Tuesday, June 30, 2009


As I tell children when I visit schools to talk about creating my books, "A book dummy is not someone who doesn't read books".  It is a map of the book.  Dummies can happen in stages from very sketchy beginnings with loose thumbnail sketches to more polished versions that you'd actually show someone else (These are often actual size and look more like coloring books.).  Beginning dummies are mainly for the illustrator and the illustrator alone.  Just like an author may jot down notes in the margins, this is where the illustrator works things out. No need for finished versions here.  Get down your ideas, place in lines for text and see how it flows.  After a few versions, you can go back and focus on individual spreads and see how things are flowing.  

When you are creating a children's book, the standard page count is 32 pages. Here's a loose breakdown...

page 1:  (Note... the books begins with the right hand page.  It is not a spread) This is usually the title page (often nothing else)

page 2 & 3):  (Your first spread)  2 is sometimes the copyright and 3 is often the title with the author's name

page 4 & 5:  Sometimes the dedication is on page 4 and the book actually begins on page 5. 

page 6 & 7:  First spread
page 8 & 9:  Second spread
page 10 & 11:  Third spread
page 12 & 13:  4th spread
page 14 & 15:  5th spread
page 16 & 17:  6th spread
page 18 & 19:  7th spread
page 20 & 21:  8th spread
page 22 & 23:  9th spread
page 24 & 25:  10th spread
page 26 & 27:  11th spread
page 28 & 29:  12th spread
page 30 & 31:  13th spread
page 32:  This is on the left hand side and the book ends here!

The above is a general breakdown of how it works.  It is often helpful to check some children's books that you like for ideas.  

Board books do not have a standard length.  My publisher decided that my new "Hello!" series would have 8 spreads.  The above is a very timid initial breakdown of the pages.  

Start sketching and have some fun with it.  It doesn't have to be perfect the first time out!

Chop Chop

When it comes to submitting your hard work to a publisher, the important thing is to keep an open mind.  When I first began working on my soon to be released, "Hello, Boston!" and "Hello, Cape Cod!", I had in mind a childrens book that would be about 9x9 inches.  I envisioned it having the standard count (for children's books) of 32 pages.  This translates to about 14 "spreads" give or take a few title/copyright/dedication pages and my writing reflected this.  My publisher, however, decided it would make a great board book with 8 spreads (there isn't an industry standard page count for boardbooks).  They thought it would sell better as a board book and they had recently published a couple of books in the 9x9 size about these locations.  I had written @ 14 verses and now had to cut them down to 8. Chop Chop.  I had also envisioned the illustrations having a white border around them.  They thought they would look better "bleeding" off the page.  Working together, we were able to work with this to create a finshed book that was better than anyone person could have created alone. Above is an illustration for "Hello, Boston!" that shows the white border.  I loved allowing aspects of the illustration to "break the border", but in the end, the bleeds look better.... I went back to the drawing board and made it a full "spread" (a picture that continues from left to right".

P.S.  Please note that all material and images in this blog are copyrighted to Martha Zschock.  Thank you for respecting copyright laws.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Good to Know...

When I do the illustrations for my books, I measure out the size my illustrations need to be and then I add a two inch border.  It gives the folks at the printers a place to hold onto without having to touch your original artwork.  I also (try) to paint @ half an inch beyond my outline to allow the designers some leeway.  My sister Heather usually designs my books and she is always saying that I'm not painting over the line enough.  The above was sent to my publisher from the printer and then passed on to me.  It helped me to see the exact size the illustrations needed to be.  Next time I will ask for this BEFORE I start painting...

Sloppy Copy

Teachers use the same methods to teach writing as writers use to write.  We have the kids write a story, they want to be done with it after the first try, we say, "Now it's time to edit our work", they moan and groan, revise their work, and, depending on their age, reviseit  again, and again.  I didn't realize the torture I was inflicting on the poor children in my class until I became a writer and learned the hard way what a painful process this can be.  First draft, sloppy copy, whatever we call it, we all want it to be perfect the first time we write it. Unfortunately, that isn't usually the case.  Keep at it, it gets better as you work on it. Practice makes perfect!  The above is one of my first drafts (or sloppy copies) of my new book, "Hello, Boston!" due out any day!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just Write it!

Ok, I've procrastinated long enough... I guess being an illustrator AND an author, it's about time I got around to the writing part.  I've always loved creating art and was always pretty sure I was great at it despite the fact that I wasn't.  I was given a lot of encouragement and so I lived in a world of creative bliss until my talent finally caught up with me (about age 30).  I was not encouraged in writing in the same way.  In elementary school, my writing got as far as proving the fact that I was not a good speller.  I made it through writing papers in college because my future husband taught me to use the words "inherent" and "manifest" and as long as I used both of them in the same paper, I did pretty well.  I'm still always skeptical when someone likes my writing!  Because of my lack of self confidence in this department, I always begin writing rather timidly.  For my "Journey Around" and "Hello!" books, I always start out with lists.  The teacher in me asks, "What concepts will be most interesting to my audience?". The key word in that sentence is... AUDIENCE.  This is crucial.  Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, get well acquainted with who you are writing for.  In my case, I was a third grade teacher on Cape Cod teaching a group of underprivileged children who didn't realize that cranberries practically grew in their backyard.  We took the kids on lots of field trips, introducing them to the rich history and endless beauty that Cape Cod has to offer.  As we were on the field trips, I noticed how the kids took home a few bits of information, making them sound like experts in the retelling.  They were so proud to have this knowledge!  When I began to write my first book, "Journey Around Cape Cod from A to Z", I started with my list of places and concepts to include and then wrote just enough to make kids "instant experts", giving them the intrigue and confidence to want to learn more.  Now, with my new "Hello, Boston!" and "Hello, Cape Cod!" books, I do the same thing, I just do it for a younger audience... toddlers!  My style varies between the two books, but ultimately, I want all of my readers to have an exciting journey.... One that will manifest itself in the inherent confidence they build along the way! 

P.S. Tell your children, that they are great in whatever they love to do, it's only a matter of time until their talent catches up to them!  Unlike me, my nephew Jake (above) is clearly exhibiting an innate talent at a very young age... This was his first art show!  

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Guache paint (an opaque watercolor) which I had begun to experiment with (see yesterday's post) was trickier than I had thought.  At first I added too much water which gave it the consistancy of watercolors, but with an added smear factor.  After some experimenting, I found the best results for the brightness I wanted was to wet it to the consistancy of tempra paint (think kindergarten).  I was able to layer it, but found that shading wasn't easy. Sometimes touch ups with colored pencil once it was dry helped.  Over the course of working on the books, I learned that this medium is fragile.... don't sneeze on it, it will spot! 

As I was painting the gray building in the background, I stumbled upon another difficulty.... This paint is very tricky to match if you run out of a color.  I ended up using a lot of the palettes shown above and premixed colors for both "Hello, Boston!" and "Hello, Cape Cod!". For some colors that I used a lot of like the grass or sky, I stored the paint in film containers, others just on the palette.  That way, if I had to go back and make any changes I wouldn't end up ruining the whole painting and it was a good way to keep the colors consitant throughout the books. The maroonish colors above were used on the red maples in both books.  I have film containers labeled "duck head", "baby duck yellow", and "duck beak"!  This was initially a bit time consuming, but a big sanity saver in the end!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fast Forward

This morning, I'll fast forward two months from yesterday's post.  After a lovely summer playing with my daughters and illustrating a couple of scratch and sketch books for Peter Pauper Press, it was time for school to start and... for the ducks to begin their journey.  After leaving them percolating over the summer, I came back to them and decided that I still wasn't satisfied.  I wanted more of a waddle in the baby ducks step and I wanted him even brighter so I began to experiment.  I made him chubbier, perked up his tail, and switched from using watercolors to guache on heavy weight bristol board.  Finally, I had the look I was aiming for!  As with wine, some things just get better if you leave them alone and wait awhile.  (I keep trying to apply this theory to the MESS in my house, but, alas, it doesn't seem to be working AND it appears that the clean-up fairy is on vacation... again!)

Monday, June 22, 2009


We're gearing up for the last couple of days of school, so my popular "Super Saturday" guest blogger has been a little tied up in the excitement of it all... stay tuned, she will return!

In the meantime, my ducks were progressing to my reasonable satisfaction so I began to work on some scenery.  I liked it!  So did my publisher!  Great!  This is where my new board book, "Hello, Boston!" (shipping any day now) left off about a year ago.  The ducks were left skipping up Beacon Hill during the summer while waiting for a contract.  During the wait, I worked on some "Scratch and Sketch" books for Peter Pauper Press...  "Butterflies and Friends"  and "Circus".  Check them out, your kids will love them and you will love the peace and quiet they provide on long car trips... dazzling, colorful, creative fun!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Persistence Pays!

Exciting news!  My two new board books will be shipping (hopefully) by the end of next week in time for the 4th of July weekend- which is especially good news because I have my first signings for the books at Where the Sidewalk Ends in Chatham, MA (Cape Cod) on July 4th from 1-3.  Hope you can make it!

In the meantime, I will continue to chronicle the development of these books (scroll down a bit if you'd like to start at the beginning)....

Now that I was reasonably encouraged by the direction the baby duck was taking, I began to work on his older buddy, a duck I was already well acquainted with from my "Journey Around Boston from A to Z" book.  You can see, however, from the scruffily beginning above that my first try (as usual) was not as successful as I wanted.  I was trying to brighten him up, make him more in style with the baby duck.  From my first try, it looks like I tried to accomplish this by sending him through the washing machine!  I was almost embarrassed to post that one!  After a few tries though, I began to get the hang of it and then worked on how the two of them would look together.  With a skip in their step, I was pleased that I was moving in the right direction.  Persistence pays!  Keep at it!

A Block Party!  The sound of those words make me smile!  Too rainy though, check out this Blog Party instead!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Better...

Despite how much I wanted that angry duck (see yesterday's post) to be cheerful, energetic, and curious, he wasn't going to be unless I did something about it.  After much deliberation about WHAT was making this duck so angry, I tweaked (and tickled) him a bit (although sometimes bad moods take a few hours to turn around) and ended up with the above.  Still not perfect, but definitely going in the right direction!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Waddling on...

So it was back to the drawing board (see yesterday's post), but all was not lost.  I had learned a few things:  The duck I was aiming for would be curious, energetic, and cheerful.  The one I had done was... sweet and likable.  I started sketching.  I opened his bill and kept trying to make him brighter.  Sometimes it's difficult to translate your idea all the way from your brain, down your arm, to your hand, and then finally on to the paper.  The open mouth helped, and I went brighter by switching to a heavy weight bristol vellum, and adding colored pencil after I used the watercolors.  The above (including lots of sketching that isn't shown) took MANY more hours than anyone would think humanly possible.  HOW could this be taking so long?!?!?!?  I was supposed to have several COMPLETED illustrations by now and all I had to show was this lame duck!  ERGH!  

My husband came home and I showed him the more completed sketch above.  "He looks angry", he said.  "But that alone took three hours!", I cried.  "He still looks angry", my husband replied.

...  Don't you hate it when they're right?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Setting the Stage

Although I've titled this post, "Setting the Stage", it might be more appropriately called, "Beating a Dead Horse" (or should I say, "Duck").  In beginning to work on my new book, "Hello, Boston!", I knew that I wanted a little energetic, cheerful, and curious duck as one of the main characters and I was trying to convince myself that this one was working.  I figured that if I brightened him up (see comparison a couple of posts down) it would do the trick. I then added some scenery to help me get an idea what the whole thing would look like.  The unfortunate part was that I wasn't making much progress, because I was trying to ignore the fact that the duck wasn't working to begin with.  I needed to go back to the drawing board and get to know my character first.  Whether you are writing or illustrating, it's crucial to get to know your characters.  This duck and I were just beginning to get acquainted...  

Friday, June 12, 2009

Super Saturday

Greetings Journey Fans!  As a former elementary school teacher (mostly 3rd grade), I begin each "Journey Around" book as if I were taking a group of kids on a field trip to the area.  What will they find most interesting?  What will be most fun and memorable?  What do I want them to learn along the way?  I make a list and then I take my children and nephew on a journey!  (In the picture above, they are checking out the Herring Run in Brewster with their dad, uncle, and grandmother).  If the place was fun, memorable, and exciting, it stayed on the list, if not, we crossed it off and sometimes we made new serendipitous discoveries along the way that we added.  Because it's so important for writers and illustrators to know their audience, I'm introducing a guest blogger today- My daughter Bevin who is 9 1/2 who will give you an insiders peak at a third graders world...

Wow! This week has gone by so fast with so many fun and interesting projects in between. Two huge projects were planning for a Colonial puppet show and Simple Machine models. First, everyone in the class chose a Colonial trade.  Then we researched the topic and wrote facts about the trade on a white lined paper. Our very nice teacher typed up the scripts and gave them to us to memorize. My puppet is a wig maker.  My little sister Avery likes to be included so I'm helping her make one at home.  She is making a Colonial jailer.  Next week we even get to preform in front of other classes and parents!  

Now we move onto simple machines. What we do for that is write a short piece and build a model of our machine. The machine has to solve a problem and it has to include at least one simple machine.  Also, it has to be built of recycled things.  I made a "Roof deCatter" to get my cat off the roof.  I used pulleys, an inclined plane, screws, and wedges.  The simple machines that I saw were very interesting. 

 I LOVE,  LOVE,  LOVE, LOVE,  LOVE,  LOVE to read. I'm going to tell you my favorite books. One is "12 Again" by Sue Corbett about a mother who turns 12 again and her son has to find out how to turn her back to 40.  I also loved "Toilvers Secret" by Esther W. Brady , about a girl named Ellen who dressed up as a boy and sent a secret message to General Washington.  My favorite series is the Nancy Drew books about 3 girls who solve mysteries and never give up! I have thousands of more favorite books! 

For your father make something or buy something. One idea is a friendship bracelet in his favorite colors or summer colors. Maybe even breakfast in bed or  lunch somewhere special. You could always give him a hand-made card. He might like a plant brightly colored with petals and leaves. Gift-cards are always nice. There are more ideas out there, you should check them out at Family Fun!  Well bye for now see you next time on "Super Saturday"!

Down to Business

Above are the results of a full morning sketching for my new book- now known as "Hello, Boston!"  (Scroll down a few posts to see the end result- notice the difference?)  After illustrating lots of adult male mallards in my book, "Journey Around Boston from A to Z", I thought I'd begin by getting the feel of a duckling and developing his character.  I looked up pictures of baby mallards at the library and on the internet and got down to business.  I first draw on vellum (more forgiving with mistakes and changes- you can also use tracing paper, but it's more flimsy).  When I was reasonably satisfied, I took out the watercolors which I've used for all of my "Journey Around" books.  I transfered my drawing onto Arches 300 weight hot pressed paper using graphite paper and started painting.  Cute, but... more suitable for an Easter greeting card don't you think?  Not cheerful and energetic enough and, most importantly, not enough character.  

At the time, my daughter was reading her gazillionth "Bailey School Kids" book (a real cute series by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones) and I happened to look up the illustrator John Steven Gurney and was inspired to see how he develops his characters.  Aha!  I wanted the duckling to be energetic, cheerful, and curious and two little people in my life (my nephew Jake (above) and my daughter's friend Connor) had what I was looking for.  The next challenge was HOW to capture those qualities in a duck!   Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

99% Perspiration

Now it was time to sweat.  Jake arrived happy, healthy, and huge and his quilt was almost done.  Now it was time to get back to business.  I needed a new project and one that might have the chance of earning money somewhere down the road would be helpful.  So, I sent the girls off to school, had breakfast, and sat down to mope.  That's when the idea of the "Journey" board books floated back in the window.  Perfect!  I had a vision.  In keeping with my sister's original idea, I wanted these new books to be playful, energetic, and colorful.  I started to jot down ideas.  Nixing the alphabet concept (too heavy for a board book), I went for cheerful rhyming text.  I was energized!  I had lunch.  This was going to be a breeze!  I sat down to sketch, the bus arrived.  Excellent!  The next day I'd just start drawing, perhaps have a couple of finished illustrations by the end of the week, put a packet together over the weekend and send it off on Monday!  I had goals... I had vision!  (The only problem was I had amnesia concerning the other 98%)!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Procrastination, Projects, and Preoccupation!

Ok, now I'll fast forward five years from yesterday's post to last spring.  My "Journey Around" series had continued successfully with the additions of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maine, but after I finished "Journey Around Nantucket from A to Z" last spring (the 9th in the series), I was up for a new and challenging project.  (I crave projects and don't function well when I don't have one).  So, I sent the girls off to school and moped (as in sulked, not mop in case there would be any confusion!) around the house, and then I became inspired!  I would make a quilt for my soon to be nephew Jake!  I love crazy quilts and I love to embroider, so I got a bag of my dad's old flannel shirts from my mom and set to work.  My dad died several years ago and had watched my oldest daughter's baby quilt being made so I felt that this would be a great way to include my dad in the birth of his first grandson and a way for him to hug him even if his arms couldn't.  This was a wonderful, almost sinful, and perfect distraction from the fact that this new project I craved would also have to make some money!  But, in order to justify such distractions and procrastinations, I will say that these new challenges I set for myself do in the end bring me to a point where my "paid" work is stronger!  I'm all for such preoccupations!  In fact, I'm a master, look at the detail!

In the meantime, the seal DID wear the costume ( a major accomplishment) and the beach lady suddenly transformed herself back into a Wampanoag at 6:45 am (I am hoping the costume won't fall apart) and were all set for Theme Day Parade!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1% Inspiration

As Thomas Edison once said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration".  

For my new "Hello!" series of board books published by Commonwealth Editions, the inspiration came about 6 years ago from my twin sister Heather (who has done the design work for all of my books- see her web-site and/or blog.  She is very talented AND you'll also catch sneak peaks of my adorable little nephew Jake).  For fun, Heather mocked up some "Journey Jr.s"- board books using some of my artwork from the "journey Around" series.  They had a die-cut bump on top to accommodate the bird's head and included an eager young bird with a backpack all set for a journey.  During a lovely brunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking Cape Cod Bay, we brainstormed ideas.  And then... we got a mediocre response from my publisher who felt that among other things the die-cut was too expensive to produce... Life got in the way, and that's where the idea sat... For five years!

I'll fast forward tomorrow.  In the meantime, the seal costume is complete (we'll see if she actually wears it) and the Wampanoag has now decided to be a lady ready for a day at the beach and the Simple Machine project is coming along fairly simply.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Spring Resolution!

Ok, late spring resolution- I will update this blog (more than annually, I hope)!  The fact that my computer makes a strange whirring noise when I over tax it doesn't help my blogophobia, but I will just have to turn up the radio and journey on!

Since this time last year, I have been busy reinventing the wheel, creating a new series of "Journey"-like books for younger readers.  In a few weeks, "Hello, Boston!" and "Hello, Cape Cod!"  will be out in stores.  They are board books geared towards younger journey fans and hopefully the start of a new series.  They are bright, cheerful, lots of fun and feature the old friends from my "Journey Around" books (Boston, a mallard duck and Cape Cod, a seagull) and a little bird who have a fun day exploring!

This past winter I taught a children's book illustration course at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and my students were all very interested in the process of how a book comes to be as they were all working on their own individual projects and ideas.  In the next few weeks before the new "Hello!"  books ship, I will (try) to post the process that I undertook to create this new series.  

In the meantime, I will try to design a Wampanoag and a seal costume for my daughters (9) and (6) to wear for their end of the year Theme (this year Cape Cod) Day Parade and help to construct a "Roof de Catter" (Simple Machine Project- oldest daughter) which I'm actually hoping she'll market because we are having quite a problem with our cat ripping the upstairs screens when she wants to get in.  The other night, I thought she was out, only to find that she was in after having plunged through the skylight screen on top of a sleeping child!