start to suggest their own story.  For example, one day I happened to doodle a wolf with a really smug expression on his face. In fact, he looked like a very Good Little Wolf… and his story grew from there.

It’s also important to try to draw your characters doing different things, moving about and playing with their emotions. It’s fun gradually getting to know them. 

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Step 3: Plotting the story

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Now for the trickiest bit – sorting out what happens and trying to make it all fit. I’m trying to make the story flow, and it’s really important to make sure there’s enough stuff going on to encourage my reader to turn the page and see what happens next.

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Step 4: Working it up

I’m lucky that I get to work with an editor and a designer who are on hand to help me knock my sketches up into an actual book. They might suggest tweaks to the text, different approaches to page layout or point out that a character is missing a nose. They also have to sit with me in meetings and pretend to laugh at my jokes. Anyway, once the overall layout is agreed, I then sit in my study and do A LOT of drawing. I like this bit. It’s hard work, but also just really good fun. I mean, I’m colouring in animals and it’s my job. What’s not to like? 

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Step 5: The end!

Picture books by Nadia Shireen

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