Project Picture Book : An Illustrator (& Writer) Challenge Workshop




Picture books seem simple. They’re somewhere around thirty-two pages. They generally don’t have a lot of words. Cute characters galavant throughout. Sit down, however, to actually create a picture book … the process presents itself as a tangled knot.

Where do I start?

What’s my story?

Who are my characters?

How does the physical act of laying out the pages even work?

Shelley Ann Jackson’s Project Picture Book workshop sought to answer these questions. Following the inspiration of the popular reality television series, Project Runway, the goal was to show how much one can accomplish in just a few hours. It was a point very well made. The attendees of the Saturday only, September 24, 2016, session at the Round Rock Public Library walked out the door with complete picture book concepts in hand.

The series of exercises started with the germ of the idea (listing things like childhood loves and challenges). Mining those lists then informed a “mind map” that branched out from the central concept through all of its possible scenarios and plot turns. Characters were then fleshed out. Copy for the book was written. Storyboards—the book’s pages in thumbnail succession—were populated. All of this in just five hours time.

As a faculty member, and one of the three “Tim Gunns” (Amy Farrier, Marsha Riti, and me–CS Jennings) who helped guide and provide feedback to the participants, I was honestly astounded at how much was accomplished in the short session. We saw more than a few people who were really struggling in the beginning to identify their theme create beautiful picture book ideas. The results were a strong testimony to the power of sitting down to take the time—a simple act many with picture book aspirations fail to do—but also in employing a system. Credit is also due to the twenty illustrators and writers who attended the workshop. It takes courage to even show up on Saturday morning to try something new.

Through her informative and entertaining workshop, Shelley Ann Jackson provided us all with the tools, and the proof, that the knot of the picture book creation process can be untangled. Following that, the thread can be used to create something really special.