Creating a graphic novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art

My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.

1. Writing/thumbnailing

I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I’m very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I’m happy with the story.


2. Penciling

Once I have the thumbnailed pages – these are usually drawn very small at 1.25″ x 2.5″ – I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.

The following is a step by step process for two pages…

Hand drawn thumbnails:


Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:


Inks in Manga Studio:


Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:


Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:


And that’s basically my process.

Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:


And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:


Concept artwork:


I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look into my process.





About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Add Photo Adjustment Layer in Photoshop

In this video I give you a quick tip about adding a photo adjustment layer to my illustration, when I’m just about done with my image.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Adventures in Self Promotion

For freelance illustrators, self promotion is a necessary part of the business. Potential clients need to know about you and see your work if you want to get hired. For illustrators with agents it can work a little differently, but if you are  going it alone, a good consistent self promotion plan is key to growing your business.

Self promotion for illustrators is well covered topic, but I thought I would share my experiences in in the hope that some of my strategies will inspire you in your self promotion efforts. A bit of background so you know where I’m coming from: I’ve worked on and off in freelance illustration for about 10 years, but didn’t take it seriously as a career until 2011. That was when I started actively promoting myself and seeking out new clients and opportunities. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but here are some of the things I’ve tried, and my thoughts on their effectiveness.


Postcards are commonly seen as one of the better ways for illustrators to promote themselves. With so many online printers to choose from, getting postcards printed is fairly cheap and easy. Mailing them can be a little pricey, especially if you are sending out large quantities, so I am continually honing my mailing list to keep it just under 300 contacts – consisting mainly of art directors and editors. If there is more than one art director at a publisher, I’ll send it to as many as I can, and also to editors at the same publisher if possible.

Some of the things I’ve done to help my postcards stand out:

  • I have them printed at a larger size (5 x 7″). The increase in printing cost is minimal, and mailing the larger size costs exactly the same (from within Canada  – which is where I am based).
  • I always get them with rounded corners. I like the look, and this keeps them consistent with the design of my business cards too.
  • I use full color, full bleed art on both sides. I figure this doubles my chances that an art director will take a liking to at least one of the images. It also allows the opportunity to use two related images, creating a bit of a story from the front to the back. On the back I leave a less busy area of the art for the stamp, and just affix the mailing label right over the art. I’ve checked with the post office, and I’ve confirmed that this does not affect the mailing of the postcards. Sometimes a bar code is stamped on the back at the bottom, but I’ve been informed that there is no issue if the art is underneath the bar code. So far I’ve had no issues when mailing them this way.
  • I’ve also done variations where I list some of my previous books on the back alongside the artwork

ABOVE: Front and back images from some of my postcards

Seasonal Mailers

I send out a seasonal card each year to my clients and a small targeted list of art directors I would like to work for. Instead of a standard size card, my strategy has been to make an (11 x 17″) poster with a bit of a narrative to it.

My strategy for the posters is:

  • They contain a narrative that is hopefully engaging, so the recipient will at least read it
  • The poster shows the same character throughout (showing my ability to illustrate a character consistently in various scenes)
  • My aim is to make the piece something more than just a nice picture – something that’s hopefully fun and memorable enough that the art director will want to pin it up on their wall. If my poster is pinned up or saved, I consider that a successful mailer!
  • I also dress up the envelope – using my branded logo on the return address labels, incorporating some of the artwork from the poster, and adding a personal handwritten message. Little touches like this will hopefully make my envelope stand out from the slush pile


I received quite a good response from my last seasonal poster mailing, and this lead me to rethink my mailing strategy going forward. I’ve been sending out postcards 3 times a year for 3 years now, and I’ve had a better response from my one small poster mailing than almost all my postcard mailings put together.


ABOVE: My last seasonal mailer package. I included a red construction paper pocket that the posters were folded and inserted into for extra protection and for a bit of an exciting reveal

Larger Format Samples (ie: Posters!)

The response I got from sending a more comprehensive package to a smaller group of contacts was much better than my postcard mail outs. So this year I’ve decided to stop sending postcards temporarily to try out a different strategy:

  • I included a couple of posters and a few tearsheets. This was sent to a small, targeted list of 20-30 art directors/publishers I want to work with, or I feel best suit my art style.
  • The first poster was from a series I had been posting on social media collecting some of my Kids characters – my aim here was to highlight my character designs and facial expressions
  • The second poster reproduces a picture book in it’s entirety on the poster- the aim here was to show my character consistency, pacing and composition skills across an entire book, and hopefully increase the likelihood that the poster will be read – since who can resist reading a picture book?!


I also dressed up the envelope and in these packages I included a letter and my business card paper clipped to the letter


ABOVE: A promotional mailer that includes tearsheets as well as 2 11 x 17″ posters

Thank You Cards

Maintaining a good relationship with your existing clients is just as important as trying to gain new clients. You’ve worked hard to get your existing clients, so you want to do everything you can to nurture that relationship and keep them thinking of you when they have a new project.

One of the little things I like to do is to send a handwritten thank you note after a project is completed. It’s quick and easy to do, but a little personal gesture like this can mean a lot. I regularly have little 4 x 9″ cards printed with some of my artwork on them, and a space to write a small note. I then just pop them into a regular business sized envelope.


ABOVE: Sample of a “thank you” card I send to clients once an illustration project is wrapped up

This wraps up the short summary of my promotional strategies over the last few years. The key is to keep sending samples out on a regular schedule, and always be open to trying new and creative ways to get your work out there!

About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Collaboration: Stretch Your Creative Muscles

What is collaboration? It’s a process where two or more individuals work together to achieve shared goals. Collaboration can take many forms, but for this post I’m mainly referring to an artist/writer or artist/artist partnership. Since the internet came along, collaboration has become more popular and a lot easier. With the barriers of geographical location removed, there are many more opportunities to find a partner you work well with.

I’ve made a point of collaborating on various projects for quite a few years and I’ve found that it has many benefits. I’ve worked on projects I would not have otherwise, and I feel it has helped me to grow professionally and creatively.

Finding the Right Partner

Finding the right partner to collaborate with is key. Ideally, you want to find someone you work well with, where each partner can focus on their respective strengths to create something unique, something different than either of you could have created alone. For a partnership to work well, both collaborators need to treat the relationship with respect and professionalism.

Here are a few of the key benefits I found in my experience with collaboration:


Working on personal projects is fun and exciting. But there can be times where you struggle with maintaining momentum. When working in collaboration there is another person invested in the process and outcome, and this can be a real boost to your motivation and energy level throughout a project. When someone else is counting on you to deliver your part of the work, it can really help you buckle down and just get it done.

A Creative Challenge

Working with a partner can help you break out of your comfort zone and grow as an artist. Your collaborator will have their own way of thinking, and you can be exposed to new ideas, subject matter, and points of view. All of this can lead to solutions you may not have considered otherwise, and often it can help you break through barriers in your own work.

Develop Relationship Skills

If you treat the collaborative partnership in a professional manner, you can benefit from gaining experience in a number of areas that will serve you well in your career. You’ll develop your communication skills, a sense of accountability for your work, the art of compromise, more patience, and a level of professional trust. All of these skills are very valuable when you are working with clients.

Build up a Body of Work

If you are sharing the workload with another person and each working in your areas of strength, you’ll have the opportunity to complete projects more efficiently than if you were working alone. And, if you are an illustrator working with a writer, perhaps you’ll be able to complete projects you may never have completed alone – especially if you do not write yourself.

Expand Your Network

While you’re collaborating you’re also building a professional relationship with another person. Good working relationships are very valuable, and building them over time through collaboration is a good way to expand your network. You never know where opportunity will arise in the future from those relationships that you have developed.

Cross Promotion

When you are working with a partner, you add their network to your own when it’s time to promote your projects. A bigger network means more exposure, and more exposure is always a good thing.

Is Collaboration Right for You?

Even if you prefer to work alone, it’s worth exploring the possibility of collaboration. It can open up a whole new set of opportunities for professional and artistic growth, as well as develop your skills in other areas.

If any of you reading this post have had any experiences with collaboration, we’d love to hear what you may have learned, or any tips you’d like to share.

13 Rules For Making Comics

by Kevin Cross

1. Write. Then rewrite. Then rewrite again. Etcetera…

After you’ve figured out who your main character is and what genre your story will fall in to, write a rough outline. Don’t worry about how it looks or if there are tons of misspellings. The outline is for you to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks while figuring out  the beginning, middle, and end of your story. When you are satisfied with your rough outline, write another more detailed outline. Then write the first draft of your script. Put it away for a few days. I guarantee that you’ll find flaws with your first draft after you come back to it with fresh eyes, so write a second draft. Once the second draft is finished, if possible, show it to someone whose opinion you trust. Show it to someone who can be honest with you. Don’t get butt hurt and remember to say thank you! If you can’t show it to anyone… you guessed it… put it away for a few days. In my experience, no script is ready to go until at least the third draft is written, so get cracking on your next draft. Put it away again, but let it sit for a month or two while you work on something else. Use this time to nail down your character designs or design the environments your story takes place in, for example. After some time has elapsed, pull out that third draft. See if the story feels finished. You may want to show it to someone again or maybe you find more flaws or have ideas to make it better. You might need to do more drafts or less if you are a brilliant genius. Make sure that you know exactly what the story is, in and out, before you draw one line. It’ll save you headaches in the long run.

2.  Read!

Read stories without pictures. Don’t just read comics in your genre, and for goodness sake, don’t just read comics. Doing so can make your comic come off as derivative. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read those comics at all. They can help you learn the language of comic storytelling, but please, vary your diet to see what works and what doesn’t work from storytellers that have come before you. Study that sh*t! I know its cliche, but reading does make you a better writer.

3.  Keep It Simple Stupid!

Comics are about communication. Get rid of superfluous details! They can be distracting and take you out of the story. Simplify and go for clarity in your storytelling.

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