How To Write & Illustrate A Storybook

how to write illustrate storybook - Doodlewash

Oh, there must be 1000 ways to write and illustrate a storybook.  I’m here to share my method.  Because I’m a great, talented, and experienced author, right?  Uh.  No.  I’ve written a few stories, mostly for friends and family.

That’s the reason why my methods might help a person write a story just for fun.  This isn’t Story Writing 101.  More like ‘now I know my A-B-Cs’ and something most people can do without vast experience.  I’m using a story I recently wrote and illustrated as an example.  It was written to fit a certain watercolor sketchbook, and I hand-printed the text.  Think gift, fun project, or something to entertain a child – not bestseller or even published book.

The example book – Diggory Wombat Gets Lost is an epic novel full of deathless prose … no wait.  That’s the book I’m reading, not the one I wrote. Let’s start over. Diggory Wombat Gets Lost is a silly little 18-page story that I wrote and illustrated for a review of the new Hahnemühle ZigZag book.  It was also meant to be a gift for my husband on our 37th wedding anniversary.

Hahnemühle ZigZag book Unfolded - Doodlewash

Diggory Wombat Gets Lost 

Before we go any further, here’s the story.  

Ideas For The Story

Where did I get my ideas?  I used my life.  For Diggory’s story, I came up with three things that were on my mind at the time.

  • My husband claims the wombat is his spirit animal.
  • I have a friend who is currently refurbishing a vintage carousel for a historical society.
  • I had just managed to get glue on my good shirt. Dang it.

I had a Wombat, a carousel and glue.  That seemed like a good start.

Where would I find a carousel?  Fairgrounds, park, fast food restaurants.  Fairgrounds seemed the most interesting.  But glue.  Glue.  What to do with glue? I came up empty. But glue is sticky – what is sticky at a fairground? Ah! Cotton Candy! That I could work with.

So now I had a wombat, a carousel, cotton candy and fairgrounds.  So many things a wombat can do at the fair!

At this point, I already had a good idea for this painting.

Diggory Wombat Gets Lost Illustration - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash


Are you aware of the five W’s (plus an H) of journalism? They are simple questions that can give you a structure that helps develop your story.

  • Who
  • What
  • Why
  • When
  • Where
  • How

I knew I had 18 pages to work with and I planned to answer at least one of these questions on each page.

Using the W/H questions, I started an extremely rough outline in my Hahnemühle Sketch Diary.  This book has ruled pages on one side and blank pages on the other.  

Hahnemuhle Sketch Diary Writing And Sketches Example - Doodlewash

This is about the 5th outline that I did, and I did end up making changes More about that later.  Applying the W/H questions, I came up with these answers and popped them into the appropriate page lines.

  • Who? the Wombat
  • Why? because the Wombat likes to dig and it leads him to ‘Where’
  • Where? the fairgrounds, then the carousel, the bubble machine, the cotton candy, back to his tunnel, back home
  • What? he rides the carousel, gets sick, leading to the bubble machine, resulting in a flying bubble ride, leading him to the cotton candy which causes him to be chased, leading him back to his tunnel, which leads him home and he sleeps.
  • How? my wombat is a digging machine, who knows you can ride carousels but is rather stupid otherwise, and this leads him through the ‘What’series of adventures.
  • When? Not really important to this story – it could happen at any time.

The sketches I did are basically scribbles.  I was trying to get a sense of what objects would be on the page and what poses the wombat would take.   These helped me decide what I needed for references and what sketches I would practice.   Eventually, those scribbles would lead to these poses.

Character Poses Example - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

Naming My Character

You can see that I considered different names for my wombat.  I googled the different names and either found they were already used in a book, or had unsavory meanings attached.  I really wanted something to do with digging – because in real life wombats dig.

I discovered that Diggory was a name of French origin, meaning lost.  I already had the Wombat Gets Lost in mind for the title, so was this the perfect name or what?

Reference and Practice

There was quite a bit of work between the initial scribbles and the finished Wombat poses.  I googled Wombats and started doing quick little sketches.

Character Sketches - Wombat - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

When I felt I had the basic idea of a wombat, I started developing my wombat’s overall look.

Drawing A Character Example - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

I looked for basic shapes, decided the minimum of details and worked out my proportions.

Drawing A Character Side View - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

I played with different poses.  At first, I used pencil, drawing rough shapes, then I moved to pen and kept going until I had pretty decent wombats every time. I did the same thing for the carousels, fairgrounds, cotton candy machines and so on. 

Drawing and Painting the Story

Tiger Carousel Illustration - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash
Tiger Carousel photo reference, courtesy of Gail Rubin on Pixabay

Once confident with my wombat and fairground drawing skills, I started my initial pencil drawing in the book.  If I went more than a day without working on the book, I went back and studied photos for a while, but except for the tiger, it all came out of my head.

A pencil drawing was done throughout the entire book before I moved to pen.  I established the composition, and adjusted my story ideas.  I found I wanted to give more space to the initial view of the fairgrounds and to the carousel.  I decided to drop the popcorn, candied apple and the Ferris wheel.  Drawing everything in pencil first gave me the chance to figure these things out.

Masking fluid pen was used to reserve areas of white.  In some places, I used the masking fluid to outline just like I would use a pen.

Masking Fluid Pen Example - Doodlewash

I alternated between pages of drawing with pen and then painting them.  This was so I could complete pages for the review.  Otherwise, I would have done all the pen drawing and then all the painting.  I used the pen to establish outlines, suggest values, and to add detail and texture.


zigzag book Work In Progress - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

I kept the painting simple, alternating between earth colors for wombat and his tunnels, and bright, bold colors for the fairgrounds.  You can see some of this process in my review of the ZigZag book.

Zig zag book complete - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

The Writing

Given the number of pages I had, I wrote this at the level of a young child’s book. I stated the action simply.  Diggory loved this, he did that, and then he did this. Occasionally, he had a thought, when I wanted to add an extra bit of whimsy or humor.

I’m sorry I didn’t get scans of my hand-printed text.  I ran out of time, and my husband took the book to work before I could do so.  

Since I was short on time, I printed out the text to the size that would fit the space available and used a light-box to help me mark off the spacing.  I just used block lettering – nothing fancy.

Feeling Intimidated?

Children's Book Illustration Example - Sandra Strait - Doodlewash

I suspect that many of you are looking at my artwork, and either feeling you couldn’t do anything like that, or that you could do so much better.  We do love to compare ourselves to others, for better or worse.

My story choices were based on what I felt was my artistic ability.  I was also doing some testing for the review, as well as challenging myself to stretch a bit past my comfort zone. I’m not entirely happy with the cotton candy pages, but I am very satisfied with the book as a whole.  I enjoyed the challenge of stretching myself just a bit and learning along the way.

Please don’t feel you have to compete or compare. If you decide to try a storybook, make choices based on your strengths – not mine! If you mostly paint doodle-y flowers and butterflies, write a story about flowers and butterflies.  Don’t fear the stick figure.  They can be quite charming.  Collage, stamps and stencils are perfectly okay if you are making something fun for yourself or as a gift.

Fun is the operative word.  Feel free to be outrageous – logic need not apply.


No art supplies were harmed in the making of this book, but plenty were used.

Recommended9 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials
  1. Victoria Mace 4 years ago

    Lovely. I really enjoyed reading and seeing your process! Thanks to Doodlewash for hosting this. ^.^

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Victoria! And I’ll second those thanks to Doodlewash (Charlie) for hosting my write-up!

    • Fatima Chamkha 4 years ago

      Sandra loved you storyboard and you workingprocess zigzagbook and was this you voice.Thanks for being inspiration for everyone!

  2. bingingonabudget 4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, great to see the storybook process. How many storybooks have you made so far?

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      This is the third I’ve done in an accordion book, but I’ve been doing storybooks for a long, long time. I don’t really know how many.

  3. Purnima Manjunath 4 years ago

    Loved reading this,Sandra! So much to learn from you!

  4. YellowHorseFarm 4 years ago

    This is stunning! I am a full time art teacher and have occasionally tinkered with the idea of playing with illustration! I LOVE THIS!! Thank you for the inspiration and possible motivation!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you so much! I hope given you some practical ideas that get you started!

      • YellowHorseFarm 4 years ago

        I’m going on summer break soon! Might need to explore! Thank you!

  5. The Rolling Pen 4 years ago

    I am so glad I read this. I love your illustrations and there is a creative freedom to your text that I like. It’s beautiful!

  6. Susan Cuss 4 years ago

    What a delightful story, Sandra! I had a smile on my face all the way through. Wonderful story illustrations, too.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Susan! I love hearing that I made someone smile. It brightens my day!

  7. Mary Roff 4 years ago

    What a wonderful book and thanks for sharing your method. i’m going to forward your story to a friend who is thinking about doing a book for her grandsons; I’m sure it will be an inspiration!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Mary! I hope your friend does find it helpful.

  8. M. Caulder 4 years ago

    That’s so cute, Sandra! What a wonderful idea, & your illustrations are always so beautiful. Hope it gets published!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you! I don’t intend to try publishing this one because I didn’t format the pages in such a way that they would work as single pages – the seam runs in the wrong place or important bits get cut in half. But the next book I do will be formatted with publishing in mind.

  9. alice 4 years ago

    what a wonderful, fun story. and it doesn’t need words. your drawings of Diggory tell the complete story. Love this one, Sandra, and looking forward to Book #2!

  10. Gaeyle Gerrie-Boss 4 years ago

    so thankful for your sharing – this is over the top adorable!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Gaeyle! I had so much fun creating this book!

  11. CURIOUStotheMAX 4 years ago

    Sandra, You WOMBATTED IT! Love your story, art, sharing your process . . . but mostly I love Digg.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Lol! Thank you! I know I’ve succeeded in my goal if I WOMBAT it!

  12. ahewe 4 years ago

    Aaaah, such a lovely story! And the pictures are just as good. What a great present this is!

  13. theartisticflare 4 years ago

    This is such a great learning post for beginners like me. Thank you so much, Sandra😃😃

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you! I’m glad to hear that it’s great for beginners. It isn’t always easy to find that balance between too complex and too simple.

  14. Jennifer McLean 4 years ago

    I love your storybook Sandra and I hope you continue writing them. You know I think you should publish, get that beautiful artwork and whimsical storyline out for children of all ages to love and enjoy. I know you’d be a smashing success in children’s literature. Hey, I want a book and love your work and I’m almost fifty, no kids. lol. Diggory is awesome, your husband is blessed.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you so much, Jennifer. I decided not to try publishing this one because the composition doesn’t work for single pages, but I intend to do work on that with the next stories.

  15. Karen Russo 4 years ago

    I love, love, love your book, Sandra!
    Thank you for sharing tips — with the visual examples to go alongside them — for making attempts at this kind of project more joyful and less intimidating.
    Your illustrations are adorable and reading about your creative process, from determining story elements and illustration topics, to the practice and amount of time that is practically involved, was so helpful and generous — because you’re right, we all do tend to compare… despite our best efforts to break the habit! 😂
    Have a wonderful week.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you Karen! You have a wonderful week as well!

  16. Jill Kuhn 4 years ago

    Oh, I so enjoyed your story and your video! 😃 Your drawings are wonderful and color filled and just make me happy. Thank you for sharing this as I really enjoyed it! 💗🎨

  17. Sharon Nolfi 4 years ago

    Fantastic post, Sandra! Thanks for sharing all this information as well as your lovely book.

  18. Shaieen 4 years ago


  19. Prior... 4 years ago

    This is a great resource – thank you

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Prior! I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier.

  20. LoriCtoo 4 years ago

    Oh Sandra! This is the cutest little book. Your work of course is wonderful. I love the colors you chose. That story is darling and makes me want to know how his day on the roller coaster went. You need to have this published! Then once you have this one published, you can do a series. 🙂 Thank you for breaking this process down. It has sparked a bit of inspiration in me.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Lori! I thought about publishing this but the way that the paintings spread across the page leaves the seams in wonky places, so this one wouldn’t work broken down into single pages for a book. The next one I do, I’ll keep that in mind so I can publish. Hubby has already told me he wants another Diggory Adventure for his birthday.

  21. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 4 years ago

    Sandra, I’ve been looking forward to read this next phase of your Diggory Wombat book and what a treat it is! Your experience inspired me so much that I plan to order 4 of the Hahnemühle Sketch Diary books so I can make a book for each of my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing so much of your experience and letting me piggy back on your project. Your book is gorgeous, BTW – no wonder your hubby grabbed it so fast.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you so much, Sharon! I know you’ll love writing your books and your grandchildren will too. Who knows? You might inspire them to write their own, too!

  22. Claire McArthur 4 years ago

    Thank you for such a great description of the process. love your illustrations and as a rookie just starting to play with watercolour I found your outlines of the page layouts and principal character really informative.

  23. Ruth F. 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story and your process. Perhaps one day I will give it a try myself. I love the character and the story. Your illustrations are lovely too.

  24. June Hadaway 4 years ago

    Wow, lots of great information. Thank you for sharing Sandra. You are one talented lady!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, June! Have you entered the giveaway for a chance to win a ZigZag book? It runs until midnight my time.

      • June Hadaway 4 years ago

        Sure did…just yesterday. so nice of you to offer a chance for us to win such nice givaways. Got my fingers crossed.

  25. Lisa Ann Ulibarri 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your writing journey. 🙂 I wondered about your cute lil wombat. Love the story so much!!!! I always wanted to write children’s books but my art journey took me in other directions but i took a children’s picture book course last year and am building my skills to do it. thanks for inspiring. 🙂

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 4 years ago

      Thank you, Lisa! Your picture book course sounds wonderful. I look forward to your future children’s book!

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