My newest picture book, Maeve the Moon is out in the big, wide world! It feels so good to hold it in my hands and remember all the little steps that brought it together. To celebrate the book release, I want to share a behind-the-scenes look into those pieces and show you where picture books come from.
My behind-the-scenes look begins in my workspace. I know it doesn’t happen like this in the real world, but I imagine writers working in a pristine office or maybe in a cabin or on the beach, fueled my inspiration and a breathtaking view.
Maybe that will be me one day, but for now, this where the magic happens:
With a place to write and illustrate, the next thing you need is a story.
When you hold a finished book in your hands and flip through the pages, you don’t often think of the many, many baby steps and drafts that came first. Even with my own work, I’m surprised to see how a fragment of an idea turns into an entire story. The story of Maeve the Moon started with this line by Rumi:
“I lost my hat while gazing at the moon, and then I lost my mind.”
I love this quote and the imagery it conjures.
I started daydreaming about how one might lose their hat while moon-gazing. How would you feel? What would you see? Who else would be there?
In the beginning, I expected this to be a story about a monster finding the lost hat and Maeve’s adventure retrieving it. I attempted several outlines, but something was always off. It looked fun on the surface, but it was the imagery of gazing at the moon that had inspired me. The moon only played a small role in that story.
I decided to look to the moon for inspiration. I read every article I could find about the moon, and I came across this supermoon image by Thomas Brenac.
YESSS!!! This is what the story is about.
(Don’t worry, the monsters will get a story of their own soon.)
Everything flowed after that. I thought about what might happen if you could reach up and touch the moon. And what if you climbed aboard?
After several outlines, I was ready to create a dummy book.
This is a life-sized version of the book you can hold and write all over. It’s the best way I’ve found to experiment with page turns and composition. Here’s a page out of my Maeve the Moon picture book dummy.
I need to remind myself to let it be rough. Stick figures always reveal the pictures hiding in the story.
This is the same page, all grown up…
I also have a dummy book for the next story in line, Liza and James in Ant Invasion. It’s nice to pull it out for inspiration when I’m feeling stuck.
Before starting on the illustrations, I create a mood board and collect reference images. As I do, I run the story through my mind like a movie. This story played out like a ballet, so I collected dozens of ballet photos to help me get every shadow, every knee, every eyelid juuust right.
I also posed for a few photos myself to help me see what a body looks like, say, leaning over the edge of the moon or riding a constellation unicorn.
The story and illustrations come together bit by bit. First an outline of the characters, then 20-30 layers of digital paint later, a picture book page!
The process of creating a picture book is a marathon of love for sure.
It’s an exciting journey of inspiration and patience. Writing a draft of the Maeve the Moon chapter book took a few days, but the pictures always take longer. But then, just when you think it will never come together, you suddenly have a complete story told in pictures.