Tag Archives: Tammi Sauer

Studying Art Notes

3 Mar


If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.


Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.


As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.


Nugget and Fang

23 Jul


Nugget and Fang written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Michael Slack (2013)

Fang the shark and Nugget the minnow were best friends until Nugget went to school. That’s where he learned that sharks and minnows can’t be friends. Nugget showed Fang his science Food Chain test. Fang felt awful. He couldn’t help being toothy and he had to prove he wasn’t scary. He tried dressing up like a mermaid, that didn’t work. He tried inviting Nugget to dinner, that didn’t work either. He tried and tried until he was all out of ideas. Then one day the school of minnows got caught in a net, Fang used his scary sharp teeth to cut the net and free the minnows. The minnows finally accepted Fang, sharp scary teeth and all.

Tammi Sauer takes a funny look at an unlikely friendship. The friendship is contradictory to the laws of nature and the timing impeccable. Her use of language will delight readers young and old.

Michael Slack’s simple and bright illustrations bring life to the pages. The expressions on the faces of the shark and the minnows are priceless.

I love the conversational text between Fang and the minnows. These little asides amp up the humor. I especially love the ending, ‘And everyone was all smiles. Especially you-know-who.’

Picture Book Idea Month – Day 1

1 Nov

Let’s see….

Coming up with ideas is easy no sweat a piece of cake…. oh never mind, I’ll just change my profile picture to a giraffe instead!  Hey wait, giraffe… a green giraffe who doesn’t have any friends, oh was that already taken?  OK, I can do this… just let it flow freely… water flows freely.  Coffee!  Maybe I’ll just stop for a minute and make myself a cup.  Anybody else? I’m already up, let me get you something.  Now, focus… I feel a little like Pooh tapping his head, “Think, Think, Think”  Hmmm…nothing.  Check your facebook page,  check your PiBoIdMo post… great idea!  Tammi Sauer suggested coming up with just the titles today and work on the story behind the titles later.  Now I’ve got a goal.  Yeah, not even one.  Let’s try again.  Did you know that I just exhaled exactly nine times in one minute?  Is that too much?  Is that not enough?  Akkkk… I don’t know the appropriate number of times a normal person exhales in one minute!   Quick, someone google that for me, I might be dying!


Now, google, that’s a funny word.  I bet if I spend the rest of the day on google I could come up with some TOTALLY AWESOME picture book ideas and titles today….


Picture Book Idea Month

Picture Book Idea Month

For more information about Picture Book Idea Month visit http://taralazar.com/2013

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