This is one of my favourite types of commission because I've had complete freedom to create the characters and compositions from scratch. I was just given the words for each page and basic story structure. Just in case you've ever been curious about how this ends up as a finished book, here's how it goes.
First I start sketching character ideas. Need to do a bit of research and in this instance, as there aren't any monkeys or elephants etc. nearby to draw from life I do a bit of googling (other search engines are available) and look through books to help inform with anatomical details. Then I pare back the realism, try to translate them into simplified, partly anthropomorphic versions (for example, I give my animals eyebrows, they help me convey facial expressions). The character sketches start off so scrappy but eventually something stands out. Next I visualise how the pages could look, and jot down ideas as thumbnail pictures – like a storyboard – miniature versions that are just an inch or two wide. Don't need to worry much about detail, it's just to get the compositions in place. This really helps, as working out how the pages will have space for the text and how they follow on successfully from one another with enough variation (as well as helping to tell the story) is a bit of a puzzle, so the drawings themselves can be pretty rough at this stage, just indications really.
First thumbnail ideas, drawn very small
Oh light box, I love thee
Full size pencil roughs
These are checked by the publisher, there might be some amendments to make but once they've been given the go-ahead, I get the light box out again and trace the roughs onto my final artwork paper. Then I paint. I hate the halfway stage of a painting, when it just looks awful, and I have to be patient and remember it'll get better eventually, but there are so many times when I just want to screw it up and throw it away rather than persevere!
Hate this stage!
The whole process from start to finish takes a couple of months (and I get to listen to music all day!) Then when all the paintings are finished I post them to the publisher for professional scanning. Their designer will add the text in. Six months to a year later it gets printed, by which time I've almost forgotten it and, with any luck, might be working on something else.
Gets there in the end