Masterclass B: Picture Book Illustration 101: Bringing My Dead Bunny Alive

Learning how to bring illustrations alive and their impact on the visual narrative is key to successful picture book illustration. James Foley used his CBCA shortlisted book My Dead Bunny as an example of picture book illustration in this captivating master class.

James talked about how character design, choice of media, colour, line, typography, image boundaries and composition all affect the visual narrative, and how you can control these variables in your own work.


  • All books begin with research.

  • Use reference photos to help develop characters, setting and colours.

Character design:

  • Sketch and re-sketch the character in many different ways.

  • Try a variety of styles: realistic, cartoon etc.

  • What size and shape will their body have? tall, short, solid, circles, triangles, squares

  • What type of body language or mannerisms wills they how?

  • What colour scheme, patterns, line work style will be used for the illustrations?

  • Develop Character Reference Sheets showing the character from the front view, three quarter view and profile.

  • Develop Cast Sheets to see all the characters next to each other.

  • Check to see if the characters are identifiable from one another. As a silhouette you should be able to tell who each character is from their outline.

Planning - storyboards, dummy books:

James shared a few of his storyboards and dummy books. He described this step like jigsaw pieces coming together to make a complete picture.

Storyboards and dummy books show:

  • Pacing and page turns.

  • Illustrations with the text placed on the page.

  • That the important information is not in the gutter or bleed area.

  • How the extra story layers work with the main story.

  • That eye movement pathways from left to right for both the text and images.

Media Testing:

James used a range of images from books to highlight how media choice creates the tone of the story. Media may include but is not limited to; watercolour, acrylic, pencil, pastels, paper collage, digital, mud and food.

Take a look at some of the books James showed the masterclass and the media they were created with:

Final Artwork

The last step of creating a picture book is creating the final artwork. The typography has been chosen and the visual narrative is cohesive. All the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are in the right spot.

Now it is your turn to create using this illustration process. Participants had a short amount of time to develop characters using the process and the story Ugly Fish written by Kara LaReau.

Happy Illustrating!

Leanne Barrett


Extras - Video Links:

Ann James Painting with Mud is my Medium

Quentin Blake How to Draw Willy Wonka

Bruce Whatley Drawing Your Characters with Bruce Whatley

Gus Gordon Meet Gus Gordon, Story Box Library

Eric Carle Eric Carle on the illustration of the Brown Bear Series

What is an Art Director Really Looking For? with Sarah Davis

Art Director of Walker Books, Sarah Davis, shared her wisdom in a very captivating way. Not only an amazing artist but a true storyteller (check out Sarah’s amazing art, here.) Sarah shared the key things an Art Director is looking for in a meaningful way, particularly for those of us who are still not sure of the difference between an illustrator and an artist. The answer?

Art Director Sarah Davis’ break out session for illustrators

Art Director Sarah Davis’ break out session for illustrators

What is an Art Director looking for?

Illustrators who are talented, professional and have the x-factor.

Sarah’s 7 key topics:


  • Become confident in your use of technique and mediums.

  • You need to be able to draw - observational, expressive

  • Understand the formal elements of art - light, tone, form, structure, mark-making etc.

  • Remember a beautiful artwork is not the same as a successful illustration.

  • Ask, how can I develop my Technical skills?

  • Lots of learning and doing

  • Lots of observational drawing

  • Take classes

  • Experiment with different media

  • Research other artists work. What works? What do you like? What don’t you like?


  • Can you help the reader connect and empathise with the characters?

  • Can you show mood or emotion?

  • Do your poses show expression?

  • Show interaction between characters - establishing clear relationships

  • Interesting personalities

  • Character consistency

  • How can I become better at creating a feeling towards the characters?

  • Lots of practice.

  • Observe and collect - draw lots of people in your life and around you

  • Learn from yourself - pose!

  • Be prepared to draw and redraw and redraw until you know your characters - once is not enough


  • Remember you must tell a good story, that has clarity and continuity

  • Can you create emotional punch?

  • Can you make the reader curious - What just happened? What might happen next? What’s at stake?


  • Make sure your work is appropriate for the genre, age group and publisher you are submitting to

  • Look at your competition. What makes you special/different/better?

  • Visit libraries, bookshops, publisher’s websites. Take note of the publisher on the imprint pages of books you love. Who is a good fit for your style?

  • Look at other artists on the internet eg: Behance, Pinterest, Instagram and look at the hashtags that they use. Try #australianillustrator and many others


  • Does your work have an energy, ideas, freshness?

  • Do you have an interesting use of media?

  • Maybe you show unusual concepts?

  • Is it expressive?

  • How can I create my own interesting voice?

  • Sometimes finding your voice can be tricky. Before we become lost in how to make art, focus on storytelling first - can you tell a good visual story?

  • Then work out what your other passion is and improve your skills in that area… eg:

  • Line and form?

  • Light?

  • Colour?

  • Pattern?

  • Media?

  • Character?

  • Setting?


  • Same as any other profession.

  • Can you deliver on time and to specifications?

  • Can you follow a brief?

  • Be professional and collaborative. Open and dependable and flexible.


  • Only show your strongest work

  • Does it show the above 6 topics? Does it show the depth of your capabilty?


There is no cookie cutter answer - we’ll know it when we see it!

Watch the above video for the main takeaway moments of this session.

I really appreciated Sarah’s insightful break down into topics that we could focus on. I also really appreciated the encouragement Sarah gave to us all - one of them being this wonderful statement ….


I love this. It elevates us from just making pictures. It lifts our gaze. It calls us to focus on story.

And the other statement…

…there is room for everyone.

This is so true. Just look at all the different art styles that shine in loved books all over the world.

As a fellow visual storyteller, growing, learning, trying to improve… I hope this report helps you grow and I wish you all the best!

Make the art that moves you

then make the visual stories

that move us all.

by Giuseppe Poli