Step One: The Text Dummy

Setting the imagination free to explore


Preparing the text dummy

The first thing I do when I get a new picture book story to illustrate is to emerge myself in the world and the characters by reading the manuscript several times and daydreaming and imagining the possibilities in style and feel. What style of illustration does the story call out for? I work in a variety of styles from cartoony to realistic and the style is determined by the flavor and needs of each story. With those thoughts and ideas swirling in my mind, I begin the text dummy.


After reading through the manuscript many times and getting a feel for the cadence of a story, I break it into 15 sections — the number of spreads in a traditional 32 page picture book, including the last half page 32. This leaves page 1 and 2/3 open for title page, copyright and dedication. The story starts on page 4/5, at least the text part of the story.


Text dummy set up with special stapler

I fold 9 sheets of 11x17 copy paper and staple in the middle (using my special stapler as seen in the picture set up). I got this ages ago and no matter how many times I’ve moved — which has been a lot — I have brought that with me since I decided to be a picture book writer and illustrator way back in 1987 while I was living in Boston.





The text chunks need to be similar in size and pull the weight of a scene, pulling readers through each scene and page turn. Like chapter enders, each spread needs to be a sort of cliff hanger so the reader is excited to turn the page to see what happens next.


As I’m cutting and pasting the text into the spreads, I am thinking about how the story is unfolding and what each turn of the page brings. I’m imagining the scenes and the characters and diving into this story’s world. I’m thinking of how I can approach each scene from a different angle? What story can I tell that isn’t being told by the words? What is the story between the lines? How can I encourage imagination?


There are so many rich and fun details in my Mom’s story, and I kept coming around to the line in Mom’s initial paragraph, “My inspiration works best when I am lying beside a child at bedtime in a dark room with his/her little imagination running with mine into storyland.”


I don’t want to distract from that, which means adding the right amount of details to allow room for a child’s imagination to add to the experience and to Willie’s world.


Eensy, Teensy Teddy Bear’s Adventure is longer than picture books of today and is more like a traditional story book with more details in the text. I don’t want to illustrate exactly what the words have already said. Kids’ imaginations will see that as they hear the story being read to them, so I want to add unique details that add another layer to the story, details that will encourage imagination and the unfolding of the story in the child’s mind.


This is the goal anyway — and yet also provide beautiful and fun illustrations to delight your eyes.


No pressure.


Thoughts running through my head:

* blank space —white space to allow kid’s imaginations to fill in elements of the story while listening.

* maybe traditional layout — text in paragraphs on one page and illustration on the other with a wide border. This may be too limiting to allow for fun and imagination. It’s a dance between what the story demands and needs to live and breath and what I need to live and breath life into the story with my art.

* Oooh, perhaps a limited palette of colors — allowing reader’s imaginations to fill in color details as well


Or I’ll forget all that and just go with the flow. Too much planning and thinking will squelch my creativity. I’ve learned that over the years. That’s why I started #PaintPlay, which means I wing it with splattering paint around and see where that takes me.


Stay tuned for more winging it within a framework of completing a full book. Up next is character development.


Text Dummy done and initial character sketches in process

Feel free to ask any questions you have about my process at any time. I want this to be fun for you as well!


Thanks for sharing in the journey!


#TeddyBearsAdventure #kidlitart #process #sketchtofinalbook

© Traci Van Wagoner, All Rights Reserved