How Lisa Horstman Makes a Children's Book

In her own words, here's how a Lisa Horstman project such as the recently published Squawking Matilda moves from a burst of creativity to a published picture book:

  1. I have an idea for a story, and I begin to visualize what the characters could look like. I start doing character sketches to define facial features, body shapes, how they dress, etc. I do research, too.
  2. I write down kind of a very loose outline (if even that) with some scenarios.
  3. After I fine-tune the character sketches, I draw how the puppet armature, or "bones," will be proportioned, and decide if I'll need to create a simple armature or a more complicated ball-and-socket armature for a main character which will be posed quite a bit.
  4. I sculpt the puppet head and hands from polymer clay.
  5. I start making the armatures. The simple twisted wire ones are pretty quick, but the ball-and-socket brass armatures usually require a total of 24 hours to cut, drill, file, solder, and assemble.
  6. I wrap the assembled armature with wool fibers and begin felting them with a felting needle.
  7. Clothes come next. Oftentimes I create my own pattern or find old doll patterns and size them to fit the puppets. I usually sketch the design first and try to find fabrics with small patterns or else make my own pattern and print it out on plain fabric using an inkjet printer.
  8. Shoes are next. I did the shoes digitally in Squawking Matilda, but for my next book, about a monkey family, I experimented with making shoes out of mask latex from a plaster cast of clay shoes.
  9. I go back to the story, refine it, and think of how to split up the text into a book format, or sketch dummy. I start sketching scenarios, and think about the art formatting. Will the sizes vary? How do I want to light it when I photograph the puppets?
  10. When the sketch dummy is ready, with text in place, I send it, along with the typed manuscript, to my agent. She looks it over, makes suggestions and I go back and work some more.
  11. I choose a couple sketches to take to final art; I'll do a background illustration, usually digitally with Photoshop, pose and photograph the puppets, and add those images to the background illustration, adding digital color to the puppet forms. Then my agent takes the artwork, manuscript, and book dummy around to various publishers to see if anyone's interested.
  12. If they decide to publish, then it's more work ahead; I'll probably have revisions to the text and sketches, and then will have to do final art for the entire book. Usually it's about a nine-month process, like giving birth. (Only easier than giving birth, I would guess.)