She left me message on my phone telling me about the dream she had. A dream about my niece, Leila, getting glasses and learning how to see herself as beautiful even with her new accessory. She walked through the idea of how Leila didn’t want to wear glasses, how she complained to everyone, and then in the end the whole family wore glasses to show her, it was no big deal. Then she said to me, we have to make this into a children’s book.
That was almost two years ago. I still have the message on my phone. And here we are, to publishing this book on our own and sharing it with the world. But don’t mistake this for an easy task, it’s been a roller coaster to get from there to here.
It started almost as a joke. Sure we’d make a children’s book–because we both have the time and knowledge to do that. My mom told my sister of her dream and of course, being Leila’s mother, she wanted us to this, like, yesterday. But there was a lot to consider. Mostly that creating over 40 consistent images wasn’t something I had ever done and I had no idea where to even begin. So for month my sister would mention it and my mom and I would blow it off.
Until one day we decided, this could be really good. “I think we should do it” I told my mom. “But on one condition, we don’t tell a soul”.
You see, if you don’t tell anyone about it, no one can hold you accountable. This gave us permission to quit at any point in time and we wouldn’t be letting anyone down. So we agreed. It stayed between us until it was finished.
And then the real work began.
Writing Leila’s Glasses
My mom wrote the book. So this part was really up to her. As a writer you would think, “This is a no brainer,” but the reality is, writing kids books isn’t easy. It’s a whole different style of writing with new rules.
Think about telling your favorite story. Now cute the amount of words you use in half. Now cut them in half again. Telling a story with limited words and making sure their age appropriate words creates a whole new challenge. Not only that but you want to make sure the story makes sense in where it’s flowing. How does a character get from one place and time to another? What are we trying to have the main character learn? What supporting characters are needed to help get her there? And then, will these scenes have an image that will makes sense with them?
We chose the age group of 6-8 meaning the pages could have more words and be slightly more complex. While Leila was only 2 when we started this book, we knew that we wanted a character slightly older so choosing the 6-8 age range made the most sense.
Mom started by writing it all out in a word doc and then sending over to me. I would read through and ask questions or point out where I got hung up. Then we would get together go through the words again until it made sense. Once we had the words ready and broken out into pages, I could start on the drawings.
Illustrating Leila’s Glasses
I would have never in a million years guessed how complex creating a children’s book is. I’d listened to some podcasts of other illustrators which gave me an idea of how I should set things up, but in the end I’d probably do things a lot differently. The one thing I did do right, was starting with thumbnail drawings.
After we had the words on paper, mom and I talked about what we wanted to go on each page and I drew super rough thumbnails on those pages to get a basic idea. Then I went to my sketchbook and drew out the 40 images with a bit more detail but still not trying to spend too much time on any page. I just needed a rough understanding of what was going on a page and how they worked together.
Once those were done, I could start to design the characters.
This was probably my biggest struggle. I worked on this for a couple of weeks to decide on what style I wanted this book to have. My personal artistic style likes to go into details, but when you get too detailed this book would have taken us years to finish. Now having more experience, I might be able to go more in-depth, but at the time of this, I was just starting to get back into my art after years of putting it to the side. So getting familiar with my medium and painting so many people, was working a muscle that had been stagnant for years.
Slowly though, the characters took form in a simplistic style but still offered up my signature style with some details. I wanted Leila’s personality to come out in her character which meant bigger cheeks (also a sign of youth) her love of pink dresses, and her icon bun seen in almost every picture of her up until then. The other characters that resembled family members, had to be made with one or two details that were obviously their own– For my mother that was her curly hair, for me and Clayton, that was our hats, my sister has this long blonde hair and a love of stylish clothes, while my nephew deacon is known for loving his bow tie and walking around the house with his hands in his pockets.
I also learned in my research around illustration that emotion is shown in the eyebrows, so I came to pay a lot of attention to eyebrows and how they interact with the rest of the features to show genuine emotion. (This was a game changer when illustrating).
Painting The Images
With the thumbnails sketched out and the characters formed, I could being to paint the images, one by one. For any painting I make, I start with a light sketch on the paper for guidance. Then I mix my gouache paints and use a test strip to check the colors. From there it’s just about going to town.
I’ll find stock image reference pictures when I need help with the angle of a room or a specific pose I was going for. Otherwise I made it up based on what I’ve seen in real life. The color palette was chose to feel playful and childlike. Pink, being one of Leila’s favorite colors was used in all of the spaces owned by Leila. However the rest of the house I wanted to feel like a real home (and got to embrace my love for home decor).
As I worked through the images some things would change. I originally designed rooms to look like my Sister’s real home, but then I decided, I wanted to play around with elements and details and didn’t want to be stuck making it look like what our family knew to be real. I would also come up with ideas of new images that made more sense like the page when Leila throws a tantrum and it’s broken down into three scenes on one page. I learned this technique in a podcast I was listening and thought that the change in style (not just one image per spread or per page) would add more interest to the book. So we edited the image and updated the text a bit. We also added the scene with the bus towards the end because it felt like a strange jump from one scene to another, I felt like there needed to be a transition scene to make it make sense.
Overall the hand painting of images took about 7 months to create with image deadlines for myself every week. But as I continued to paint, I got to know the characters more and more, and their development continued to improve until we came to the last page.
As an artist, I’ve never created a collection before. I do one off paintings. So things don’t need to match or go together. When it came to creating a children’s book it was a completely different experience. I now had 40 images that had to feel like they went together. Because of this, I decided to do some finishing touches digitally to ensure that colors were consistent throughout the book (like Leila’s skin tone and her dress color). It made more sense then trying to fix all the hand painted images, or remake them all together.
But once the coloring was touched up, the images were ready to be laid out in InDesign and then sent to press.
Publishing The Book
For the most part, this was a fun project for our family. We didn’t have huge hopes of becoming New York Times Best Selling children’s book creators. So we kept everything small.
We ordered one book to begin with to make sure the printing and coloring was acceptable. We were shocked to learn that printing one book would cost $25 meaning that we would never be able to make a dime off it. The only way to get costs down was to order in bulk, so I thought, why not have a kickstarter and get a bunch of pre-orders to bring in all the books at once. If we could raise enough to purchase 40 books we’d get 20% off which would make an impact.
The Big Reveal
Remember the beginning of this long project I told you that we never told a soul we were working on this? Well, before we could launch the kickstarter and ship this project out into the world, we had to share it with the family. So on Father’s day we gathered the family together and told them we had been working on something special.
My sister pulled the kids together and read out loud Leila’s Glasses to the entire family, and they loved it.
This book has been a labor of love. What I didn’t share in detail throughout this was the number of times we doubted it would happen. Between figuring out the logistics and more importantly dealing with fears of not being enough, this project had a lot of ups and downs. But as I type this I look over at my bookshelf and see this book sitting there, the amount of pride I have for not just finishing it but for how great it turned out made all those hard days worth it.
If you’re told how hard an endeavor will be going into it, you almost always will choose not to do it. But by doing it, and going through those awful days, you learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of. You learn, you grown, and in the end, you create something pretty spectacular, even if it’s only for you. But I hope, that this book will be for more than just me. I genuinely think the story behind it is one that all kids need to hear. A story that you are beautiful no matter what. With or without glasses, you are beautiful. And we all need that reminder (probably more often than we’d like to admit.)
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