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Medium: Ink, Graphite Category: Children's Book Illustration

This tutorial is from Chapter 6 "Storyboard and Book Dummy," in Writing With Pictures, by Uri Shulevitz and published by Watson-Guptill Publications. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.

How to Make a Storyboard

An Illustrated Tutorial from "Writing with Pictures: How to Write
and Illustrate Children's Books"

by Uri Shulevitz

An outstanding picture book is a result of both spontaneity and careful planning. The tools for planning such a book are the storyboard and book dummy. The storyboard gives you a bird's eye view of the whole book: it shows all the pages of the book, greatly reduced, on a single sheet of paper.

How to Make a Storyboard

Before a house is built, the architect draws a plan of the house. Similarly, in creating a book, the illustrator first draws a plan--the storyboard.

The story board is a two dimensional model, with all the pages of the book laid out on one piece of paper. You can see the whole book at a glance, how each page relates to another and the whole. This overview of the entire book facilitates the planning of the main visual elements.

Figure 1. To make a storyboard, take a sheet of paper and draw postage-size squares on it to represent all the pages of the book. Remember that, except for the first and last pages, the reader will see the book as a series of double spreads--that is, pairs of facing pages. Therefore your storyboard must also be divided into double spreads. As you can see in Figure 1, each larger square is divided into two smaller ones.

Now mark the page numbers clearly below the appropriate squares. Because books always begin on a right-hand page, cross out the left-hand side of the first spread and begin on the right with page 1. Books always end on a left-hand page, so there the right side is crossed out.

In planning a picture book, stick with 32 pages whenever possible, as this is the length most publishers prefer. If 32 pages is not long enough, you can expand to 48 pages. On the other hand, if 32 pages is too long for your story, you can shorten this by using each double spread as if it were a single page, thus reducing the number of illustrations by about half.

Actually you don't have 32 pages for your story. The first two to four pages in a picture book are used to convey necessary information, called front matter. These pages contain the book title, the names of the author and/or illustrator, the publisher's name and location, the copyright notice, and sometimes a dedication or a brief author's note. Leave the first four pages blank for now and begin the story on page 5. If you are pressed for space, you can begin on page 3, but the book will look more attrractive if the full four pages are used for front matter.

Taking a Bird's Eye View - The storyboard allows you to approach the book as though you were viewing it from a great distance and could see only the larger elements. You can even view the entire book as if it were one picture made up of smaller units--the double spreads.

A good way to begin is with the large elements--concentrate on the overall idea and visual concept. Sketch out the entire book with very rough black and white drawings, and avoid getting distracted by details or by color. Preoccupation with detail, color, and a polished appearance at the beginning stages is detrimental. It is easier and more efficient to think about one aspect of the book at a time, such as overall design, visual movement, and rhythm.

Figure 2. These four double spreads are from one of many storyboards I made for Dawn in order to determine the shape and size of each picture in relation to the page and to the other pictures. My aim was to establish an overall pattern and rhythm through the increasing size of the pictures. At this point I concentrated only on shapes and size, without going into the content of the pictures at all. On pages 5-7 the oval grows larger, then, on page 8, the oval changes to a vertical oval, with page 9 showing a smaller version. Finally, on pages 10-11, the oval expands to a double spread.
Figure 3. (Above) In this more developed storyboard for Dawn, it becomes clear how the design of the ovals works with the pictures and the telling of the story. On pages 5-7 we gradually see more of the landscape as the oval grows larger. On page 8 we move in close on the tree in the scene, while page 9 zooms in on the figures under the tree. Then, as the oval spreads across pages 10-11, we pull back and see the entire scene.
Figure 4. (Above) In this early storyboard for One Monday Morning the drawings are quite rough but readable. They are a means of visualizing the story. By focusing on the essential visual aspects and avoiding detail, I could see at a glance how the pictures worked together. Many elements were later changed.

Figure 5. Creating Visual Movement

Because the storyboard shows you all the pages together, it helps you to observe their overall visual pattern. You can plan the general progression of the double spreads and the visual movement of the book.

These six double spreads from The Twelve Dancing Princesses show the broad movement and design of the illustrations. In the story it is a mystery where the princesses go every night and why the soles of their shoes are worn out every morning. On pages 14-15 the text describes how the princesses jump out of bed every night and dress in their finest gowns. The design of this double spread guides the eye diagonally from the top left to the bottom right-hand corner. Page 16 picks up from that corner of page 15 and guides the eye up in an arc and then plunges it down again, while the text describes the descent of the princesses into a magical underground world.

Pages 18-19 and 20-21 constitute one sweep broken down into two double spreads, depicting the continuation of the underground journey. The shape at the edge of page 19 is a tree, divided in the middle--the other half appears on page 20, emphasizing the connection between the two spreads. At the end of their long walk, the princesses come to a lake, where twelve small boats are waiting for them. Pages 22-23 and 24-25 depict the progress of their boat ride, moving in a diagonal from the bottom left to the top right-hand corner. In these two spreads the direction of the action is away from the viewer, up and up, until the princesses reach their destination--a brilliantly lit castle (which is reflected in the water at the edge of page 25).

Figure 6. Checking the Rhythm

By seeing the book as a unified visual entity, you can also review and improve its rhythmic pattern. You may, for instance, decide to change the size and shape of the pictures, or the "visual beats" created by the main elements.

Simplifying the elements in my storyboard for One Monday Morning made me more aware of the rhythm, which was especially important since the story is based on a rhythmic song. On pages 12-13, the king is moving into the picture, but only half of him can be seen. Pages 14-15 show the other half of the king, followed by two other figures--the queen and the little prince. The transition between these two spreads suggests movement and the ground covered by the king and the two figures. If we think of the king on pages 12-13 as one visual "beat," then pages 14-15 have three beats, each represented by a figure. Placing the second and third figures (or beats) farther apart than the first and second creates not only a greater visual distance, but also a longer rhythmic pause between them.

Pages 16 and 17 show two contrasting pictures. On page 16 the figures are stationary, and from the words we learn that the hero of the story was not at home for the royal visit. On page 17, however, the movement of pages 14-15 continues. It is now Tuesday, and the king, the queen, and the little prince have returned. Page 18-19 reverse the direction of the movement and add a new figure, increasing the number of beats to four. The increasing number of visual beats reflect the additional days on which the characters come back to look for the hero. Thus, rhythm is an integral part of the action.

Seeing Similarities and Differences

Once the storyboard is done, you can readily see the similarities and differences between the most outstanding components of the pictures. Although this may seem similar to what we have discussed, it is slightly different. You can decide, for instance, if there is too much repetition between pictures, or not enough. The storyboard also permits you to recognize static and dynamic elements easily. You may ask, for example: What differences do you want? When does sameness help the story, and when is some variation needed?

"Without emotion art is lifeless, without intellect it is shapeless." --Charles Johnson

How to Make a Storyboard by Uri Shulevitz

Read Uri Shulevitz Biography and Book Credits on Wikipedia

See the full listing for Writing with Pictures, How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books at

This tutorial is from "Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books" published by Watson-Guptill Publications. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.

Artwork and Text Copyright 2013 Uri Shulevitz. All Rights Reserved.

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