Full Disclosure, this is sorta stolen. This was a blog post by Beth Gismondi on her tumblr account which I just checked and is gone!!! But this was such a valuble resource for me when I started that I feel I need to keep this as something that people can refer to. So below is mostly Mark Teague talking about his process
Cover, Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation, written and illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 2004)
Mark Teague, is a fantastic children’s book illustrator and author. He has illustrated over 40 books, and written 11, including the popular Detective LaRue series and the How do Dinosaurs… series (written by Jane Yolen).
Mark is an inspiration to me because he is completely self taught. He went to college at USC and majored in U.S. history, and became interested in children’s books while working at Barnes & Noble after college. Mark’s big break came when showed his picture book dummy to Barnes children’s book buyer. The book buyer introduced Mark to the publisher of Scholastic, who liked Mark’s manuscript and decided to publish it. Mark is proof that illustrators can make it in this biz without a traditional BFA if they have talent and persistence.
In many interviews, Mark talks about the positives and negatives to not going the traditional route of art school. He has said, “My greatest strength and my greatest weakness comes from the fact that I am self-taught… There is still a lot I don’t know, and some stuff that has taken me years to learn that I could have picked up in the first semester of art school… But it always looks like my stuff. I didn’t set out to create a ‘look.’ It was organic—I didn’t have anyone teaching me, so it became mine effortlessly.” Personally, I think that Mark’s work is amazing. I love his painterly style, and I enjoy looking at his work for reference, because he also works in acryla gouache. I also love Mark’s great animal characters. I once saw Mark speak on an SCBWI panel, and he was just as funny as his characters are (the topic of the panel was actually “being funny”)!
Mark put together a really thorough description of his illustration process for the Children’s Book Council (CBC) a few years ago. Unfortunately, the CBC redesigned their website and removed the article, but I was able to track it down thanks to the Way Back Machine. I am reposting the article here, in its entirety:
“Illustrating Picture Books with Acrylics
By Mark Teague
Here is how I illustrate picture books.
First come the sketches, which may be the most important part of the whole process. I sit with the text for days, sometimes weeks, making lots of small, quick pencil drawings. In this case the story is the one I am currently working on, a sequel to Dear Mrs. LaRue (Scholastic, 2002).
These sketches help me define my characters. They also give me ideas about what passages are most visibly interesting and how best to put them across. I work out ideas about perspective and overall design at this point too. Design especially seems to reveal itself most clearly in small drawings. I work through the story page by page, paying particular attention to how each image flows into the next.
Small, loose drawings are often extremely expressive. I try to preserve that expressiveness as I move from the first sketches towards the final art.
The next step is making a book "dummy,” a more formal set of sketches, which approximate in pencil what the actual paintings will look like. I share the dummy with my editor and art director, who offer comments and suggestions. Sometimes major revisions are necessary before the project is approved, but it is much easier revising sketches than changing finished art.
When everything is approved I’m ready to paint. My pictures are usually the actual size they will appear in the book. I use 140 lb watercolor paper and apply gesso to the surface. Gesso is a kind of paintable glue that is used to seal permeable surfaces such as canvas and paper. It is more typically used in oil painting. Even though I use acrylic paints, I like the surface texture created by heavy brushstrokes in gesso. Often those brushstrokes are still visible in the final art.
Next I draw my picture, using the dummy sketch as a reference but not bothering to copy too closely. Careful copying tends to defeat the loose, playful feel I’m trying to achieve. Now I’m ready to begin painting. I use acrylic gouache paints, which I like because they are quite versatile. Heavily diluted with water they look and behave a lot like watercolors, but they can also be applied fairly heavily, like oils. My paintings are built up using many thin washes, with thicker coats applied at the end. The final painting won’t have the translucence of oils, but it will have some of that quality.
The first color I put on is burnt sienna, which provides a warmth that can still be felt at the end. I paint the entire drawing using only this color, establishing gradations from light to dark.
Next I put in highlights, using white paint (or sometimes gesso, which is more opaque). Then I sketch in the darkest tones and shadows using Paynes gray, which undiluted is nearly black.
This picture is somewhat unusual in that more than half the image will be black and white. The black and white section represents a scene in the imagination of Ike the dog, a highly melodramatic character. Black and white serves to clearly differentiate the dog’s daydreaming from his actual situation (a critical element of the story), and I think it works on another level, since dogs supposedly do not see color. In terms of the art it means that much of the image will be painted using exclusively Paynes gray and white. At first I apply the colors separately, but as I begin to “beef up” the image I mix them together and with matte medium, which gives the colors more translucence.
MISSING PICTURE!!! IF I find it I will add it!!!!
In the color section I also do not mix paints at first. From-the-tube colors lightly applied help me map out the color scheme and put colors into the underpainting (the early stages or layers) that will continue to peek through in the final art. Gradually I build the colors up. I want them to remain bright and friendly as a contrast to the black and white, so I’m careful not to mix too many colors together, as they begin to muddy after awhile.
Final work is mostly on small details, though I also spend some time “fading” the background so that the foreground features pop out. This painting took about three days to complete. More detailed images can take five or six days. Overall I need about four months to illustrate a book.“
Wow…three days to complete a painting?? If only…! Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this view into Mark’s process as much as I have.
(via the Way Back Machine, originally written and photographed by Mark Teague and posted on the CBC website)
Added bonus! In searching for missing images I also found this piece on one of my favorite picture books Written by Audrey Wood and Illustrated by Mark Teague, Sweet Dream Pie!
Ben J Hutchison
I am an aspiring children's book writer and illustrator.