Character Development for Big Words Small Stories: The Missing Donut

The Missing Donut is the first book in the three part Big Words Small Stories series written by Judith Henderson from Kids Can Press.

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When I started the illustrations for this book I had to figure out what each of the chacacters were going to look like. Check out the process below.


Draft One

These are the first characters that I cobbled together. The style was a bit strange, admittedly – Chris, the boy character ended up looking like a ghost made out of whipped cream. My main idea was to try to maintain a limited color palette.


Draft Two

I shifted directions. I pulled inspiration from illustrations from the 50's. During the time of this draft I had been working as an assistant for a few different artists. I hadn't drawn much and I had to re-learn my own style, as funny as that sounds. 


Draft Three

By the third draft, I was pretty confident that I had it in the bag (Spoiler alert – unbeknownst to me, I still had five more drafts to go). I tried to stick to a limited range of colors and make something old school and Dr. Seuss-y.


By this point I felt I had finally found my old style again. I was so confident, I rendered a front and back cover.


I even went as far as making mock-ups for the other books in the series, even though the manuscripts weren't finished and I only had titles and character names.


Here's a character sheet for Chris. He's still basically a white blob. My editor at Kids Can Press really didn't want all the characters to be bone white or page white, so that needed to change.


Here's a character sheet for Crat. My editor liked these drawings. I feel like this sheet captures the essence of Crat's personality. 


And here we have the Sprinkle Fairy. Although I liked her color palette, the main note here was that she looked too young, so the red hair had to go.


Next we have the Sprinklers. I designed them after sprinkles you would find on a cake, with the addition of wings. Like little magical cake bugs. It wasn't exactly what Kids Can Press had in mind and they asked to see some more options.


On another note, I found this unfinished cover when I was looking through my old files. It's really funny to see how this abandoned concept is very close to how the final cover ended up.


Draft Four

After sending in a bounty of character sketches, my editor wanted me to expand the color palette because most of the characters were looking a little too pasty. It was time to try something completely new. 


Draft Five

They liked the direction I was going, but they still felt it wasn't quite right. Up until now, I was trying to get away with doing the book in pen, but they were looking for something different. They referenced this piece from my portfolio and suggested I try this style.


With all previous notes in mind, I busted out the old graphite pencils and gave it another shot. Here's the sheet I sent over for Chris and Crat.


For the Sprinkle Fairy, I tried to make her older by adding grey hair and some lines around her mouth.


For the Sprinklers, I tried them as little robots. Part of the text said the big words in the book came from a factory and I thought they could be little robot minions.


Draft Six

At this point we were getting really close, but still not quite there. They wanted Chris to be a bit smaller, more kid-sized. He was a little too long in the last ideation.


They also wanted the sprinkle fairy to have a fun outfit. This sort of worried me at first because the drawings were going to be quite small, but I gave it a shot with a few options to mix and match.


For the Sprinklers, the feedback was to make them more of a shape rather than a character. They had referenced the Muppets, so I tried to head in that direction.


Draft Seven

We were almost there on most of the characters but there was still some editing to do. Chris and Crat just recieved very small color tweaks.


The Sprinkle Fairy's outfits received some positive feedback but they wanted to push it a little further. They said to picture her as a wacky aunt. I think I captured it nicely. 


I had finally gotten somewhere with the Sprinklers. Whith a few any tweaks this is what I ended up with. 


Draft Eight: The Final Draft

After many hours of back and fourth, emails, phone calls and lots of sketching, this is how the characters in the book ended up. They are very similar to the characters in draft 7 but with a nice clean finish and a coat of polish. 


With the Sprinkle Fairy, there is now a nice balance of her age and her wacky and fun personality.


I have to say I'm most happy with how the little Sprinklers turned out. I think that they have a nice muppet/minion feel with a design that's original and very "me".


Here is the introduction spread from the book. I think all the characters mesh really nicely.


Thank you so much for reading my little behind-the-scenes look at the character development for Big Words Small Stories: The Missing Donut. I hope it was interesting and informative!

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If you have any questions about the process or anything at all please feel to ask!

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