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24 September 2019

Creating a children’s picture book

David O'Connell and Sarah McIntyreSarah McIntyre and David O'Connell, photo by Dave Warren
by Sarah McIntyre and David OConnell Author Interviews, Writing Tips

We asked author-illustrators Sarah McIntyre and David O’Connell to share some of the secrets behind their approach to creating characters and worlds for a children’s picture book. 

As well as working together as co-tutors on our 10-week online Writing and Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book course, David and Sarah collaborated to create the picture book Jampires. Unusually, they both worked on the illustrations AND the writing (it’s more common in a collaboration for one person to work on the writing and the other on the art).

Here they talk us through how Jampires came to be and show us part of the journey from initial ideas, to pencil roughs and finally to coloured illustrations! 

We started it as a game

Sarah: David and I had a great time coming up with our picture book Jampires! We started it as a game, a Comic Jam, taking turns drawing pages of a comic without even consulting each other, just to see where the story might go. David printed it up as this booklet and we sold it at comic fairs:


Experiment with drawing styles

David: We even made a comic jam page to explain what a comic jam was – a jam about a jam about jam! People often try to guess who drew each part. It was fascinating to see how our drawing styles influenced each other as the story went along, just as the story ideas did. The fun part of collaborating is seeing what comes out at the end. It’s never what you might expect.


Sarah: Here’s one of our early colour samples, imagining how the Jampires might look as full-colour picture book characters, preying on unsuspecting doughnuts.


Draw the rough layouts

David: I drew the rough layouts for the books. Roughs are usually pencil sketches of how the pages of the book might look, putting in the main elements that are crucial to the telling of the story and taking into account where the text might go. It’s less about drawing a nice picture, and more about designing a image that makes best use of the space available, while providing everything the story needs.


Developing the final artwork

Sarah: After Dave made a lot of the tricky composition decisions, our designer Ness Wood gave me the go-ahead to turn Dave’s pencil work into final artwork. I also drew in pencil, but with darker, thicker lines.


David: I’m so pleased that even though the artwork is recognisably Sarah’s, a lot of my original design remains. Sarah used Photoshop software to colour the artwork, keeping to a fairly limited colour palette. The cool blues really made the golds and red of the jam and cakes pop out! The book’s colour scheme warms up as the story progresses from the dark of the night to the characters’ arrival in the delicious land of the Jampires. It like watching a cake gradually turn golden brown in the oven.


Sarah: So as you can see, not only did we collaborate in writing the text, but we also created the pictures together! That’s quite unusual, usually we work separately from our writers or illustrators, but working together made this book especially fun. Dave has built a beautiful Jampires website where you can find out more:

Sarah McIntyre has written and illustrated some fantastic picture books for young children, such as the Grumpycorn, which published earlier this year, and she’s the lead tutor our online Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book

David O’Connell is also a popular author-illustrator of children’s books, he has written picture books for young children, such as When I’m a Monster Like You, Dad (with Francesca Gambatesa) and books for older children such as The Chocolate Factory Ghost. He leads our online Writing a Children’s Picture Book online course.

Enrol now on one of our Writing & Illustrating Children’s Picture Book courses here.

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