This review is condensed from a longer review on my web site, The Purple Crayon.
The author of Writing with Pictures is a Caldecott medalist, and he gives the reader a master's class in the theory and the practicalities of picture book illustration in particular and of illustration more generally.
CONTENTS: This is a substantial book, large format, 272 pages, with over 600 illustrations (mostly black and white, many of them small). Shulevitz breaks it down into four sections: Telling the Story, Planning the Book, Creating the Pictures, and Preparing for Reproduction. There is also an appendix with advice on finding a publisher, a short bibliography, and a useful index.
Telling the Story: In this section, Shulevitz opens with the difference between a picture book and a story book. He then goes on to explain his theory of "visual storytelling," using many visual examples. He also demonstrates how text and illustration work together in a picture book, and closes with a discussion of the characteristics of a picture book, such as "linear continuity" and rhythm and repetition.
Planning the Book: In this section, Shulevitz shows the steps an illustrator goes through to create a book: starting with a story board; moving on to a dummy; working with text in a layout; playing with many possibilities of size, scale, shape; and dealing with the structure of a printed book. Step-by-step visual illustrations make this easy to follow.
Creating the Pictures: This section starts with theory: the purpose of illustration is to clarify or even illuminate the text, and thus the illustrator must at least make the pictures "readable." He then focuses on creating illustrations themselves. It covers such topics as drawing figures and objects, using visual references, composition, technique, and style, with copious examples.
Preparing for Reproduction: The book was originally published in 1985, and this is the only section that has become badly dated, as it focuses on the way to create pre-separated art, which used to be the predominant method used in children's books. Today, of course, almost all picture books are made by scanning original full-color art.
COMMENTS: It's not over-praising this book to say that there's no other book like it, and that it's an unmatched resource for anyone involved with children's book illustration. I've had a copy for several years, and I learn something every time I open it. Of course, I'm an editor, but the illustrators I know tell me the same.
If you want to understand the nitty-gritty of creating a picture book, from text to final illustrations and layout, there is no other book out there.