This is Josh Sanabria, the illustrator of Norman's Architecture Adventure. Creating this book was challenging, to say the least, but not because it is a long book or that any particular drawing was arduous; the obstacles came from my creativity being out-of-shape.
After years of working in CAD, Photoshop, and even a drafting table at one point in school (archaic I know) it was tough to simply let go and enjoy. It was hard to NOT draw straight lines and perfect curves. I desperately wanted to color outside the lines. My brain fought against letting things flow while my more artistic instincts tried their best to reassure me that everything would be OK.
From the first drawing to the last I learned a few things about reconciling my mind and my instincts. Here are 5 things I learned while illustrating my first children's book.
1. Start Simple
I suggest getting out a sketchbook and squiggling honest to goodness nonsense lines on a page. Do 10, 20, or 50 mini drawings to get the inhibitions off your mind. After the 50th drawing stop and look at the mini-drawings to see if any patterns emerge.
This process helps to free your mind from the desire to over-complicate from the beginning. You are able to explore many ideas quickly and without a misplaced dedicated to any particular approach.
For this scene I noticed that I wanted a grand shot with lots of characters and a massive backdrop. I noticed I kept drawing shapes in the sky, fireworks perhaps?
2. Find the right tools
After the general scene began to emerge, I stopped and thought about what tools or components I would need to make it a reality. The scene involved characters but it also involved a complicated backdrop with the building rising overhead. To make this scene happen I needed a way to create the big building in the backdrop. Luckily, I know how to model building very well in SketchUp, a free 3D modeling software.
A few hours later and a rough 3D model of the building was available for use. This allowed me to study different views and focal lengths until I found the perfect blend of accuracy and whimsy. Inside SketchUp you'll find different export styles. I chose one that looked like hand-drawn lines. This saved countless hours of me outlining or trying to replicate the building by hand. From SketchUp I was able to export a PNG and move on.
Next I got out my iPad Pro and Apple pencil and started to color the building. I can't explain how incredible it is to create with the iPad. It allows a freedom that is impossible on a laptop or desktop. It blends the instant gratification of hand drawing with the benefits of high pixel counts and the all-important undo button.
After trying many drawing apps I settled on Tayasui sketches. It has custom brushes and fill tools that make a drawing pop with color and texture. After a few hours of trial and error I settled on a slightly subdued pastel style.
3. Get your hands dirty
After the backdrop was complete I moved on to creating the characters in the scene. This turned out to be the most difficult part of the entire process.
I was struggling with how to pose the characters. Anatomy was difficult so I did the only thing I could think of, pose. I took dozens of selfies with me posing in every possible position that every character would have throughout the book. From Norman walking to penguins painting, I captured them all.
With these photos I was able to start piecing together the characters. Each character had at least 3 layers: pencil for rough sketches, pen for outlining, and color. Each character was also drawn independently so I could move them around the canvas.
4. Add color to give it life
Their is no alternative to color. Nothing else can take the mundane to beautiful so quickly. This applies to more than just drawing. Everything should have that distinct shade that cuts through the noise.
From start to finish, each drawing for the book took about 1-2 days. Having the SketchUp model act as base for backgrounds was invaluable but I would say that photographing myself in each pose was the biggest breakthrough discovery.
I was completely stuck before trying that trick. While it may not work for every character type, it at least gave me the confidence to move forward.
Overall, I'm very please with how the drawings for Norman's Architecture Adventure came out. It was my first foray into children's book illustrations and I'm excited to do it again.
5. Move the story forward
Here is the final spread, as you can see I added some simple buildings in the background and really tried to give some punch to the fireworks and confetti. The positioning on the page also made a huge difference; bringing the characters closer accentuates the size of the building they are dancing in front of. I think that is the final lesson; don't be afraid to crop your artwork when it helps move the story forward.
Norman's Architecture Adventure is about a young boy who wants to be an architect just like his mom. Along the way he explores, meets new friends, and learns that having an imagination is the greatest adventure anyone can have.
This architecture kid's book was written and illustrated by Josh Sanabria.
To learn more visit www.ArchitectureAdventure.com