E-I-E-I-O! Illustrating Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo?!


Iza Trapani stops by to chat about her process for illustrating her new book Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo?


The illustration process for all my books starts the minute I begin a story. My head fills with images, and I start doodling and storyboarding as I work on the manuscript. I find it really helpful to figure out the pagination, to know what text will go on each page. That way I can pace the story, see where I can cut words, change things around, and make sure to move the story forward from page to page. I sketch the storyboard on an 18” x 24” sheet of paper and layout all thirty-two pages of the book on it. Here is the entire storyboard:

And here is a close up:

As you can see, these are very rough sketches. I redo them as needed and glue on revised sketches. That’s why it’s all such a sloppy mess! Then I doodle some larger sketches, like this one:

Then I sketch and re-sketch.  I use a tracing/sketching paper to draw on. This allows me to trace over other images, and if I flip the paper over it’s easy to see irregularities or errors (like one eye lower than another…). Here is the final approved dummy sketch for the above page:

Here it is painted in watercolor and acryla gouache:

Early on, I do character studies in different poses:

My husband is a convenient model and has posed for this and previous books.

And in case you are wondering what’s in the next scene…


The chickens, rooster, horse and dog in this book are friends’ pets. The cat is ours. I also browse endless Google images and books for the animals, scenery, architecture, and whatever I will need to draw. And I drive around and take many of my own photos. So much work goes into the illustrations: sketching, re-sketching, researching, checking for consistencies (in characters, setting, colors), painting, repainting…

The cover is especially important. Contrary to the old adage, we DO judge a book by its cover. It needs to hint at what the book is about and also be appealing. Here are some cover sketches/designs I had done:


And some color studies:

Here’s the final sketch and cover as approved by Charlesbridge:

Poor Old MacDonald…He just wanted to milk his cow and have a normal day on the farm.

Not so…

 But all is well in the end.

Well, almost…


Purchase Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo? for your readers today!

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  • Mel Schuit
Comments 6
  • Cindy Petzoldt
    Cindy Petzoldt

    That is fascinating! And I must get that book for my Ready Readers! It sounds like so much fun!

  • Susan Rooker
    Susan Rooker

    Thank you indeed!!

  • B.J. Lee
    B.J. Lee

    I love this, Iza! Thank you for sharing your journey from storyboard to finished product!

  • Raven Howell
    Raven Howell

    What a wonderful journey through the illustration process! Iza’s artwork is absolutely top-notch! I’m a big fan.

  • Cindy Wider
    Cindy Wider

    Iza, its so wonderful to see the process behind the final illustrations. I had such a chuckle to see your dear hubby posing for you. I normally pose for my illustrations and get my hubby to take the photos. We have tried it the other way around but it doesn’t work for me hahahahahaha. This is fantastic. Love this book!

  • Gail Poulin
    Gail Poulin

    I really enjoyed this peek behind the scenes of writing a children’s book. Iza had a target of 32 pages for this story. Is that the case for most books of this type? Are limitations placed on the author/illustrator to keep the page count down or does the story lead the way?

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