The WHEREVER YOU GO Illustration Journey

Wherever You GoThis week, fellow Picture Book Builder Pat Zietlow-Miller and I celebrated the release of our newest picture book, WHEREVER YOU GO.

This book’s journey began nearly 2 years ago for me (Pat will have to let us know how much longer it’s been for her!), when Little Brown editor Connie Hsu contacted my agent with a new manuscript by the author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH.  As I read the manuscript, the art flowed forth in my mind’s eye, which is usually the first sign to say yes to illustrating a story. I couldn’t wait to try to capture the art I had imagined from the time of that first reading.

I tried to document each stage of the illustrating process along the way, and so I wanted to share my journey in pictures with you here!

busy worldresearchINSPIRATION: Each book begins with a pile of books. I troll through a collection of illustration books to find artwork to be inspired by, and make color copies of these pages to keep close-by as I work.

I was inspired by many artists for this book, especially one of my childhood favorites, Richard Scarry.

ROADS_character sketches_webCHARACTERS: An early discussion with the editor and art director about this story was whether this book should take place in a human or animal world. One of my primary goals for this book was that it should be magical, and we all felt that a fantastical approach would pair well with an animal world. Also, this being travel-themed, using animal characters has the benefit of feeling universally appealing to kids of many cultural backgrounds.

STORYBOARDS:  I created rough storyboards to work out the flow and pacing of the story, as well as working out what the general content on each page will be. For this book I made the storyboards before we knew our character would be the bunny. An awesome thing about Pat’s text was that it was completely open; no character descriptions or even specific story-lines. It allowed the story to be told in the pictures, which is a dream scenario for any illustrator.

When I get ready for sketching, I do a lot of searching for reference imagery, which helps inspire the details inside each scene. I used many personal photos from a 2011 trip I took to Europe with my husband and friends.

Quedlinburg, Germany – Cinque Terre, Italy — Utrecht, Holland — Bordeaux, France


You can see from this comparison of our photo to the sketch how the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy influenced the page in the book featuring the bridges and bay.

I also took a lot of photos of buildings and trees around my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and I used many photos and artwork of other artists, and reference books to help inform the sketches.

Shots around Los Angeles

The sketches were shared back and forth with our editors, Connie Hsu and Leslie Shumate, and art director, Patti Ann Harris, who gave revision notes. Some pages changed very little, and others we revised two or three times before getting it right.

06-07 sketching_web


TRANSFERS: Once the sketches were approved, I traced the image onto the final watercolor paper using a light-pad. I don’t start with sketches on the final paper because erasing on watercolor paper leaves marks and can rub the paper texture off.

INKING: I inked the images with dip pens and India ink. This is waterproof ink, so painting over it doesn’t smudge the lines.

After inking is finished, I ‘stretch’ the watercolor paper by soaking it in a tub of water for about 20 minutes, then staple it down onto a board. This process expands the fibers of the paper and lets it dry taut, so that it doesn’t bubble up during painting.

06-07 painting_web


My tools: brushes, dip pens, watercolor tubes and paint palette.

Chart of colors to help remember which paints I use along the way.



A peek at the work space.

Here’s how this spread evolved from thumbnail sketch to final painting:


06-07 sketch_web

It took me about 6 months to finish the book, the last few months of painting being especially labor intensive. I had never worked in such detail, and so each painting probably took triple the usual time to complete a piece.

THE FEAR STAGE: The finished paintings were boxed up in quadruple layered cardboard, ready to mail to the publisher, Little Brown, in New York. I wait in terror to hear that the artwork reached them safely, and that the publisher, hopefully, doesn’t completely hate how it’s turned out (this hasn’t happened yet)!

Pat_fgsPROOFS: After several months, printer proofs come, with the type beautifully placed, and it’s the first time it begins to look and feel like a book. I got the proofs for WHEREVER YOU GO days before the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference, where Pat was in attendance (to receive a Golden Kite award and give a killer picture book workshop). It was thrilling to meet and look at our proofs together over lunch.

THE BOOK:  After the publisher has been working for many months on their end (scanning, editing, designing, copy-editing, proofing, color correcting, printing, binding, planning for marketing and publicity . . .) THE BOOK arrives, beautifully wrapped in shiny paper and a pink bow, with a note from the editor (thank you, Leslie), saying “Congratulations — here is our book.”


The next stage of the book continues its journey to the reader . . . and, I hope, brings a little piece of joy with it wherever it goes.

Thanks for letting me share with you all!

Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at


  1. Thank you, Eliza, for a glimpse at your process. Wherever You Go is a treasure. I’m looking forward to hearing Pat’s story. Congratulations to you both on an exceptional, beautiful book.

  2. Kim Pfennigwerth

    What fun to hear the illustrator’s side of the journey! And how wonderful that you and Pat were able to both be at the LA conference and share in the thrill of looking at the proofs together. Congratulations! I’m looking forward to reading this book!

  3. Thank you for giving us such a thoughtful and detailed behind-the-scenes look at WHEREVER YOU GO, Eliza.

    This one is going to be a classic.


  4. The love and joy and just plain WORK that goes into a beautiful picture book never fails to astound me. Thanks for this peek into your process, Eliza! I’m waiting impatiently for my copy to arrive….

  5. So neat! Thank you for this visual journey. I can’t wait to read it!

  6. Kathy Mazurowski

    Thank you for sharing the journey of your process. The end product is beautiful. I always appreciate picture books, but after reading this post, I feel like an insider.

  7. Love to see the work that goes into the art – I felt the book was very European in tone – very classic and dreamy. This book inspired me. In fact, I wrote about it today on the GROG, a blog w/ 14 kidlit writers.

  8. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Thank you for sharing this, Eliza. It’s fascinating to see a bit of your journey. Congratulations to you and Pat on this beautiful book! (Is that a Lisbeth Zwerger print on your desk? I’ve got several prints on my walls from the old Storyopolis in LA. Or maybe it was Every Picture Tells a Story . .. I think they’ve both moved since we lived there.)

  9. Thank you for this wonderful trip through your process, Eliza! I can’t wait to get this book in my hands and savor it. I am so amazed and envious of illustrators like you working in traditional mediums. I’m afraid I’ve buried my skills with those and will take some serious dedication to pick it all back up. But seeing your process pictures here makes me want to break out my paints right now!

    Your beautiful art, Pat’s beautiful words…it’s going to be, well, beautiful!

    • Thank you so much, Kevan!! That means a lot coming from such a talented illustrator as you. I love that this gave you the urge to break out some paints. 🙂 And I have to admit, there are as many pitfalls to working traditionally, and I also occasionally feel envious of that wonderful undo button that my brain is constantly trying to hit as I work. Enjoy the freedom that digital provides!

  10. Wow , Eliza! This if fascinating. You’ve answered illustration questions I’ve wondered about for years.. And, I always knew you were super talented, but this seals the deal1

  11. Eliza, this is a wonderful post! Thank you for all the great information.

  12. Eliza, this book looks amazing! I love your work. Thanks for sharing your process.

  13. What a beautiful book. Loved seeing the “behind the scenes” journey from first sketches to final art. Such a labor of love and a book that is sure to inspire and be enjoyed by both kids and adults for years to come. A classic! Congratulations to YOU and PAT (and the Little Brown team) for creating such a masterpiece.

  14. I already wanted to read Pat’s book, and love the cover, but now, seeing your incredible art, makes me want to even more! Thanks for the tour through your process, Eliza. I am in awe.And I absolutely LOVE Cinque Terre, so I’ll be looking for the book’s European flavor too. Thanks!!

  15. OH, this was such a fabulous post!! Thank you Eliza for sharing your amazing process and beautiful work. I can’t wait to own a copy of this fabulous book. Congratulations!

  16. This is just so lovely seeing your process Eliza. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  17. I can’t express how much I love that spread of the bunny riding his bike along that winding road! So much warmth and detail and just…magic! It makes me want to get my paints out. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us!

  18. Oh, fascinating stuff – thank you for sharing, Eliza! Gotta pick this one up. VERY cool!

  19. Eliza, this article is WONDERFUL! I’ve been collecting ‘process shots’ of favorite artists for a while, and you have, well, topped it! Thank you for showing us every step of the way, especially all the books and images you drew inspiration from, as it’s validated my own process – and brings such joy! I am thrilled to have this article and will be equally excited when I buy my copy of your WONDERFUL book – CONGRATS to you both!!

  20. Thanks so much — I love process posts, and this one was a joy to look at and read!

  21. Oh this is fantastic! As an aspiring picture book author/illustrator I truly appreciated the amount of details shared here about the picture book making process, especially from the perspective of such a clearly talented illustrator! I can’t wait to read the book!

  22. Wow! What a great post of a beautiful process! Just read my copy of this lovely book this morning and lingered over the words and art! Beautiful job!!!

  23. Thank you for sharing all the details. I particularly liked how you used photos from a trip back in 2011 for inspiration. At the time, you probably didn’t know that you’d use them for a future picture book. (Or, maybe you did!) The world is always feeding us…

    • Hi Kelsi — “the world is always feeding us”, I love that. You’re right, I had no idea the locations I was visiting would become absorbed to directly into my creative work!

  24. Fantastic, Eliza! Loved seeing this post. Your book, your art, Pat’s words, are all spectacular and gorgeous! Really enjoyed knowing and seeing the Richard Scarry inspiration. Thank you!

  25. Eliza, thank you for this illuminating look at your process. As a writer, I love hearing about your thought process and working process as you developed the art. Your pictures and characters are exuberant! I love those leaning trees, the detail, and the way you composed your pictures. Looking forward to reading the book.

  26. Thank you Eliza for sharing the process with us. The end result is a beautiful book that I, and my two nieces will enjoy for some time.

  27. Eliza, could you please tell us…on the storyboards, are those Pat’s art notes in the brackets? Or are they yours? As a writer, I’m always curious about how much is too much, in terms of art notes. This seems like a good example. Thanks!

    • Hi Heather — on the storyboards, all of the notes are mine to the art director, just in case the sketches were too sloppy to communicate the scene. Pat didn’t included a single art note in her manuscript, which was AWESOME. I always encourage writers to leave them out, as the unintended affect they have can be disrupting to the illustrator’s envisioning process.

  28. So interesting! Thanks for sharing your process, Eliza. I can’t wait to read this book! My copy arrives Monday 🙂

  29. Thank you so SO much to each and every person who commented here, and for all of your sweet words of appreciation!

  30. what a thoughtful and generous post about process! beautiful book, technique, and behind-the-scenes!

  31. Oh, how I love this book!!! What an amazing collaboration. I’m so happy for you and Pat.

  32. Awesome post! So fascinating and inspiring to get a window into your creative process.

  33. It’s a beautiful work of art. Your passion really shows through!

  34. Great to see your process Eliza, the book looks and sound enchanting. Loved seeing the pics from your travels work into your story, I’ve had that happen too!

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