My friends know that I do not love being the center of attention and that I feel awkward on my birthday. But they also know that this Twirl book is one of the most wonderful and hard-won things I’ve ever done and they didn’t want to miss an opportunity to mark it with a celebration. So they combined their incredible creative, baking, cooking, hosting talents and threw a very thoughtful birthday/twirl party.
When I walked into my friend’s barn (isn’t it fabulous?!), of course I was delighted by the table set up and the cake and sparkly lights … but then I saw a duck! A real-life Mr. Duck from the book!
How adorable is he?!
We visited and ate delicious fall food (which happens to be my favorite!). Yummy soups and salad and rustic bread and a Panzanella salad that I must remember to ask for the recipe.
And then they put me on the spot in the most tender way with thoughtful words about our friendships and what they see in me. Even though it is hard to just sit and listen to such nice things being said (I want to crack a joke! Or tell them to stop!), I truly tried to receive each kind word. Twirl is a story I’ve had in my heart for so long and not just one I made up on a whim, but a lesson I’ve had to fight hard to learn. To hear these ladies acknowledge that they see this in me feels so encouraging.
We cheers-ed over the most delicious hummingbird cake made by my very talented friend and decorated so adorably with little Twirl characters and cascading daisies.
This same baker friend makes the best sugar cookies and one of my favorite things is having her teach us how to decorate them. I wish I had pictures of the finished product! They were cute little frosted daisy cookies.
I feel so grateful for these women in my life. It is one thing to learn to twirl in my own special way; it is another to twirl alongside women who are doing their own twirling so beautifully as well. We don’t have it all figured out. We’re still growing and learning and confessing and encouraging. But isn’t life so much sweeter when done with friends?
My heart is full. It was such a special birthday – the best one I’ve ever had.
If you haven’t ordered a copy of Twirl yet, you can grab one here. Thank you so much for all of your kind support for this book. May it be a delightful reminder to all who hear the story that you are perfectly and wonderfully made.
For as long as I can remember I have been delighted by children’s book illustrations. I loved the stories, of course, but most of all, my eyes were drawn to the pictures. The scenes, the tiny details, the colors, the characters, the expressions, the movement, I was captured by it all. By far, the most intimidating part of pursuing the dream of writing a picture book was also agreeing to illustrate it. And yet, now that it’s done, it was also one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
So let’s talk about how the illustrations for Twirl came to be!
illustrating the characters
After writing the story, but before beginning on the illustrations, I took a very helpful picture book-making class (it is sadly no longer available) that bolstered my confidence and offered such practical instruction. I’m so grateful for people who share their expertise! I learned helpful book-making things like how to create a storyboard, how to make a little book dummy (to see how it all flows together), and also great advice for illustration. Here’s something I never knew: as an illustrator, you always want the motion of the artwork to lead to the right to encourage the reader to turn the page. It makes so much sense but I never would have known this if not for that class!
One of the things the instructor mentioned was that she will often hire her friends’ kids to model to help her figure out poses. If there is a scene with a child at a playground, for instance, she’ll take pictures of the child in that location to help her capture the facial and body expressions in her art. This was so helpful for me to know because I almost always use a photo to look at when painting and I loved having permission to do the same when illustrating a book.
So when I began thinking about illustrating a little girl, I started by scrolling through old photos of Audrey to use as a reference. It was so much fun! And made sketching a person (not something I do regularly) much more approachable.
I continued to practice sketching, watched lots of illustration/figure drawing YouTube videos, and practiced some more until a little Audrey character started to take form. I tried her with different expressions and hair colors and outfits until ultimately deciding on red hair and faint freckles dotted across her nose. She is inspired by my Audrey girl, but deep, deep down, she is me 🙂
Once the real illustrations started, her little outfit emerged: a simple dress with a twirl-able skirt in navy and white stripes (of course!) fit her just right. She wears a headband and shoes that my real Audrey-girl wore and scalloped edged socks because there’s something classic and slightly British about her.
When it came to movement, I took the advice of the picture book instructor and used images as references. Most of the time a simple google search would deliver. Like, for instance, when I needed to draw Audrey doing a cartwheel or jumping:
When creating the other characters, I used the same non-fancy method of googling images until I was inspired. Then I sketched lots of ducks and bunnies and butterflies, playing with colors and expressions until landing on the final Mr. Duck, Miss Butterfly, and Little Bunny.
Picture books are typically 24-page spreads, so my job as the author was looking for the natural page breaks and finding a rhythm for how the story flows from page to page.
My job as the illustrator came next. What picture would best compliment the words? How might the spreads work together? Where should full-page art be and where are spot illustrations? How could the story be best told through art?This is the part that made me extra thankful to be the illustrator of my own book. As I wrote the story of Twirl, I had a general idea in my imagination of what each scene looked like. It wasn’t super clear so I’m so glad I didn’t have to try to convey this to another illustrator! Even though I was nervous about my ability to translate the pictures in my mind to paper, I gave it a try. I roughly sketched each page with the layout, characters, background, etc. It was very rough but helped so much (below, left). Then I made a little book dummy, adding the lines of the story to help layout each page (below, right). Again, so, so rough!
Once the sketching and story-boarding were figured out, it was time to create the actual artwork. I mostly moved chronologically through the story, saving the hardest and most intimidating pieces for last. For about six weeks, I sat at my watercolor desk working on artwork. Each day, I didn’t know if I could get what was in my head out on paper … and each day I surprised myself with what was created. Truly, every single illustration shocked me. I didn’t know I could do that! It felt like a happy partnership between me and the Holy Spirit and I love that I can’t look at any of the illustrations in the book without recognizing that it was not by my own creativity or expertise or talent.
Many illustrators sketch their artwork and refine it until it is just right before transferring it to the paper for final artwork. I did a little bit of transferring (tracing paper works great!), but mainly prefer to sketch directly on the final paper. I like the sketchy, imperfect pencil lines showing. If you’d like to see the sketching and painting process, I created a timelapse video for you!
Once all of the watercolor artwork was complete, I scanned the images, pulled them into photoshop to make slight edits (removed the watercolor paper texture from the background, erased any extra marks, moved an eyebrow or flower slightly if needed), and saved the digital piece. This allowed me to do the characters and scenery separately and layer/move/adjust as needed for the final artwork.
I found it really helpful to create page layouts in Illustrator with the finished artwork and text. It allowed me to see how each page would flow and create a layout that I liked. And, it was fun to print it out because sometimes a paper copy is just nice. I’m not sure if this is a normal step for illustrators, but, hey, I’m new at this!
After all of the pages were complete, I sent the individual artwork files and my layout samples to the publisher for the designer to format. I wasn’t sure if they would stick with my page layout, but they mostly did!
all the extras
You know how much I love paying attention to little details and this book is no different. You’ll find cute end sheets (I love cute end sheets!), a sweet bible verse, dedication, and an about the author page. My publishing team was so creative with the suggestion for the about the author page and I hope it brings one last smile before you close the book. These special pages were so fun to create!
Oddly enough, the cover came toward the end of the design process. I offered a handful of cover ideas and together we picked a favorite. Up until the very last day before sending the book to printing I was making tiny adjustments to the cover (my publisher was so kind to let me be so meticulous!). You can read more about the cover here.
One thing you may notice is that I was able to incorporate some hand lettering into the pages of Twirl. We went round and round searching for the perfect secondary font and I’m so happy we landed on me putting some handwriting into the book. Having some words in my handwriting (a stylized version, at least) makes this book feel even more playful, more personal, and so complimentary with the style of Freely and Lightly.
Writing and illustrating Twirl was a dream come true for me and such an incredible learning and growing experience. I hope this was a fun peek into the illustrating process. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’d love to answer!
This is the story of how the story of Twirl came to be.
Children’s books have been a longtime love of mine. I love the stories, of course, and the cadence of the words. I love the subtle humor and wit in some and the ways others can speak right to an adult’s heart. I especially adore the illustrations. As a young girl, I remember studying the artwork in my favorites, learning to draw by seeing how children’s book illustrators drew, appreciating the different styles – from the scratchy lines in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to the whimsical details in TheJolly Postman.
I don’t remember exactly when writing and illustrating a children’s book became a dream of mine. I suppose it’s just been lingering for as long as I can remember. I do know that I first started saying the dream out loud around 2015. But even then, I didn’t know if it would really become reality. I was HUGELY intimidated by the idea. Who am I to write a children’s story? And, especially, who am I to illustrate one?! So I never did much to pursue the dream.
After a season of personal growth and healing and pivoting in the work I was doing, an opportunity to write books came my way. In March of 2019, I signed a three-book contract. Included was a book for women, one for children, and a companion journal to go along with the first. Typically, before you sign a contract with a publisher, you write a proposal with a fairly specific idea and outline and sample chapters, or for children’s books, you create a storyboard and have a rough story written. My book-writing experience is all upsidedown and we signed a contract before really knowing what any of the books were about. Both the publisher and I felt confident something good would develop and I quickly got to work.
Freely and Lightly was up first (it’s the story of what God did in and to my heart during that season of personal growth). I spent the second half of 2019 writing the book and turned in my final manuscript at the end of the year. Editing and artwork took us into the first few months of 2020.
My second book, the children’s story, was up next and due in early August 2020. I always knew I would call it Twirl, and I wanted it to be a story that would encourage my daughter in a gentle way to be who God created her to be … and that was about all I had. I wasn’t too worried about the deadline as I had months to finish itand I knew the story would come once I put my brain on it. My plan was to use the spring while the kids were at school to write and illustrate and surprise my publisher when I turned the whole thing in early.
Well, then the pandemic came along and the kids came home and everything changed and suddenly I found myself sitting around a fire with my girlfriends in June with a manuscript due in a few weeks and only the title and a couple of rough story ideas floating in my head. They were all a bit worried for me 🙂 Together we brainstormed and they spoke such kind words of encouragement as I told them my plan: the kids and I were headed to my parents’ house for the weekend and I was going to spend the entire four-hour drive in silence, praying for the Holy Spirit to give me a story and letting my brain have space to think while the kids listened to whatever they listened to on their headphones.
Three hours in and just as I prayed, a story suddenly began materializing in my imagination. I rolled it over in my mind, imagining the characters, letting this sweet story work itself out.
A little girl who loved to twirl came upon friendly animals who were doing their own twirling. What would happen when she tried to twirl like them?
That weekend, on my parent’s front porch, I wrote out the first rough draft. I shared it with my Audrey (who was 10 at the time) and she loved it.
I didn’t yet have a name for the little girl in the book until it suddenly clicked: Of course! Audrey girl loved to twirl.
This book was written for our daughters, mine and yours, and little girls everywhere. I imagine bedtimes with dimmed lights, freshly bathed and pajama-ed darlings twirling along with Audrey and Mr. Duck and Miss Butterfly and Little Bunny as the story is read aloud to them. They giggle and pick their favorite picture and memorize the little refrain. And hear truthful words spoken over them before they lay their heads to sleep: You are perfectly and wonderfully made.
I didn’t know what the story would be and I love that it wasn’t me who came up with it on my own. I am just the mouthpiece to declare what God has been reminding me over and over again. My daughter, I am so pleased with who I created you to be! Just be who you are! Tip that chin up, throw those arms back … and twirl.
May it become a family favorite in your household and an encouragement to little (and grown) girls for years to come.
For years and years I dreamed about writing and illustrating a children’s picture book. I didn’t know exactly what the story would be, but I always knew if my write-a-children’s-book-dream was to come true, I would call it Twirl.
If you are a blog reader from the Jones Design Company days, you might remember this blog post (from 2010!) where I first mentioned what the word twirl meant to me.
If you’ve read Freely and Lightly, you know just how much the word and, more importantly, the meaning behind the word, has had in shaping the journey to finding peace in being just who God created me to be.
And now, I’m so excited to share this dream-come-true book with you!
Meet Twirl, a sweet story with adorable characters, charming illustrations and a message that all little (and big!) girls need to hear: God is so delighted by you being just who He made you to be.
I can not wait to tell you so much more about this sweet book – the story behind the story, the process of illustrating and watching it all come together. But for today, let’s talk about the cover!
I’m one of those that definitely chooses a book by its cover (you too?!) and it felt especially important for a children’s picture book.
A cover of a picture book must be eye-catching, it has to make both a parent and a child want to pick it up and open it, it needs to look cute on a bookshelf (that my requirement at least!) and it should at least give a hint about what to expect inside.
After finishing all of the illustrations, it was time to design the perfect cover for Twirl that hopefully hit all of the picture book cover criteria.
I’m not sure if this is how it is normally done, but because I did the illustrations, I also came up with an assortment of cover ideas to share with my publishing team. Would you like to see them?!
As you can see, coming up with just one option was impossible 🙂
I played with layout first. Did we like a patterned background with just a peek at the characters? Or a full scene?
While I love the simplicity of the first row of options, it was unanimous between the friends I showed the samples to and my publishing team that the grassy hill and tree scene was more eye-catching.
From there we moved to poses. Did we like Audrey twirling with her back to us? Or that kick-y pose? Nope, neither felt quite right so I painted a new version with her holding the skirt of her dress and that one was the winner.
Then we went into the little details: watercolor background or just a few clouds? Flowers in the foreground or keep it simple? Title curved or straight across?
And finally, we had to figure out the font choices. I’ll tell you more about that in another post.
After lots of back and forth and tiny adjustments (you guys, I am sure my publisher rolled their eyes a hundred times at my overly-detailed requests) we landed on the final, final, final cover.
Isn’t it cute?!
I’ll have much more to share about Twirl in the upcoming weeks as well as special gifts and surprises that you won’t want to miss.
Thank you so much for your excitement about this project. I truly can not wait for you to hold this book in your hands, read it to the little girls in your life and share it with friends.