For as long as I can remember, I have loved the illustrations in picture books. I remember staring at all the little details, looking at each page for much longer than needed, and yet absolutely captivated. What an honor it is to get to create illustrations that children will enjoy, notice details, make up stories about, choose favorites, trace, be inspired by … I’m truly so grateful I get to do this work!
So let’s get into it! Here’s a peek at how the illustrations for Build came to be.
the illustration process
Because Build is the sibling book to Twirl and their formats are so similar, it made the process very easy! The layout is nearly identical to Twirl so I was able to follow along with the same template I made the first time around, with just a few minor changes to fit this story best.
One of the best parts about being the author and illustrator is that while writing the story, I had pictures swirling in my mind. In my sketchbook, I drew very rough sketches of each page just to get my ideas down on paper. When it came time to actually translating what was in my mind to paper, I started by creating a page layout in Adobe Illustrator, adding the words and leaving the rest blank where the illustrations would go.
At my watercolor desk, I taped up all the blank pages to the wall. When a new series of illustrations was complete, I scanned them, edited them slightly, and added them to my Illustrator book document to print out. As more of the story came to life it was so nice to have it all up on the walls around me to help me watch progress, make sure the colors and characters looked consistent, and see how much was left to finish!
All of my artwork is done with paper, pencil, and watercolor paint. Once the illustration is finished, I scan each painting at a very high dpi to ensure the quality will remain crisp when printed. Next, I open the image in Photoshop to remove the background and make any minor edits (erasing extra markings, isolating objects, maybe shifting an eye over a tiny bit to make the character look happier). One thing you’ll notice in the pictures is the imperfection of hand-drawn art – little pencil marks, the paint bleeding and pooling, etc. With much of the artwork on children’s books moving to being digitally created, I feel really happy with the hand-made nature of the illustrations in this book. I hope there is a classic, nostalgic, and approachable feel to each page.
My style of art is so airy with lots of white space so you’ll notice that most of the artwork in the book are ‘spot’ illustrations – without a background scene. The one full-page spread with a background sets the scene for where this adventure takes place and I hope it stands out among all of the whitespace in the other illustrations! It was fun to create that scene and makes me want to venture more into landscape painting.
illustrating the characters
Even though our main character’s name is Brady boy (named after our second son), Build is wholly inspired by my husband and all three boys and you’ll find little nods to each of them throughout the book, both in words and pictures. It felt right to give him Ryan’s hair and skin coloring, and I dressed him in things my boys wore when they were little – a striped t-shirt (that coordinates so adorably with Audrey girl’s dress in Twirl!), easy shorts, yellow rain boots. Even his little backpack is inspired by my oldest son’s!
The animal friends were fun to dream up. I used a ton of reference photos to figure out what each animal looks like and how they move so I could try to make them look natural.
Itsy Bitsy Spider took the longest to get just right (even though she is so simple!). How do you make a spider look cute and not creepy?! Wide-set tiny dots for eyes, pink cheeks, striped legs, and a friendly brown color seemed to do the trick. Her spider web was drawn with pencil and I love the detail of her web in the pictures.
One of the trickiest parts about illustrating characters is keeping them consistent from page to page and from all different angles. One of the little tricks I learned is that keeping the clothes and accessories the same throughout the story helps a child identify the character and the imperfections in proportion, eye placement, etc. are much less noticeable!
When it came to movement, once again, I followed the same strategy as with illustrating twirl and used reference photos. What does a little boy look like sitting crosslegged building legos? What about sneezing? Or tangled up in string? Sometimes I moved my own body into a pose to figure out what a body does and that was helpful too 🙂
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, a 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!
Just like with Twirl, I was able to incorporate hand lettering into the pages of Build. The sketchy pencil, rubber-stamp-inspired letters make this book feel even more playful, personal, and full of imperfect charm.
Writing and illustrating Build was a dream come true for me and such an incredible 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!
I got Brady off to school (Ryan gets up with Ethan an hour earlier, bless his heart), then made my way back up to my room to read and journal and throw on clothes for the day. The things I do every morning.
But this morning was not like any other.
As I came out of my room and headed down the stairs to start the next morning breakfast/make lunches/hair/teeth/backpack routine with Mason and Audrey, I heard a voice say so concisely and clearly:
IT’S TIME TO WRITE.
In my lifetime of following Jesus, I can only count a few times when I know I’ve heard God speak to me. There are lots of times when He speaks through scripture, music, dreams, conversations or nature. I adore these special moments of closeness and connection.
This time was different.
It wasn’t a conversation or an affirmation. It wasn’t even in response to something I had been talking with Him about. It was a catch-you-off-guard, clear as day directive.
IT’S TIME TO WRITE.
I stopped mid-tread, listened, and agreed.
Yes, God. It is time to write.
I have been blogging for nearly a decade. Typing away on my computer is something I do every day and journaling is a practice I do regularly so it would have been easy for me to miss the meaning. But I knew, in that very moment, that the writing He was leading me toward was different. I knew, in that split-second, that it was time to write the story – my story – of identity and freedom.
The idea of writing a book was not a new one for me. I have entertained the thought and the desire has long lived in the back of my mind – I even included ‘write a children’s book’ on my 40 by 40 list. Over the course of my blogging career there have been opportunities; it just never felt like the right time or the right topic. The last thing I wanted to do was write a book just for the sake of writing a book and not have it be something that I feel called to and purposeful in doing.
As a first step toward my someday children’s book, I started a new journal in January 2018 dedicated to it. I figured if it was something I would do one day, I should at least commit to jot down ideas, think about a storyline and gather it all in one place for future reference.
In April, a literary agent who read the blog emailed me about the possibility of writing a book and we set up a call. She was delightful and so encouraging. We brainstormed different ideas and I shared some of the concepts I had been thinking about for the children’s book, but also other books, too. I left that meeting feeling so excited and my mind swirled with possibilities.
After our second meeting and after she sent me sample book proposals, I lost all enthusiasm. It was totally overwhelming and clearly not the right time for me to pursue book-making.
I wrote in my new book journal on June 1, 2018:
“I’m not ready yet. The Lord has more to teach me and prepare me before doing this work.”
And so I let it go.
The summer came and went. I worked on other things and, more importantly, started diligently moving toward growth and healing in areas that had long been a struggle for me.
In October I turned 40. We celebrated with a trip to Oahu where my greatest hope was to sit on the beach and answer a 3 1/2-year-old question: WHO AM I? It was this question that I asked with tears streaming down my cheeks on a beach in Maui years earlier that started my long journey toward freedom. It felt like the most hopeful way to enter the next 40 years of my life to answer that question and close a soul-searching chapter in my story.
That moment happened. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was clear and it took place on a beach and it was truly the greatest gift.
That was just a few days before that Monday morning when God stopped me on the stairs and told me it was time to write.
I knew it. I felt it. I agreed. He healed me and told me who I am and now it was time to write it all down. To share the good news of what He had done in my life. Would it be just for me? Would it be something I shared publicly? I didn’t know and I wasn’t concerned. I just knew it was time to write.
The morning went as normal. I dropped the kids off at school, came home, sat down at my desk to begin my work day and opened my email.
At the top of my inbox was an email from the literary agent – the same literary agent I was talking to when I decided it was all too much and not the right time. We hadn’t connected in over five months and I was totally surprised to see her name pop up in my inbox.
In the email, she mentioned that she was now working as an acquisition editor for a Christian publishing house and was acquiring authors for the 2020 list. Was I was ready to write yet?
The timing of it all was not lost on me.
On the same exact morning – just 45 minutes apart – God tells me it’s time to write and a literary agent-turned-acquisition editor asks me if I’m ready.
And so it began.
Lunch with her in November led to an invitation to visit the publisher in January. That invitation led to a conversation with my sisters who encouraged me to reach out to my author friends who subsequently all suggested I get an agent.
With only three days before my trip to visit the publisher, I sent off a quick email to a literary agent who came highly recommended who, in turn, was stuck at home due to a freak ice storm and able to take my call. We hit it off, we both said yes and two days later met for the first time in the hotel lobby before meeting up with editors from the publishing company. And, get this, that ice storm that had kept her at home? It had prevented her from making it to a meeting between the rest of her agency and the publishing company we were now sitting at. A meeting that if she had made it to, she would not have been able to take my call that day or meet me just a few days later as my new literary agent.
You guys. I can’t make this stuff up.
God’s hand – his great, big, generous, all-knowing hand – was at work.
The way writing a book is supposed to go is you write a proposal, your agent presents it to different publishers and you hope for an offer.
My story is all backward.
I went empty-handed to one publishing house where I sat at a board table and shared my heart and somehow we all knew it was the right fit for us to work together. I never wrote a proposal. There was no need to shop the books to other publishers.
I told myself going into the meeting that I was just there to explore the options. I thought of it as a college visit; I wasn’t committing, but just feeling it out. In a moment of clarity on the drive from the hotel to the publishing office, I realized this was faulty thinking.
For most of my life I’ve been an explorer of options and it has put me in situations where I have said yes to things I didn’t really want to do. This reactive, laid-back way of decision-making needed to stop – especially when it concerned the future of my work and an investment from a professional publishing company. I sat in the car and asked myself, “do YOU want to write a book? Not do Ruth or Jenni or Ryan and your sisters or your mom want you to write. Not because you should or could. Not to gain approval or prove your worth. But is it what YOU, Emily Anne Lex, want to do?”
I answered quickly and quietly – out loud, I think, to the car dashboard.
Yes. I want to write a book.
In our board room meeting just moments later, I sat at one end of a long table with the president of the company opposite me and directors and editors from all the important divisions tucked in on either side. I should have been terrified, but I wasn’t. They are all delightful people and the company has a comfortable family feel, but also, I just felt like I was in the exact right place. All of the vocational work I have done over the past 10 years and all of the growth I had pursued over the past 3 1/2 led me to this place where I could freely offer myself.
And they said yes.
Even without the traditional author necessities (like a book proposal! an outline! chapter title ideas!), they saw my heart and opened the doors to a whole new direction in my professional and personal life.
With the most incredible awe and a settled spirit, I’m beyond excited to tell you that I have officially signed a book deal and get to create something lovely for you. Three somethings, actually.
The first of my three books will be a beautiful, full-color gift book (I’m calling it an illustrated memoir). The second, an illustrated children’s book and the third a guided journal to be a companion to the first book.
The book writing, art-creating, editing and printing process is long and we’ll have to wait until 2021 to get our hands on the first two books, but I am so hopeful that they will be worth the wait.
I signed the final contract last week, so the excitement is still very fresh, the ideas swirling, the research happening and steps forward being taken.