Illustration Editor John Shelley revisits how to plan images and layout for illustrators starting out in picture books. This week, we look at sizing and how a picture book layout works as a whole.

We’ve taken a closer look at vignettes, boxed images, a spot and bleed. Here are a few more areas for you to consider when creating your dummy.

Big or Small?

A small image on a page surrounded by white space focuses on detail, so it might suggest quiet intimacy, or a key-hole view of a drama about to unfold. Some books begin with smaller images, then gradually open up to full bleed as the drama unfolds. The reverse can work too – big to small. A classic example of this approach is Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, where the first and last illustrations are small, with very wide white margins, while the central fantasy spreads are full bleed.

Another use of small images is to break up a series of actions into details on a page. So, for example, a piece of text might describe a character putting on a coat, then shoes, then tying on a hat... one single image would suffice to cover all these actions, but by separating each into a series of vignettes or spots on a page a sense of time and motion can be introduced.

Sequential images from Emma Chichester-Clark
(© Emma Chichester-Clark)

Crescendos and Patterns

Picture books are a little like songs in that there is usually some kind of pattern or structure that the whole book follows, a regular rhythm flowing through, with choruses of loud, dynamic pages at key stages. It's equally true of both text and illustration. An image near the front of a book might be reflected with a similar design later to create a resonance. 

Page Turning 

A key element of picture books is the need to move the narrative forward – the reader should always be encouraged to turn the page. This can be done by building tension and expectation in the image or text, ensuring plenty of movement from left to right, and drawing the reader's attention to the page corners. 

Two spreads from my book, Stone Giant. The top image is page 06/07, the lower is page 26/27. I designed these two spreads with their sequences of square, blocked-in images to mirror each other, though they're at opposite ends of the book.
[Click to enlarge]
 All images © John Shelley

John Shelley is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures and the illustrator of over 50 books for children, most recently A Purse Full of Tales, a book of Korean Folk stories, for Hesperus Press. He's twice been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, first in 2018, and again in 2019.


Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to

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