The Children's Book: Character Sketches


Hi! It's been a while since I talked about the children's book I'm illustrating with my friends Lisa and Kristoffer of "Life in Dar", so I thought I'd give you guys an update and a behind-the-scenes look at a bit of our process.

So far we've spent a lot of back and forth time figuring out what will be depicted on each page of the book and how the layout will be in terms of full page spreads v. single page illustrations, etc. With that mostly wrapped up, it was now time to actually start drawing! We wanted to nail down the appearance of our main character, Santa Claus, first and get an idea of how the style of the illustrations will be, so I began with some character sketches.

Meet our Santa:
A lot of the book takes place in the summer (and not at the North Pole), so we also needed to figure out what our hot weather Santa would look like. In this case, we're picturing him owning a plethora of red Hawaiian shirts (each with a different Christmasy pattern on it) and kicking back in some boat shoes (we considered sandals, flip flops, and Crocs) while still sporting his traditional Santa hat. Like this:

It took a bit to get to this point. I am not the type of artist who can just make things up out of their head. I envy, applaud and admire those kinds of people - that is serious, raw talent. I need to be looking at something to have any chance of getting it right. In school, I was trained to take lots and lots of reference literally have someone dress up as my character and pose them as they will appear in the final image. Ask my college roommates, I put them through a lot:) This is the same way that someone like Norman Rockwell worked. So, for this book, I needed a Santa...and thankfully my Dad is up for the job! 

I didn't spend a lot of money getting a completely accurate Santa costume...we already had the hat, I bought the beard at the party store and he wore black pants and short boots from his regular wardrobe...I just needed to see the positioning of the body and how the fabric drapes, how a wide belt (in this case one of my scarves cause it was all we had on hand) would wrap around a bigger belly (there's a pillow in there), etc. So here's one of the shots I used to help me with the above illustration.

Then I drew him in pencil, changing the clothes to be what I wanted, making the boots taller with buckles, puffing up the white trim, adding more detail, etc. The next step was to go over that with a fine point black pen until I had a more finished drawing like this:

and this:
Then I scanned these in and added all the color in the computer in Photoshop (using a tablet pen), while keeping the ink lines on top. I'm hoping as I refine the process that I can get the look to be a little less digital and more painterly, but I'm ok with how these turned out. And so are the authors, which is the important thing:)

Next I will tackle a complete full page spread illustration...starting with a photo shoot and then collecting other reference for things like reindeer, etc. Fun! And nerve-wracking!!

Would love to hear your honest feedback! Good and bad. Thanks for all your support:)


  1. Happy New Year Sarah! Lovely to see you around again (and yes I did update the blog layout - by myself this time - eeek!). I love your illustrations and am in awe of your talent. Can't wait to see what the book is about - I'm intrigued already :) xx

    Anna (My Design Ethos)

  2. Omy goodness Sarah, what a talent you have! Love hearing about the process and the final result is just charming! Sure helps to have a wonderful model doesn't it?!!!!

  3. Love, love, love Seasonless Santa!

  4. I'm really impressed Sarah and really find this interesting. I had no idea what went into illustrating and building a character. You've got some talent girl and that is interesting about taking a photo as a point of reference. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  5. Love our Santa, and his BLACK boots! (Thanks, Paul!)

  6. Looks great! If I can just make one comment though. In the summer Santa picture, the shoes look odd like he has two left feet. Or two right? The shoe on the left, his right, just looks like it is on the wrong foot. I'm just used to checking out my kids shoes these days where they are always putting their shoes on the wrong feet.

  7. I'm Lisa Welsuen's aunt and Iove seeing how you designed your Santa illustration! Very cool process & looks great!

  8. Sarah, these are fantastic. There's no other way to describe them! I truly love seeing your thought and design process- I'm a lot like you too in the respect that I HAVE to be looking at something to draw it. And even then, my skills get really rusty when I don't do it everyday (which I don't)! I think these are simply wonderful and you know I'll be in line for that book. Heck, maybe even a signed copy! :)

  9. Thank you so much, everyone!!! Your kind words and encouragement mean so much! I was really nervous about putting this out there and actually showing you my work, so I really appreciate the positive feedback! Glad you are interested in the process too:)

    Welcome, Lisa's Aunt Holly!!! So nice of you to stop by!

    Julie - thanks! You are probably right - my Dad doesn't own boat shoes, so we took the reference pics with bare feet and I made up the shoes. See!! Told you I'm not good at making stuff up! I might have to go buy him some for the rest of the photo shoots:)

    Thank you, thank you, Leslie!!! Made my day! and thanks for confirming I'm not the only one who needs to be looking at something. That's why I'm terrible at Pictionary, even though everyone expects me to be good cause I'm an "artist":) You can definitely have a signed copy;)

  10. I love the behind the scenes look at how you drew Santa! He looks adorable!

  11. Holy cow! You are SO talented. Love both summer and winter santa (plus, your dad is adorable.) Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes process.


pewter+sage All rights reserved © Blog Milk - Powered by Blogger