My Visual Storytelling Process

Step 1 – Research: sketches, observation, photo references, and gesture drawings

      To thoroughly explore a book’s subject-matter and ensure authenticity in my storytelling, I begin drawing from direct observation and photographic reference.

References and research

      The studies shown here are for my latest picture book project, Arnie and Zippy, based on actual events, about a boy who devises a science exhibit proving that chickens see a range of color and can be trained to pick one color over another.

Gesture drawings

      I also do loose gesture drawings from life to depict easily recognizable human and animal movements and expressions.

Step 2 – Character design

      Next, I work on capturing nuanced emotions and believable poses in my principle characters–in this case Arnie and Zippy.

Character design

Step 3 – Character development and interaction

      After giving Arnie and Zippy their unique personality, I show them interacting with their environment, each other, and key characters in their world, such as Arnie’s parents and members of the flock in the story.

Character development and interaction

      These fictional images are based on actual chicken behavior.
      Left: The natural way for chickens to stretch is to stand tippy-toe while flapping their wings.
      Right: Garden greens are recommended for a balanced diet.

Character development and interaction

Step 4 – Storyboards

      Next, I begin storyboarding a series of rough sketches to map out the basic plot-line and layout of each spread in the book.


Step 5 – Color illustration techniques

      After storyboarding, I create 2 – 3 full-color illustrations of key scenes in the story to establish the mood, style, and lighting of the book.
      My approach combines traditional and digital techniques in a process I’ve named “Drawing Like a Printmaker.” First, I scan the original pencil drawing and print it on watercolor paper.


      Then on the print, I paint with acryla-gouache and pop details with prisma color pencils. To achieve highlights, blending, and texture, I scratch with sand paper and Xacto knife.


      Next, I scan the painting and overlay the original drawing scan in Photoshop. And finally, I make edits to lighting, color, and value contrasts using Photoshop Adjustment Layers.

Photoshop adjustment layers

Step 6 – Dummy

      Once I have the plot, storyboard sketches, and color illustrations, I place them in a book proto-type, or dummy. Then, I add text and read the book out loud to synchronize page turns with the rhythm and flow of the action. As with writing, the dummy goes through several revisions before arriving at the polished narrative, suitable for a publication proposal.

Dummy cover and end pages

      Arnie and Zippy work-in-progress dummy - cover and end pages

Dummy cover and end pages

      Arnie and Zippy work-in-progress dummy - interior spread with edits to text.