This is the end …

I’m going to use my latest book, Mr. Wuffles! to go through the process of creating a single page of a picture book – concept to finished art.

The page I chose is page thirty-two. That is the final page of a standard picture book (It would be page forty or forty-eight in a longer book). From a story standpoint, the last page in a picture book brings with it a lot of baggage. It can be the end of the story or it can be an extra surprise – one last “kicker” of an image to close the book. It can be a visual summation of the emotional essence of the story. That last turn of the page is critical to bringing the book to a satisfying conclusion – it shouldn’t just peter out.

Here is the end of one the first picture books ever made, by the guy who invented picture books, Randolph Caldecott. It is from his version of Hey Diddle Diddle:


It is in his books that the modern picture book is born. He took short texts and spread the pictures across all the pages, opening up books visually in a way that hadn’t been done before.

In Hey Diddle Diddle, he takes a nonsense rhyme and, in pictures, creates a storyline that does not appear in the text. The rhyme ends with, “And the dish ran away with the spoon”. Here is what Caldecott does with the end of his story:

HeyDD 6

On the left page is a full color, full-page image of the dish and spoon running away. On the right page is the line of text and a drawing showing the dish and spoon sitting happily together – a continuation of the story through pictures.

But, there is more. When you turn the page there is one final image – and no text -on one last page:

HeyDD 7

The knife and fork – apparently the spoon’s parents – have come to take her away, leaving the dish broken on the floor. So much- rather sad – story contained in this image. It leaves the reader a little shocked.

Again, none of that is in the text. This is a radically new kind of storytelling.

I always think long and hard about my page thirty-twos. In my book Sector 7, after a long adventure wherein the main character befriends a cloud, I finished with an image of the two of them asleep:

S7 p48

It was a visually captivating way to show the friendship that had been formed between the two characters. The story ends on the previous page and this last page (Page forty-eight, actually) adds an emotional conclusion.

In Flotsam, I use the final page (Page forty) to end the story. Here are pages thirty-eight and thirty-nine:

Flots p38-39

We follow the camera across the oceans – and many panels – until it reaches an island. On the next, and last, page a single large image shows the camera being discovered by another child, which starts a new cycle of discovery:

Flots p40

Tuesday allowed me to end with a funny visual surprise. It is set up on pages thirty and thirty-one with the line “Next Tuesday, 7:58 P.M.” and the image of a shadow on the side of a barn:

Tu 30-31

Page thirty-two then has the revelation of what happens the next week – big, round pigs floating up above the trees:

Tu 32

And now to Mr. Wuffles! The book is about a cat who discovers that tiny aliens have landed in his house. The tormented aliens find allies in the bugs that live behind the wall of the house. With the help of the bugs the aliens finally escape the cat and return to space.

(You can see more about this book here and here)

Upon entering the bug realm, the aliens see that the bugs have created murals of their battles with the cat:

p16-17 hi

The murals are obviously intended to evoke the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux, France. I looked at many of these to get the feel of them for my bug murals:


At the end of the book, the bugs have helped the aliens thwart the cat and escape. Mr. Wuffles is not happy and, knowing the bugs are still there, sits in front of the radiator – tail swishing back and forth – waiting for a chance to get them:

p 31 art

I knew I wanted page thirty-two to be a look at the lasting effect that the alien visit has had on all concerned. From a story point of view there seemed to be two options: a scene behind the wall and a scene on the alien’s home planet.

I liked the idea of seeing the aliens at home with some representation of their visit – their own mural, perhaps. I also envisioned one of the bugs traveling with them.

I used this idea in very early versions of the story when the plot was different. Here are two rough sketches of page thirty-two from two of those attempts:


Yes, at the bottom of the right hand drawing is a note that says, “Aliens home planet – set up cookie business?”

I’ll leave that to your imagination.

One solution for the new version was to have two panels on the last page – one showing the alien world and one showing the bugs behind the wall. But, I like having a full-page picture for that last image. Also, two smaller panels wouldn’t allow enough room for all the detail that would bring those scenes to life.

Ultimately, it felt right that the scene should stay in the house where all the action has taken place. It made more visual sense as well. The cat sits in front of the radiator on page thirty-one and the turn of the page shows the reader what is on the other side of the wall.

Here is the first version I made, in my pencil dummy:

p32 1

I began working on a composition like this, below left. But, as I was drawing, I saw another possible story addition. Below right is my first scribble showing the bugs displaying the artifacts that the aliens left behind to other bug inhabitants:

sketches 1

I sketched out a couple variations on this idea:

sketches 2

Some sketches of bug poses:

bugs sketches 1

I then drew a more defined version of this idea, below left. The one on the right adds an alien robe to the bug in the middle. The foreground bugs in silhouette, the three central bugs and the wall drawings are three separate pieces of tracing paper on top of each other:

sketches 3

I liked this from a story perspective as well as compositionally. But, I really felt that the scene should stay with just the bugs who have actually been a part of the experience. It’s their story.

I went back to my original composition and began to refine it. A rough:

32 1

A couple more realized versions:

32 final 1

I liked the ant on the matchstick ladder and the ant in the alien robe holding the light. The alien backpacks were good. The discs against the wall are the broken parts from the spaceship.

The problem with these is one of scale.

First, the scale of the space is wrong. Those bugs are tiny – we simply wouldn’t see that much of the wall to the left and the back wall would be very far away. The way I’ve drawn it, that space would be unbelievably narrow.

Second, the ant and the ladybug on the left are too small compared to the other two ants. As they are in the foreground, they need to be larger. The drawing on the right, above, gets the foreground ant at a better scale, but the ladybug is still too small. And the space is still not right. And the flag can’t be hanging – it makes the composition too busy.

The final drawing:
final dr 3lo

Here the scale of the ladybug is good. I’ve given the flag to the ant to hold. I’ve simplified the space – just two-by-fours in the distance. No wall on the left anymore.

I’m happy with this. Now I need to add the mural to the wall. The mural in the double page spread earlier in the post was shown flat – not in perspective. This wall is in perspective, so the mural will be, too.

I drew the elements I wanted on a piece of paper and then attached it to a piece of foam core. Using my camera, I took some shots at various angles until I had one that approximated the angle of my wall:
wall 4web

Using that as reference, I added the mural. This is two pieces of trace:

32 4

Next is to determine the light. Light is everything.

The light source is the alien “flashlight” thing. Here is my tone drawing, alone and combined with the line overlay:

32 tone1

And all three layers combined – the light study, the mural drawing, and the bugs drawing:

32 5

Everything up to this point is factoring narrative into it – how does what I’m putting into the picture impact the story?

Now it’s time to paint. Painting is about painting – how well I can realize the image.

Here is the finished painting of page thirty-two of Mr. Wuffles! :

p 32 art

After the grand adventure of the story, this page shows the bugs creating a new mural – one that depicts the meeting of their new friends, some of the alien language, and the defeat of Mr. Wuffles. This tale will become an enduring legend among the inhabitants behind the wall.

So, there you have one page from a book.

Only thirty-one more to go.

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