As I'm at the start of a new book with First Second I thought this'd be a great time to begin an informal series of posts on making the book. So, while I'm not precisely starting at the beginning (that would be several years ago and I'm not even sure where this project began, I never do) I am at a stage that is a good place to start talking about things.
I'm currently penciling the book but just before this was writing, sketching and thumbnails. Sketching happens at every stage. I probably do the most sketching at the same time as I do the thumbnails.
After the basic outline, which I wrote in prose, was okayed by my brilliant editor Calista Brill I began sketching and thumbnailing in earnest. To be honest I find the thumbnails the most challenging aspect of the whole project. I think that's because it's all inventions it's more like writing than drawing in a way. And I have to think about a lot of things at this stage: the story, the composition, the designs of characters and things, pacing and it has to be legible enough for myself to read over a year of work as well as my editor. I draw quickly at this stage because I need to get all these ideas out and on paper as fast as I can. The problem with that is that it can be messy and hard to understand. And usually you're not the only one who needs to be able to read these drawings. I once had a uncomfortable meeting with Tor where my thumbnails were just a bit too messy. And what's funny is that I had worked really hard on them but they weren't completely readable to anyone but me. So I learned from that. I now keep in mind that an editor wants to be able to read these things too.
I do my thumbnailing in marker on cheap computer paper. In part so that I don't get too attached to any ideas at this point in the process. If something is wrong I just toss it away. Or file it away it away if it has promise. I draw in marker for brushpen. I find this helps me concentrate on what is essential at this point: the story and the design. I don't want to get bogged down too much with details.
During the thumbnailing process I find it important to stop and sketch stuff out. At this stage I need to know what things look like. So I'll often be stopping and trying to sketch things out to understand them better. As I said I sketch at every point in the process but it's at this point I want to have an idea what everything looks like. I'll have to keep doing this in the penciling phase, always exploring and making things better.
But, what's important to me at this stage is the story and the design. It's not until the inks that things start to look a bit polished.