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Illustrating A Book: How Client & Artist Work Together

February 14, 2019

I just read a great Steve Jobs quote. It comes by way of Ian Leslie from his book, Curious:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

“… (Some people think) that a really great idea is 90% of the work… (and if you just tell it to other people), they can go off and make it happen…

the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product…

Designing a product is keeping 5000 things in your brain and fitting them all together…”

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highThe above quote highlights the importance of collaboration, back-and-forth, and revising and fine-tuning ideas.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It also sums up why you should avoid content mills like Fiverr (Get a logo for $5!!) and hire professional designers, illustrators, writers, et. al., for creative work.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Because collaboration, shared goals, and a commitment to craftsmanship are what’s required for an end result that works.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

What do collaboration and craftsmanship look like? Here’s a good example:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I recently illustrated Copyediting With An Attitude by copywriter and USC marketing professor Freddy Nager.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Freddy loves cats, and wanted a cat character for the illustrations (“You can’t have a book on attitude without them.”). Specifically, he requested “a cat wearing sunglasses holding a large pencil.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I began by reading the book (Freddy sent me the manuscript). Then I let my mind roam free and made some thumbnail sketches.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

rough thumbnail sketches cat illustrations different poses with pencil for copyediting book by Freddy Nager

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highI did more thumbnails, and tried to incorporate some of the book’s key points.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Things started to get more fluid at this point. The cat’s not necessarily holding the pencil.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

rough thumbnail sketches cat illustrations different poses with pencil for copyediting book by Freddy Nager

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highI needed to define the cat character more clearly. I came up with 9 concepts. Freddy liked #4.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

9 cat face sketches roughs for book illustrations Freddy Nager Copyediting with attitude

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highIt was time to send Freddy some rough sketches.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The book contained an Introduction and 4 “acts” or chapters.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

One of the tips that jumped out for me in the Intro was: “Proofread, edit, then wait at least 24 hours to proofread once more.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

So my first rough sketch was based on that idea: cat with a hourglass on his head, holding the kind of sign used by a flagman.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Freddy liked it, but asked to see an idea for a different tip: the wisdom of proofreading your copy out loud.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That second sketch is on the right below; that’s the concept we used for the final illustration.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

compare cat illustrations for copyediting book Freddy Nager wait 24 hours proofread out loud flagman microphone loudspeaker

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highThe second act or chapter talked about creating a “brand bible”: specifying naming conventions, including acceptable abbreviations and acronyms for your brand; guidelines for using slang; whether it’s ever acceptable to mention competitors, etc.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

My first rough for Act 2 referenced the brand bible concept.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Act 2 also talked about the importance of consistency: formatting all items in a list the same way; sticking with the same tense (past, present, future); the same voice (first, second, third), etc.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Freddy asked to see a rough for “evaluating consistency” (below, right); that’s the concept we used for the Act 2 illustration.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

compare cat illustrations for copyediting book Freddy Nager brand bible minister altar candle street corner voice tense evaluate for consistency

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highI did a total of 5 illustrations. One of them (below) highlights the importance of using active verbs to energize your copy. It was also used for the cover.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

cat playing pencil guitar illustration we rock active voice cover for copyeding book Freddy Nager

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highThe above sketches and revisions are a “nutshell summary” of client-artist collaboration. They also show how I work.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

An illustrator (or a designer or a writer, or any outside contractor) should be an invested partner. A collaborator who shares the client’s goals (in this case, producing a book that stands out, attracts readers, and racks up sales).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

A client can proceed with confidence when he knows the artist will do all he can to achieve that shared goal.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I “invested” here by reading the book, identifying key points, creating an appealing cartoon character, submitting ideas in sketch form, and then revising those ideas based on client feedback.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Since its publication, I’ve also been promoting the book (at no extra charge) by posting about it on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I also created a promotional graphic (below).blank vertical space, 24 pixels highpromotional graphic for USC marketing professor copywriter Freddy Nager book Copyediting With An Attitude cats illustrated by Mark Armstrong

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highI had a great time working with Freddy. He’s written an excellent guide. Not just for copywriters and editors and creative directors, but for journalists, bloggers, students,
and anyone who wants to become a better writer.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can order it here.
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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Freddy J. Nager creative strategist USC professor marketing communication

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2019 2:40 PM

    Mark, thanks for being such an amazing collaborator. I also want to thank you for continuing to support this project! — Freddy Tran Nager

    Like

    • February 15, 2019 8:14 AM

      It was a pleasure from start to finish, Freddy, and I shall continue to promote the book. It’s excellent, and I’m very proud to be associated with it. Cheers! 😊

      Like

  2. February 14, 2019 2:59 PM

    It is always fascinating to have this insight into how you refine a creative spark into the finished artistic product. The cat character is great and I liked the repetition of the pencil motif. I am so impressed with your brain for conjuring up images that so perfectly convey such (to me at least) book bound or abstract concepts.

    Like

    • February 15, 2019 8:23 AM

      What a lovely comment– thanks, Laura! Interesting point about repetition. I guess the fancy term would be “recurring motif”– like a guitar riff that runs thru a song, or Mr. Spock raising that one eyebrow in the old Star Trek tv series. We know it’s coming, and we look forward to it. Yes, I’m impressed with my brain, too. I have it here in a jar, close at hand. I never know when I might need it… 😂 Thanks as always for your kind support!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. February 16, 2019 11:47 PM

    I liked cat #4 the best too.

    Like

  4. February 17, 2019 8:30 AM

    Your mind and heart are magical things…they engender joy and uplift…I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your process and seeing the fruits of your creative juices 🙂 Thanks for sharing! As ever, your fan, Truly 🙂

    Like

    • February 18, 2019 12:35 PM

      Yow!! I read this incredible comment, and I had to go hide in the closet– I was blushing so hotly I was afraid I might set off the smoke detector!! My dear Truly!! Thank you for visiting my food processing blog, where fruits get made from juices– most unusual!! I appreciate your lovely comment, and I appreciate you– thank you!! 😳😳😳😊

      Like

  5. February 20, 2019 1:39 PM

    Ooo…this is EVERYTHING! And cats! Seriously, you’ve shared what’s probably equal to a grad course, but this is enjoyable, entertaining, & accessible. It’s easy to apply to other things, too, which is super cool. AND CATS! Thank you for posting it! 😁

    Like

    • February 21, 2019 10:44 AM

      This wunnaful comment is the cat’s pajamas, a slang expression coined– most fittingly!– by a cartoonist!! It also tickled my whiskers, and made me purr contentedly!! Thanks, RK. As we say down at the Furball Club: you are the cream of the crop!! 🍼😸

      Liked by 1 person

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