Category: scbwi

The Story of “The Story Circle” by Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin.
Smile for the camera, Wendy!

I’m excited to share this post from Wendy Martin, someone who’s art I’ve admired for many years. I love process stories. Whenever I talk to kids about what goes into making a book, either through writing or illustrating, I show them the work-behind-the-work. Why? Because finished books are magical things that look like they leaped out of someone’s head fully formed. And that makes them a little bit intimidating, and a lot a bit inaccessible as “something you could do.” It takes a lot of work to make a book, and I love to show people that that work is made up of attainable steps along the way. Sure, I get it, you can’t draw a straight line and your grammar is broken. That’s why we sketch, draft, and revise!

Here’s how Wendy works wonders. It’s great stuff. Enjoy!

Wendy Martin: Process

Jim asked me to share my art process. I’ll be explaining what I did for one spread of the book.
Upon receiving the story text from the publisher, I start with thumbnail sketches. These are very, very rough ideas of what and where I’ll be placing the image. For “The Story Circle,” I received the text in page breaks already. In some cases, I also have to decide the best way to break the text for the flow of the story.

Story Circle thumbnails.
Story Circle thumbnails.

The next step is to move to a half-size layout sketch in pencil. As you can see, this image changed a lot from my thumbnail.


Part of this book’s art requirements included unique vignettes for each spread. The vignettes are a visual separation for the English and Spanish text. In this instance, I created a larger version of one of the fish in the full spread art.

After I nail down how I want the layout sketch to look, I add other details. The background and the turtle and the fish near him are some of the revisions I made in this stage.  There are others, too, small refinements and adjustments. I made sure to keep the area where the text and vignette fall clear. I finish all the pencil sketches and scan them in to send to the publisher for approval.

After I get editorial comments, I make the changes requested and move on to the next step. Inking. I rescan the changed images. Then, I clean up the scans and enhance the contrast in Photoshop. Now they’re ready to be imported into Illustrator. I do my “inking” in Illustrator. This part of the process takes a lot of the pressure off of me from worrying about ruining the color part and having to start all over again from scratch. In the past, before all this wonderful technology, I used to use a light table to trace the line work onto sheets of watercolor paper, paint it and then ink the lines. So if the watercolor part didn’t work out as I’d like, I’d have to transfer all over again. It’s backbreaking, hand and mind-numbing work. I don’t miss it at all. My last step in this phase is to change the color of the inked lines to a pale shade of one of the main paint colors I have planned for my color palette. In this case it’s a dusty green-gray.
The color-adjusted inked line art gets printed onto watercolor paper. I stretch and tape the paper to flannel covered canvas boards and paint all the book images in an assembly line fashion. I’ve found this is the best way for me to keep character consistency throughout a book. It was especially important in this case as there were EIGHT repeating characters in the story. 7 students and their teacher.

These images are again scanned into the computer. I do some final color adjustments and minor retouching in Photoshop, make sure the color profile matches the information I have from the publisher and make low-resolution version of each image to send back to the publisher for approval.
With this book, there were some revisions to the final art once the story was fully translated. Some of my art had type in it and I got my tenses wrong on one of these. I also had to create some matching backgrounds for the end pages. All images are finalized, put in a folder, compressed and sent off to the publisher. Now I wait. And wait. And wait.
I finished the art for “The Story Circle” in mid-May 2015. I received my author copies in April 2016. Nearly a year of waiting!
The right-hand side of this image also graced the cover of the publishers Spring releases catalog and is reused on the back cover of the book.

Where to get the book:

You can get “The Story Circle” direct from the publisher, or through Amazon.

The Blog Tour Continues!

Here’s the schedule for the continuing adventures of Wendy and “The Story Circle,” and while you’re at it, visit Wendy’s site as well.

The full blog tour schedule.
The full blog tour schedule.

Who’s Poem is That in the SCBWI Bulletin?

Oh, it’s mine! Sweet. Yes, this is a bit of brag, but it’s my first piece in print (and paid!) so I’ll beg your indulgence.

I think of this as a “writer’s poem” because it’s something we all feel at one time or another. Those blank pages hold nightmares, friends, and the only way to banish them is with our words. Good, bad or indifferent. Once they’re on the page we can rework and polish them. Until we write them down all we have is the unblinking eye of blankness staring us down. So, you know, write, write, write. And then revise, revise, revise (like I should have done with this paragraph).

Also, kind of psyched that I’m very likely the first person to have a poem in SCBWI Bulletin that has the words “crappy” and “corpus callosum”. That’s some serious mojo, right?

Draft Dodger, copyright Jim Hill, 2011, all rights reserved
Sound familiar?


Prepping for #LA11SCBWI

Since the Reluctant Dragon wound down I’ve been busy prepping for my first national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. Mostly that’s meant working on manuscripts, trying to lose weight (fail), shopping for presentable grown man fashions and readying a new self-promotional business card. Oh, there was a bit of homework for the Monday Writer Intensives with Bonnie Bader and Lisa Yee too.

Here’s a quick peek at the card design. (I’ll update this post tomorrow when FedEx hands them over). FedEx came through like a champ – check’em out.

I chose to make a fold over business card with contact info and “flavor” on the outside with a complete illustration on the inside. I worked up a version of one of my characters, Roz Wellington; Girl Believer. This version is actually a little older and farther along in her saga which is why she’s joined by a pirate space-monkey and Robot Number 5 (ah, backstory…. maybe someday this whole thing see the light of day).

Here’s the process between pencils and beginning painting.

process from pencils to painting
process from pencils to painting, but not finished...


Here’s the finished piece.

Roz Wellington & Co.
Roz Wellington & Co.


And here’s the outside, front and back, of the card. I have a history of loving monkeys and a home-made catchphrase, “Put the monkey on it!”, so I couldn’t resist putting the monkey on the front right next to my name.

New promo card.
Put the monkey on it!



Adventures in Children’s Pubishing Query Contest

Last week I entered a fun contest over at the Adventure’s in Children’s Publishing blog. They drafted an agent and a handful of writers to review fifty queries, help polish them up, and then take the query down to a log line. Here are the details:

Our new contest/workshop started on Thursday 8/19. We accepted the first 50 short synopsis (pitch) entries up to 175-words. Starting 8/26, those entries will be open for critiques from our panel of fantastic mentoring authors and you, our generous visitors. We hope you will participate. Next stop after that? On 9/2, we’ll get the loglines from our contestants, critique those for two weeks, then the writers will put everything they’ve learned together into a query letter. The query letter competition will be judged by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown.

It’s a great contest idea and has a lot people involved giving good critiques of the queries. Here’s mine in case you want to comment.

Last week, as part of the Cape Cod Writers Conference, I had the chance to read from that story, The Case Against My Sister: Sixth Grade, and was blown away by the positive comments. People seem to love the voice, relate to the hero and worship the villain. I smell a sequel.

I’ll keep you posted as this contest continues.

Poster for NESCBWI

Change, change, change
Click to see a slideshow of the process. Then come back and comment, right?

Here’s my entry for the poster showcase for NESCBWI 2010. The theme for the conference is “Moments of Change” and I bounced through several serious approaches before deciding to go with my silly, silly gut. I’m chagrined I didn’t start earlier, but happy I can do this in one busy frantic day of focused activity.

Really looking forward to seeing all the posters on display. I’m usually blown away and rocked with feelings of inadequacy, but it’s great to see how other poeple interpret a theme.

So You Want To Be a Children’s Book Writer?

I’m often asked how to get started with children’s book writing and what resources are available. Here’s the list I send out. It covers the basics and will guide you to more resources.

I find my status as “expert” pretty laughable, but expertise is relative. I might not be Jon Sciekza, but I have picked up a few things. I’m also very clear that I’m just starting out, and I know what I don’t know. Best of all, I’m not afraid to ask.


  1. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and…
  2. Lean on your regional chapter for writing groups, local events and conferences. Here’s mine, New England SCBWI


I picked up several books to help me learn the ropes and understand the basics of the business and the craft.

  1. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, 3rd Edition by Harold D. Underdown
  2. Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz
  3. The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton, Yadzia Williams
  4. 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Alice Pope

There’s Always More

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are a good start. I’ll be back with more, especially online resources, soon.