Behind the Scenes: From Thumbnail to Draft Sketch

It’s time for a behind-the-scenes sneak peak on the first installment in the series of Pete’s Paleo Petshop, where anyone can go to find a prehistoric friend to take home.  Time has stopped in the Jurassic Period, the “golden age” of dinosaurs, and Danny and his family have come to the shop to find a quiet, little dinosaur.  Hard to find in an age of giants!


Now here we have a few thumbnails.  Thumbnails are small, quick sketches that are used to give the artist an idea for the composition of an image.  In this case, thumbnails are useful for getting an idea for the layout of the illustrations.  Which characters to use, where words might go, how the picture will help the words tell the story…it all starts gelling together in the thumbnail.  Keeping thumbnails small helps force you to leave out detail, which helps to focus on the basic shapes.

flyers thumbnailssauropod thumbnailssteggy thumbnails

Once I figured out which thumbnail I liked best I made it larger and cleaned it up a little.  These drawings are mostly to figure out exactly what I need to find references for.

flyers page

For example.  I looked at a couple of pictures of flying birds to help me with Tango and his buddy on the left here (learn more about him here).  It’s not known if these dinosaurs could actually fly or just glide, so this is speculation on my part.  Short, broad wings are great for maneuvering thick forest, and you don’t need a lot of muscle for short bursts of flight. 🙂

In this case, I needed pictures to get ideas for poses!  And for Terry and her friends on the right…well I needed a few reference pictures to have a clue what I was drawing.  These critters are tough if you don’t draw the classic “silhouette from above/below” pose. 😛

Which makes a great example of what happens in the sketch stage.

In the thumbnail, I had one pterosaur (teh-roh-saw-r) flying past the corner of the page.  An overhead flying view is so overdone I decided to have them perch on the branch instead.  I also changed the species to pterodactylus (teh-roh-dak-tih-lus) since they worked out better for what I needed.  Bonus that these guys are the poster children of the pterosaur group. 🙂

sauropods page

Here we have three famous giants of the Jurassic.

  • Ajax the Apatosaurus (ah-pat-oh-saw-rus)
  • Dippy the Diplodocus (dip-loh-dok-us)
  • Elmer the Brachiosaurus (brak-ee-oh-saw-rus).  Yep, his head is the right shape.  The critter in Jurassic Park is actually a Giraffatitan (giraffe-ah-ty-tan).  I’ll write a post on that at some point.  For now, let’s just say that the Jurassic Park variety is the African breed, and this is the American breed.  They’re completely different species, and have lots of things that make them unique, not just head shape. 🙂

I’ve been doing lots of research on the necks for these guys, so that awesome snakey neck is not random.  And yes, it is an awesome python neck (though this is about the limit of its bendiness.)

Also, can I just say how awesome it is to use a toy as a reference?  Yes, you heard me.  I went out and got a few toys (as accurate as possible) and I’m using those for pose reference.  I don’t have the dippy, but for that one I got pictures of the toy online. 😛

Steggy page

Here we have Steggy the Stegosaurus (steg-oh-saw-rus).  Original name, I know 😛

I used a toy I have for reference here too, but this one isn’t the best model, so I’ll be doing research to make sure I correct those inaccuracies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak preview!  I’m starting to get an idea of what things will actually look like, and that’s pretty exciting after it’s been stuck in my head for so long!  The words need a lot of work (they kinda suck at the moment), but the gist of the story is there.

I’ll never be fooled into thinking a picture book is easy again! 😀

Now my question for you is…Do you have any questions?  Anything you want to know about what happens behind the scenes? Let me know in the comments!  I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

3 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: From Thumbnail to Draft Sketch

  1. Looking good! I always like seeing how artists and writers manage to get from start to finish. Also, great use of perspective. With picture books a lot of artists tend to do a boring side view on every page. 😛

    Out of curiosity, do you do any of this in a certain order? Or do you just kind of…work on whichever thing related to the picture book you need/feel like doing? 🙂


    1. Hi Brownie! I’m glad you like it 🙂
      Yeah, I find the same ole perspective for every scene rather boring, especially when it comes to dinosaurs. Most dinosaurs are doomed to have the clinical “side view” approach.

      As for your question (internal squee, I love questions! 😀 ) I’m not doing these in any particular order. Partly because I’m not dead set on which critter is coming first yet anyway. But the scenes I sketch first are the ones I’m sure of the layout.

      Illustrations in a picture book tell the story as much or more than the words. So I’ll only start sketching a page once I’m satisfied with the story it’s telling.

      No sense going into detail on something I’m not happy with. 🙂


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