Develop a Picture Book Character From a Photo

Have you ever developed a character from a photo before? In our Black Friday Bootcamp last November, Vanessa Brantley-Newton shared how she created the main character for The King of Kindergarten, which released earlier this month.

First, you need to find a photo that inspires you. You either need to have permission to use it, or you’ll have to change it so much that it isn’t recognizable. Vanessa had permission, and then she aged the character up by a couple of years.

Vanessa has also mentioned that, sometimes, she uses photos of multiple people to make one character. She’ll take the hair from one, the smile from another, and piece together someone new.

Vanessa said that she drew the character in pencil, scanned it, and came up with a soft digital color palette. She suggests that you “come up with a color palette that you will work with, and you will stick with.” And if you haven’t already, take a look at some of her illustrations. She isn’t sacrificing anything by sticking to a palette.

Like I mentioned earlier, The King of Kindergarten, written by the award-winning Derrick Barnes, released earlier this month. It received multiple starred reviews and became a New York Times bestseller. It has already been featured in back-to-school lists. Vanessa’s illustrations shine. We’re so proud to have Vanessa teaching our Character Design class at Storyteller Academy! I’m going to share Penguin Kids' video of Derrick Barnes reading it. It’s adorable. And empowering. And it really is a perfect back-to-school read aloud.

I hope you’ve been inspired to find some photos, whether they’re online or in your photo album. Start doodling something great!

Thanks for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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