Ooligan Press

Ooligan is a not-for-profit general trade press that publishes books honoring the cultural and natural diversity of the Pacific Northwest.

How One Elective Design Class Paved the Way to Children’s Picture Book Bliss

Hi, my name is Lorna. I love book design, illustration, and writing. I used to be in the Studio Practice program at PSU, but I always felt misplaced—like a prickly thistle in a patch of wild strawberries. So, I searched for another academic program that I could call home. That’s when I discovered the PSU Book Publishing program. Since migrating over, I’ve taken Software for Publishers, Book Design and Production, Advanced InDesign, and Digital Imaging and Illustration (an elective from the design department). This fertile ground of classes led me to my one true love: children’s books. This is the story of my journey into the world of children’s picture books.

One day in my Digital Illustration class, my teacher told us we were going to illustrate part of a children’s book. Our task was to create two spreads, end pages, and a cover, as well as to design a format for presentation. I chose to use a manuscript I acquired from Wiggles Press called The Tales of the Crane—a story about an African American girl’s submersion into Japanese culture—by Rochelle O’Neal Thorpe . I learned all about making mood boards, doing character studies, using storyboards, and how to use illustrations to interpret and compliment a story.

This is a mood board incorporating images from other Japanese and African inspired children’s books illustrations and designs.

After reading The Tales of the Crane, I created a mood board inspired by the imagery in the book and ideas I had about how to convey them. To do this, I Googled images from children’s book illustrators I admired, Japanese and African patterns and art, and landscape and object imagery I had noted as important while reading the story. These images were assembled into an InDesign document that was subsequently printed out and posted above my drafting table for quick design reference and inspiration.

The next step was to read through the manuscript a second time, highlighting descriptive sections of the text I thought could be enriched with accompanying illustrations. I used InDesign to do a quick layout mapping of how the text and images would be combined. Since this project only required two spreads, there was no rocket science involved in these steps—that came next.

This is the hardbound version of the book. You catch a glimpse of the end pages, and can see that the text was laid out in English and Japanese.

After deciding on illustration ideas for the interior and cover, I started doing pencil sketches. I also started designing an abstract Japanese-inspired pattern in Illustrator for the end pages. After sketches were finalized I hand painted all the final illustrations in watercolor. These were then scanned into Photoshop, where retouching and resizing were done. Then everything was placed in the final InDesign document. A mockup was printed out and assembled to test the sizing and layout. After necessary changes were made, I printed the interior and cover pages at Kinkos, then crafted a hardcover book (which was a learning experience in itself). The final product was a six-page, full color, hand-stitched book with a printed dust jacket.

Since The Tales of the Crane book project felt so rewarding, I decided to challenge myself by writing, illustrating and designing my own children’s book. Having received permission to do this as an independent study project, my goal was to create a 32-page storybook for ages 3–8 titled Tanty Mina, the Artist.

These are the final character sketches for the two main characters in Tanty Mina. They will be referred to for consistency as I illustrate them in various scenes throughout the story.

I wrote the first draft of Tanty Mina last summer, and because every manuscript deserves an editor, I hired Ooligan graduate Heather Frazier to do a developmental edit. So far this term I have written a second draft, created a full storyboard layout of text and corresponding sketches in InDesign, created character studies of my two main characters in pencil, and created a cover mockup combining hand drawn imagery and Photoshop. Once my sketches are finalized, I will paint all my illustrations in watercolor, then go through the same process of retouching in Photoshop and assembling in InDesign. Before deeming it finished, I’ll send this  draft back to Heather for copyediting. After any necessary changes are made, the final InDesign document will be sent to the printer, and my book will be comfortably nestled in my graduate portfolio.

This is the book cover sketch for Tanty Mina. Because the cover is so important in marketing children’s books, I focused on creating a bold, vibrant, and easily recognizable layout.

But the learning process for publishing children’s books doesn’t end with me developing my own children’s book. Oh no. This term I’m taking Book Marketing, in which I’m discovering the ins and outs of marketing books, from creating press releases to marketing plans, while using Tanty Mina as the subject for my final marketing project. In the spring, my journey will continue in the Publishing for Juveniles class. As my love of children’s books continues to bloom, my time at Ooligan will come to an end—as all stories do.


  • Lisa Kaser

    Absolutely wonderful telling of your journey through the process of learning and applying your new skills in creating a unique children’s book. What a rich resource Portland State has regarding publishing and how fortunate for you to find what excites and truly calls to you. I am thouroughly impressed with how your classes and your ready talent build so solidly toward such a tangible and successful outcome-such a perfect fit all around!

    This appears to be a truly rich and comprehensive program for developing and realizing your interest in the art of storytelling and your first book project looks wonderful. Congratulations and all the best as you venture down this fabulous creative path!

    My earliest recollection of a favored book was, The Tomten, written by Astrid Lindgren and illustrated by Harald Wiberg. http://www.steinerbooks.org/images/large/0863151531.jpg

    Bravo, Lorna

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