Reconciling pictures with words

I thought I’d post a few images that formed part of a talk I just gave with Sarah McIntyre to the conference of Oxford Children’s Book Groups. The talk was about developing the pictorial side of a picture book story, and the importance of constantly checking back to the text, to get the right feel for the book as a whole. We called it ‘Hopping the gap between words and pictures.’

Here’s my hardback cover for the picture book BUG AND BEAR, by Ann Bonwill, which will be published by OUP in 2011. I was talking about how I eventually decided what the characters would look like.

Bug and Bear went through several versions before I hit on how they should look. Although I liked this early version of the two friends, I realized it was just too sensitive. In the text, Bug eventually annoys Bear so much that she tells him to go and jump in the lake! This little Bug just looks too vulnerable for that.

So in this later sample, I settled on a more stylized Bug, with circular eyes. He’s much more of a caricature, and that gives us just enough distance from his emotions, so that it’s okay for Bear to get annoyed with him.

And jump in the lake he does! But this sketch of him floundering on a lily pad wasn’t used in the end. Hopping back to the text again, I realized that the story is not really about Bug being terrified of drowning at this moment. It’s about his friendship with Bear and the misery he feels at being banished by her.

So here’s the finished spread, where Bear is worried, Bug is miserable and Bear makes an heroic rescue…

Before their inevitable reconciliation!


  1. Layn, thank you for sharing your talk here. I think you truly captured the caring relationship between the fly and the bear.

  2. Hi Layn,
    there's a lovely 'comfortable' feel to these pictures. Did you try the colour illustrations on a white background first or instinctively go for the brown background from the outset?

  3. Brilliant observation for the characters, and a wonderful colour combination. I look forward to this book being published so that I can buy a copy.
    Is this digital, or perhaps gouache, or pastels on coloured papers?
    Thanks so much for sharing this on the blog.

  4. This is a great post Layn! I love to see how ideas develop to the final stage, it's fascinating how the slightest change to the position, shape and form of character's eyes can define character.

    Look forward to seeing the final book!

  5. Thank you all for your comments. In the talk I also went on a bit about trying out different media to depict Bug and Bear's world.I experimented with collage, watercolour and my usual acrylics before settling on using gouache on stiff brown card. The colour scheme was based on swatches from a tile company and the brown ground was chosen because of my favourite phrase in Ann's text: at one point Bear is so grumpy she tries to hide from Bug by leaning against a tree and 'thinking brown thoughts'.

  6. "Bear is so grumpy she tries to hide from Bug by leaning against a tree and 'thinking brown thoughts'."

    Such text is magic to an illustrator :oD


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