Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Art Director Kerry Martin–Mapping Out a Picture Book

Post by Cam M. Sato, Tokyo, Japan

On July 12, 2019, we gathered with Art Director Kerry Martin of New York City publisher Holiday House to discuss the layout of picture book dummies. Before the event, those who had registered were given three public domain tales: “Manju Kowai”—a Japanese tale, “The Tortoise and the Wisdom of the World”— a West African tale, and “The Wind Who Became Angry”— a Yiddish tale. We were invited to choose one of the stories and make a picture book dummy to bring to the event and discuss. Specifically, the assignment was to make a 32-page picture book dummy created on A4 paper, allowing space for a title page, copyright info, and dedication. For the event, participants brought their dummy printed out at 100% and unbound.

Holiday House Art Director Kerry Martin

Being my first time to attempt to illustrate a full picture book dummy, this was an interesting challenge. First, I had to consider the overall length of the book to figure out where to place the words for the most effective page turns. Next, I had to think about what to sketch, where to place the drawings on the page. Sometimes the number of words left me with little space to draw, where at other times it seemed the page might be too busy, but in the end, I thought the variety was interesting. Once I had my layout figured out and my images drawn, I glued my sentences down and headed to the event with my heart in my throat.

At the event, each participant laid out their dummy as spreads in page order. Laying out the pages this way, we were able to see the pacing of the story, the flow of the illustrations and consistency of layout design. At one glance, you were able to see if there was enough variation in the scenes, composition and angle. It was easy to see when you were repeating similar scenes that didn’t create movement. Kerry suggested to take those scenes out, and think of another composition.

Fortunately, everyone was very supportive. And soon I was more interested in seeing which stories other people had chosen and how they had decided to bring them to life on the page. It was fascinating to see how other illustrators had taken the same story but interpreted it differently. For example, the wind was imagined as both male and female, and human characters from “Manju Kowai” were reimagined as animals. Apparently, many illustrators choose to depict characters as animals to avoid stereotypes.

According to Kerry, it’s important to leave room for the title page and dedication when making a picture book dummy. And where style is concerned, it’s good to show movement; zoom the camera in and out to add depth and interest; keep the characters consistent; and show emotion. She also noted that she likes to see one final image on the last page as a punctuation.

Kerry commented on keeping consistency of layout. For example, if you have a spread with four panels, then use the same layout again somewhere in the book.

Participants after the picture book workshop.

After Kerry finished critiquing our dummies, illustrator John Shelley—back in Japan for a visit, showed us three dummies from some of his works in progress. They were stunning to say the least.

Attending this event has given me the courage to work up a dummy for my picture book idea for the next Creative Exchange. I hope you, too, whether you are a writer, illustrator or translator, will get up the courage and join us. The Creative Exchange will be held on September 6, 2019 at 6:00 pm at the Tokyo Women’s Plaza.

Cam M. Sato is a poet, author, editor and now an illustrator. You can learn more about her at