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How Illustrations “Show” the Story: featuring Terry Sirrell

Happy Fall Everyone! I hope the new season finds everyone safe and healthy. As authors, we spend precious time searching for the right words to show our characters and their emotions. What does this journey of storytelling look like for an illustrator? I never fully understood until I had the honor of observing the illustration process as the talented Terry Sirrell brought WALKOUT to life. From the early stages, I marveled at every step, the time required, and the unwavering talent Terry displayed on every page. His years of experience bring a deep and rich perspective to showing a story through art!

*I added my middle initial since we have the same initials!

TMS: Terry, it’s such an honor to have you here today! WALKOUT is a beautiful book. Your dedication, talent, and expertise have brought Maddie and Stella’s story to life in a way readers will never forget!

Whether drafting or revising, what are the initial steps you take in creating characters and scenes from a manuscript? 

TS: After reading the manuscript, I first start creating the characters with a lot of very loose thumbnail sketches to get a feel for what they will look like. When I like the way the characters are looking, I’ll then do a larger, tighter sketch to show the art director. Once approved, I’ll start working on the scenes of the book with loose thumbnail sketches. This is when I break down the manuscript to separate spreads throughout the book to match the story with the pictures.

TMS: Watching these steps unfold was so exciting! Meeting Maddie and Stella for the first time was such a special moment. I loved opening your emails with the newest developments! These steps alone show your impeccable attention to the planning and details involved. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use? Do you have any favorites?

TS: I have a specific style to my illustration work, but my strategy is to tweak my style a bit to match a story depending on if it’s a more serious story or if it’s a funny story.The tools I used to use were pencils, pens, ink, Dr. Martin Dyes, and watercolor paper. These days I’m strictly digital. I work on a 22″ Wacom Cintiq attached to my iMac computer. I love it! A Cintiq is a digital drawing board. Instead of drawing on paper, you draw on a glass monitor.

My resources are on the internet. I’ll do a Google search if I need to see what something looks like, I used to go to the library for picture references. Plus, you can learn so much on the internet. I’ve been illustrating for many years, but I haven’t illustrated a children’s picture book since I started working on the computer. So I thought I would take an online course to brush up on my book illustration skills and to explore to see if there was anything different I needed to do to get work again in this market. My friend told me about an online course he was taking named the Children’s Book Academy, owned by Dr. Mira Reisberg.

So I signed up and took her children’s book illustration course. Mira was great, I really learned a lot of new stuff and was reminded of some things that I already knew. I really liked that she encouraged me to use textures in my work. Thanks, Mira!Here’s a link to Mira’s website in case you’re interested in learning more about writing or illustrating a children’s book. I give it an A+!

The Children’s Book Academy

The Children’s Book Academy: The best places for children’s book writing and illustrating courses for complete beginners to award-winners.

TMS: I agree Terry! Mira’s classes offer so much to students at every stage of their journey. I love her classes too! How do you decide to make changes or maintain what you have created? Are other professionals involved like an editor and/or publisher?

TS: Working on a computer makes it a lot easier for changes compared to working traditionally using paper and paint. I’m pretty good about making changes if the art director, editor, or publisher wants them. I trust their eye and the art usually turns out better.

TMS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after of a character or scene for the reader?

TS: Sure, here’s a before and after example.

TMS: This is so interesting to see how the features of characters change throughout the process. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for illustrators in terms of striving for that balance in creating images that best portray the story?

TS: For me, it’s a gut feeling, I just know what I’m looking for in my work. Of course, the art director, editor, and publisher will let you know also. Read the story a few times so you get to know the characters and where the story takes place. My tip for illustrators, new and the seasoned pro would be to keep drawing and keep learning wherever you can.

Mastering the Right Shades

TMS: Yes, because you never know where it will take you! In this case, Maddie and Stella’s story! What a pleasure to have watched you take this project from start to finish! I learned so much about illustrating! Thank you for sharing your process with us, Terry!

Terry’s Bio:

Cartoonist and illustrator Terry Sirrell has been in the creative business for many years. His first job out of art school was an assistant art director at the Field Newspaper Syndicate where he put together sales kits to promote all of the cartoon strips to newspapers around the world. Later, he became an art director in advertising, then moved on to his illustration career. You may have seen his work on the back of Cap`n Crunch and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal boxes. His cartoons and characters also have appeared in the advertising of numerous major corporations and in dozens of publications including Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Highlights Magazine, Clubhouse Magazine, Boys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Woman’s Day, National Geographic Kids, Family Fun/Disney, The New York Daily News, and The Chicago Tribune. Terry also illustrates children’s books and cartoon maps. The most recent book he illustrated is WALKOUT, which can be purchased in book stores, on Amazon, and other online bookstore websites. 

Learn more about Terry and his amazing illustrations at:

Website: http://www.tsirrell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TerrySirrellBooks

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/tsirrell/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TSirrell

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