Sunday, February 14, 2021

Illustrating Nonfiction Picture Books

By Soyeon Kim

Growing up, I don’t recall reading a lot of nonfiction picture books. Most of the books that I came across were photo-based with science facts. It was informative, but I feel it was very different compared to today’s nonfiction picture books. Nonfiction picture books today are more than just photos and facts. Some may have a character going through a journey to depict a migration, or some may be written poetically, encouraging readers to ask questions rather than providing answers. Inspired by manuscripts, texts are illustrated through photos, paintings, collage, sculptures and many more!
 

As a children’s picture book illustrator, I have illustrated five nonfiction picture books: You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, You Are Never Alone, A Last Goodbye, and Is This Panama? Today, I am going to discuss about the process of illustrating nonfiction picture books while focusing on these four books:

 



Written by Elin Kelsey, an award-winning author and a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment, I had an opportunity to work on these four nonfiction picture books. In each book, Elin writes about the wonders of nature using poetic and lyrical words. She connects with readers by presenting a big idea, where they can learn about themselves and how they are connected to nature and encouraged to ask further questions about a big idea.

When I receive a manuscript, the author and editors also share the research that was done. This research comes in many different forms such as articles, videos and photos. Looking back at my illustration process based on the four books, I remember doing thumbnail sketches before I delve into the research. This really helped me to be more creative and visualize the main message of the book in my own perspective. After the first thumbnail sketch, I go back to the manuscript, referencing each research to learn science behind the message. Sometimes more research is required, and I try my best to review with editors that I am looking at the reliable sources. When in doubt, it is always best to ask and confirm (especially when working on a nonfiction picture book)!

Once the thumbnails are done, I start on rough sketches. I like to work on rough sketches with lots of details. Since diorama art is a three-dimensional form, it helps editors and publishers to visualize what the final art would look like. It also gives an opportunity for them to ensure that I am representing correct references.

Here is an example of a rough sketch from You Are Never Alone:




I love working with diorama art as it opens up endless possibilities! First it starts with building a wooden frame in the woodshop. I stretch fabric on top and bottom, so that I can hang cutouts. I mainly work with pen and ink, and watercolor. I use Japanese papers for different textures or even dried flowers or leaves. When all of the pieces are cut and ready, I assemble them in a diorama using fishing wire and glue.

Here is a photo of what a finished diorama looks like:
 

Whether you are working with drawing, painting or sculpting, there are so many ways to interpret a nonfiction picture book. No matter what mediums you use, you can create an illustration full of wonders and curiosity. Yes, it is important that you are illustrating and cross referencing to correct resources, but this should not limit your creativity. Build on your research and be inspired by what you have discovered to create your world.

 




ABOUT THE ACTIVITY

If you are looking to try illustrating a nonfiction picture book, I would encourage you to watch a documentary. A documentary is a great way to start, since it already has a main message and supporting facts. Inspired by a documentary, I am curious about what and how you will illustrate!

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Soyeon Kim is a Korean-born artist and educator currently living in Burlington, Ontario. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts and Bachelor of Education from York University. She has participated in artist residencies at The Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia) and Spark Box Studios (Picton, Ontario).

As a children’s picture book illustrator, she has published: You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, Is This Panama? Sukaq and the Raven, You Are Never Alone, A Last Goodbye, and Once Upon an Hour. She has participated in TD Book Week 2018, visiting schools and libraries in Northern British Columbia. In 2017, she was invited to the Adelaide Writers’ Week (Australia) for the Kids’ Weekend, where she collaborated with kids and families to create a collaborative mural based on You Are Stardust. She is also a recipient of Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award.

 

Website: www.kimsoyeonart.com

Instagram: @soyeonis

Twitter: @artbysoyeon

 


70 comments:

  1. Making a diorama looks like a fun way of illustrating. Thank you for sharing your beautiful process.

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  2. I love this series and your art is amazing, Soyeon!

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  3. I enjoyed this insight into your work. Your comment about not letting your creativity be limited to cross-referencing to correct resources speaks loudly to me as a writer as well. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. I remember making dioramas in school and enjoyed the tangible, 3d feel. Thanks for the insights into your creative process.

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  5. You art is incredible, Soyeon! Thanks for sharing the background of your process. I love watching documentaries as a writer, I think they are a good reminder to share sensory details.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your insight! Your illustrations are beautiful. I love your advice to be inspired by what you discover in your research.

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  7. Thank you for this beautiful lesson. I never expect to hop skip and jump from research to thumnail sketches to that magnificent diorama! Wow and wow!!!

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  8. Wow. That diorama was amazing! I am not an illustrator, but the work that illustrators such as you provide is soo important and often magical. Thank you for sharing your insight!

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  9. What I love about your dioramas is that even on the page they feel three dimensional - like I could walk into the illustration.

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  10. I have read "Wild Ideas" before and love the artwork, but I had no idea they were dioramas! You're work is beautiful!

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  11. Oh how I admire your talents! I really wish I COULD illustrate my own books. I actually really like your advice to watch a documentary if your thinking about illustrating a nonfiction book; it would enable you to see the full picture. Thank you for sharing!

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  12. Wow! I never realized that a diorama could be so gorgeous! I look forward to checking these books out!

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  13. Thanks for sharing this perspective! As a decidedly non-visual thinker, I love getting to learn more about the illustration process!

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  14. Thank you fir sharing your steps about illustrations process.

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  15. Your dioramas are so lovely really they draw you into the book! Congratulations on your books! I look forward to sharing them with the Pre-k's and my grands. I am an author/illustrator, and I see in pictures, and I am in the process of submitting 2 of my narrative nf illustrated dummies into the submission process. Thank you, Soyeon Kim your work is inspirational!

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  16. Thank you, Soyeon, for this inspirational, informative description of your artistic process. Your work is fabulous!

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  17. Wow, Soyeon, your work is so amazing and painstaking. I would never have the patience. Thanks for sharing how you do your art. As a writer/non-illustrator, seeing how much time you spend making the "picture" part of the book is illuminating!

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  18. Thank you for a look into your process, Soyeon. I love your diorama art!

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  19. Your artworks are beautiful! I don't have any talent for illustrating so I appreciate those who have the skills to design and produce engaging visuals. Thank you for sharing your creative process!

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  20. Beautiful artwork. I've never seen a diorama as part of an illustration process. So interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. Thank you for sharing your process, Soyeon. Your art is beautiful!

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  22. I enjoyed learning about your process.

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  23. Thank you! I've been interested in learning collage art and will look for a documentary on one.

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  24. Thank you so much for sharing your process.

    I find it fascinating for your diorama you utilize fishing wire and glue. I'm curious how the fishing wire is used, so I'm off to find a documentary about it!

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  25. Thank you, Soyeon, for your inspiration and encouragement. I LOVE your idea of 'building' illustrations using dioramas. What do you do with them when you have completed a book? I'm guessing you save some pieces for future projects?

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  26. Thank you, Soyeon, for your inspiration and encouragement. I LOVE your idea of 'building' illustrations using dioramas. What do you do with them when you have completed a book? I'm guessing you save some pieces for future projects?

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  27. Your diorama is extraordinary, thanks for sharing!

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  28. Thank you. Your work is beautiful. Unfortunately I am confined to stick drawings.

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  29. Thank you, Soyeon. As a 'strictly words gal' I enjoy learning about illustrators processes.

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  30. Thank you for sharing, Soyeon. Your artwork stands out, with numerous layers and different textures.

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  31. Thank you for sharing your wonderful art!

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  32. Your diorama process is very interesting.

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  33. Thank you, Soyeon, for sharing your process. Your artwork is beautiful! I plan to utilize my art skills and someday illustrate my own stories. Definitely will check out some documentaries.

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  34. Thank you, Soyeon, for sharing your process. Your artwork is beautiful! I plan to utilize my art skills and someday illustrate my own stories. Definitely will check out some documentaries.

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  35. I'm not an illustrator, but I'm fascinated by your glorious dioramas! They really lend themselves to picture book artwork, but are so rarely used.

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  36. Fascinating, and I loved the diorama! Thanks for sharing.

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  37. Thank you, Soyeon, for sharing your process when illustrating picture books. Your dioramas are creative and gorgeous.

    Suzy Leopold

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  38. Thank you! The diorama was unique and wonderful!

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  39. Each book cover draws me in. Eye-catching art.

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  40. I love how you do dioramas to create your story art! Thank you for allowing us a peak into how you illustrate!

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  41. It's fascinating to get at glimpse of creating a nonfiction picture book from the artists perspective. Thank you for sharing!

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  42. I write biographies for MG/YA. I appreciate the time and effort you take to review research materials provided by the author for your illustrations. Your work is beautiful!

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  43. I love your method. It's unique and beautiful.

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  44. I love seeing illustrations in progress and then the finished product. Thank you for sharing your process.

    Great post!

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  45. Your work is STUNNing, Soyeon!

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  46. Lovely art! Nice to hear this perspective...

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  47. As someone who has her sights set on illustration too, this was a great encouragement. Thanks!

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  48. Wow, your work is gorgeous! I'm glad you work so hard to get the details right! Thanks for the peek into your process.

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  49. A great reminder that as a writer my research needs to be meticulous and organized for the illustrator's reference too!

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  50. I am excited to learn about your work! Thanks for sharing! Lynn Street

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  51. Your artwork is beautiful! Thank you for sharing about your process and the multi-faceted and layered approach that you take - such a unique approach to illustrating.

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  52. Dioramas are fun and fascinating. I also didn't realize your art was done in this fashion. THank you for sharing your process and how writers can help illustrators.

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  53. Interesting how text and illustration combine to form a great book. You've had amazing experiences and done incredible work. Thanks.

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  54. I loved seeing your artistic process - especially your diorama. Thank you!

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  55. Such wonderful diorama art! Sounds like illustrating NF is a ton of fun.

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  56. Such beautiful artwork! I've often had students create dioramas for class assignments, but I never thought of illustrators using them as a tool for creating book art. While I'm not an illustrator myself, I appreciate knowing your process and the thinking behind each piece of work.

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  57. Soyeon,
    I love You are Not Alone. Learning how you create your diorama was illuminating for me. I would love to have you illustrate one fo my manuscripts.

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  58. Your work is amazing! Thank you for sharing your process.

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  59. I used to love creating dioramas in elementary school and never thought about doing that to help me with nonfiction scenes. I also love watching documentaries for ideas, so thank you for the activity! Your art is magnificent!

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  60. As I realize now, in my senior years, my lifelong fascination with butterflies (found that my Mom also had quite an interest in butterflies), I wouldn't mind the challenge of compiling a small picture book, with my own illustrations
    (if they're good!), exploring my childhood through adulthood infatuation with butterflies! Thanks for the post!

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  61. It is the amazing art, like yours, that attracts me to picture books. Thank you.

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  62. Wow--your art is amazing--and such a labor of love! Each page is it's own little treasure. I'm wondering how long each diorama takes to create and what you do with each diorama after the book is completed? You have giving children's literature an incredible gift with your art! Thank you.

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  63. I loved seeing what goes into the work from an illustrators perspective! Your work is lovely and I look forward to checking them all out!

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  64. WOW!After watching your video, went to your website and saw the window displays. OMG. Fabulous and inspiring!

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  65. You are so incredibly talented! I love your work! Thank you for this post.

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  66. As a non-illustrator, it's always fascinating to me to learn about an illustrator's process. Thanks for sharing, Soyeon!

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  67. Soyeon, I am truly amazed with the magic that illustrations bring to stories!

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