Author and illustrator Emmi Smid gives us a glimpse into the creation process of her new children’s book, Rainbow Village.

Working on a final piece for the book from my studio space

The writing process

The thing I love about the format of picture books is the special connection between the text and the illustrations: both count on each other to convey the story. Take out the words and the illustrations won’t make sense, take out the illustrations and the text won’t make sense. As picture books are meant to be read to children between the ages of about 3 to 7 the writer needs to take into account the concentration span of this age range. For that reason I tend to stick to approximately 2000 words. You’d like to think that it wouldn’t take too much time to write a story involving merely 2000 words, and for other writers it may be different, but I find that the limitation of words can actually make it rather challenging to convey a believable story. A fun challenge nonetheless, don’t get me wrong! “Rainbow Village” reads five drafts before I decided upon the final manuscript, and even then I made a bunch of changes to the text during the illustration process. I wouldn’t say I have a clean-cut approach as to how I write, because I “write” in both words and images. The convenient thing about being both the writer as well as the illustrator of a story is that you’re the boss over which parts are told in words, and which parts are told in pictures. Sometimes, when starting a new story, ideas for illustrations come first. Other times it’s names of potential characters, sentences or paragraphs that pop up in my head before I start thinking in visuals. Whichever way, I use the final written text as my corner stone from which to start the illustrations, but if, during the illustration process, it turns out that it’s more suitable to convey certain parts in pictures I’ll then delete or adjust some of the text. If you’d like to know where exactly my idea for “Rainbow Village” came from, have a look at this blogpost, in which I share a more personal background.

The illustration process

I often make quick little sketches during the writing process as reminders of things I might like to use in the final illustrations. I also tend to make a mood board and collect photographs as reference points and inspiration, or I make drawings from life. Once I feel contented with the manuscript I start the illustration process by sketching the main characters to get an idea of how I’d like them to look.

Always nice to see the main characters develop on paper

When I’m happy with the characters I’ll draw a storyboard to gain a sense of the pacing of the book as well as the effectiveness of the illustrations combined with the text.

Some storyboard peeks!

Once I’ve gathered feedback from my editor and a couple of fellow-illustrators I’ll make adjustments to the storyboard and start cracking on with the final illustrations. It really depends on the book and the amount of time I’ve got to finish it what types of materials I’ll use and whether I’ll colour the illustrations in digitally or by hand. For “Rainbow Village” I’d decided to use only colour pencils. I enjoy playing with leaving a lot of white space, but even so, I’d underestimated how long it would take to colour the whole book using colour pencils. Nonetheless, it proved to be a rather meditative process that included listening to lots of podcasts, audiobooks and a long playlist of music!

A couple of final drawings
One of the sketches for the cover proposal

The way in which I have used colours in this book plays an important part in carrying the story. I used four different colours as a way to emphasise the segregation between the four different types of creatures living in Rainbow Village. As you’ll see the village is initially neatly divided into these four specific colours, but along the way something happens that completely disrupts this clear division. I’d spoil the ending if I told you what exactly occurred and what happened after, so if you’re curious to find out I’d invite you to have a read yourself!

There we are, a new book!

Last but not least, a little fun fact: I like to hide little insider jokes into my books. In this book I have hidden a reference to the illustration studio I work at, called Funny Farm, as a thank you to my fellow illustration-colleagues for all their feedback, idea-bouncing and input!

A secret insider joke that probably no one but me will understand!

Rainbow Village is out today and can be found on our website. Emmi is also the author and illustrator of Luna’s Red Hat, and the illustrator of Minnie and Max are OK! You can follow Emmi on Instagram, here.

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