Monday, August 24, 2015

Hard Lessons Learned

I'm taking a nice breather after finishing the illustrations and design for Nelson Beats the Odds by Ronnie Sidney II and thought I'd share a few hard lessons I learned along the way.

I got the job to illustrate and design the book along with my husband and business partner, Kurt Keller. The author, Ronnie is passionate about this project and had imagery and symbolism he wanted represented along with a characters that related to himself and his friends. After a couple read-throughs of the manuscript, I knew this had to be set in a graphic novel format to get the idea across. Crazy, yes. I had never done a comic strip, graphic novel, or anything similar to this before. I do like a challenge. Ronnie was thrilled with the idea. This is what he wanted, but he wasn't sure from seeing my portfolio if I did this kind of work.

So, with the contract signed,  I set to work trying to figure out what in the hell I'm doing. You're a fraud! kept running through my head. You have no idea what you're doing. So I researched, and read, and googled, and studied, and sketched, and researched some more.

Every project is a new challenge for me and I love to try new things, but I was afraid I had bit off more than I could chew on this one. One step at a time. I researched what others have done, studied many graphic novels and the illustrators websites. A couple I found particularly helpful were Dani Jones' My Sister the Freak and Dan Santat's Sidekicks. With more knowledge and inspiration under my belt I started plugging away, knowing that I have the skills and ability to do this.

Thumbnails and sketches for Nelson Beats the Odds
I created a text dummy where I broke up the text into chunks and placed on page in rough spots they'd go. This is a fun exploratory stage where I feel out how the story will unfold through the 32 page format. And then came the sketching.

There were so many illustrations with this format, I felt overwhelmed through much of the project. The final sketch dummy had many finished and established sketches, but many that were still very rough and scribbly. I got a bit lazy and the deadline was looming, so I sent it along this way. I got approval to move to the final illustrations with some notes and reference from the author of hairstyles and clothing he'd like to incorporate into the characters. Great, I was good to go.

First hard lesson learned:  I tried to skip the step of finalizing all the sketches and having them well established before starting on the final colors. In the long-term this was not a good idea, and I'm here to tell you that cheating at this stage really came around to bite me in the ass later. I had to redo several of the illustrations since the character wasn't quite right and the pose felt clunky. If I had sketched everything out properly, the last stage would have been much smoother with less hair pulling and frustration and redoing.
Nelson in progress

My second mistake and hard lesson learned: I didn't fully decide on the final style of illustration before diving in, which lead to a lot of experimenting and redoing along the way. There is always some amount of experimenting and trial and error when illustrating a full book (at least for me), but it didn't need to be as much. The lesson here is to not get lazy and impatient on the early steps of the process. You cannot cheat the process and get away with it if you want to send out something good. Nope, nope, nope.

What lessons have you learned the hard way in your creative endeavors? I'd love to know I'm not the only one getting bit in the ass.

About the book:
Nelson use to think school was all about playing around and talking with his friends. When he learns that he’s been placed in special education, he fears being teased so he keeps his learning disability and ADHD diagnosis a secret. With the encouragement of his parents and assistance from Mrs. T., his special education teacher, Nelson pushes the boundaries and discovers his potential. His hard work pays off when he graduates from college with his social work degree.

Nelson Beats the Odds is an inspiring story that celebrates friendship, resilience and empowerment. The striking illustrations give life to Nelson Beats The Odds while the author’s story is perfect for students diagnosed with learning disabilities or mental health disorders. Imagine That! Design provided the illustration, layout & design and formatting services. The company is located in New York City. 

The book will be available in September. You can pre-order at Creative Medicine here:
Or at Amazon


  1. I *love* reading and seeing an illustrator's process. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

    1. Mirka, you're welcome and thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked my post. I've decided I need to do this more.

  2. I just read another graphic novel, AROUND THE WORLD, by Matt Phelan, and am fascinated by how the process runs. Making mistakes is part of the work. Your graphic novel looks and sounds great!