The Tribe Has Spoken

What did they (the Treehouse Tribe) say about the Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

I live and work in a tree house on the edge of a reserve here in Auckland, and while I’d love have you all over it’s a little difficult with the Treehouse Tribe spread all over the globe, the best I can do is invite into my virtual treehouse.

Once you have enrolled in the Picture Book Illustration e-Course you’ll be part of an online community, and you’ll be given access to the ‘secret’ Facebook group, that we like to call the ‘Treehouse Tribe’. The course is completed over 8 weeks, and you’ll be posting your illustrations along with the rest of the ‘Tribe’, and asking any questions along the way. I’m active as well and will pop in at least once a week, with feedback, live feeds and the occasional interview. It’s a great way to share ideas, get inspired and encourage each other while you work on your individual projects.

Pam Martin interviewing me... Nina Rycroft

“…Nina encourages a healthy community of artists. I felt that everyone was respectful of each other, and I’ve personally made some great friendships. Nina’s feedback was really helpful her constructive criticism was very professional and respectful of people’s feelings. I personally loved all of the feedback Nina gave, and I believe it helped me to become a better illustrator. Overall it was a great course thank you Nina!“ – Amy Calautti

Over to the Tribe

Rather than have me explain what happens during the course, I’m going to hand it over to the tribe. Through their work, posts, comments and feedback, see first-hand what happens on this creative adventure!

“It was the best thing I’ve done for myself all year. Quality and intuitive instruction. Nina not only guides you through everything but has a way of teaching that makes you feel like you can accomplish whatever the task is. She gives you the unique tools and insight from her many years as an illustrator to be able to break down the process into manageable pieces. I loved it. I would do it again.” – Nichole Wade

Nette at work

“The scaffolding of the course made learning and participating successful and attainable. While falling behind, I was still able to continue at my own pace with support and encouragement. This course has enable me to follow my intention of preparing and completing my own picture book. As an author my preference was to work with my own text and this was managed beautifully. The course is attainable in 8 weeks providing it is approached with singular determination – it is a demanding course and for this I congratulate Nina and her team. Participants need to be aware that they will have to set time aside – loved the overview and time management structure within the weekly notes – a great idea – and I re-affirm that my ‘falling behind’ was due to other work commitments that I had not foreseen. I will be definitely pursuing this course again – if only to make sure that I am able to move from a process person to one who produces the set outcome.” – Nette Hilton


THE MANUSCRIPT – Participants can either choose to work on their own manuscript or the course manuscript ‘Florence the Fox Goes to School’, (the unpublished picture book story) written by Ben Whittacker-Cook

GOALS“I feel pretty good about meeting my goals for this class … I’ve learned the process and have completed all the projects so far … I think I will go with collage for my final project based on this worksheet … it has given me the extra push i needed. Overall, this course has been empowering … Nina has given me the tools to move forward! In some ways, I don’t want the course to end but in other ways I’m excited to put these steps into practice with the ideas bouncing around in my head. I think, though, that we get to stay in the tree house forever, right? I can’t wait to see how each member continues on. This has been such a positive experience all around!” – Jenny Miller Peterson

Getting started – Nichole Wade

REFERENCE“Week one getting the story and breaking it down really surprised me as to how many details we needed to notice and pick out of the story and in the end, I weighed the pros and cons of doing Florence as an animal vs. human. Human won. I loved doing the analog reference book and have TONNES more images to add. Then the fun began when we got to start drawing little scenes and vignettes. I never finished all of mine. But it sure was a wake up call how much detail is in the making.” – Nichole Wade

THE STORY ARC“I am finally making a dent into homework. To begin with I discovered, when I had to put my text onto the story arc, that I hadn’t really pushed in any conflict. So … quick rewrite … and it wasn’t really quick so much as a sudden insight which was partly a revelation from developing the character. So, off I went again into the manuscript and finally managed to get a story arc in place that sounded like it could work.” – Nette Hilton

Designing character

“The picture book illustration course helped guide me go through the steps to illustrate a picture book. I believe I wouldn’t of done this so thoroughly on my own for my first time. It really helped me my confidence to know I can generate interesting and individual ideas, and I can work within a time schedule that professionals would work to. I really liked that we could choose to use a provided manuscript if we wanted to. I enjoyed this because I am not a writer and I felt excited getting a script I’ve never laid eyes on before to work through. (Just like a real illustrator would). Even though there were several students working on this manuscript, I felt we all had individual styles and unique idea generations to set ourselves apart from one another. I really enjoyed character development week. I think, if I did the course again, I would choose to illustrate Florence as a human…” – Amy Calautti

Amy’s Florence Fox character

Alicia Cash’s character development

“Trying to move forward. Figure if I just keep drawing her she’ll snap into the right shape eventually.” – Alicia Cash

“Developing the character for Florence Fox and working on proportions.” – Belinda Ryan

“I have learnt a lot of invaluable information about body proportions and creating characters from scratch. I had trouble creating a profile of my character but Nina helped me out with that aspect and I am now much more confident in my approach to my own work. I loved seeing all the other participants work in the online group and I highly valued all feedback on my work and the work of others. This is been an incredibly fun and exciting opportunity and the experience gained in priceless. Many thanks to Nina and all other participants for all the unwavering support and unforgettable encouragement.” – Kate Masters

Visual analog and Sculpy head assist in developing Milly’s character and providing a visual guide to character from different angles. Lesley McGee

Character inspiration came from lack of picture books available to children of multi-racial background and a desire to create a story that these children are better able to relate. Lesley McGee

“I learnt so much, improved my picture book development skills and made some wonderful connections. Nina’s instruction and support was invaluable. After completing the course, I feel much more confident in my journey towards becoming a published illustrator.” – Lesley McGee

Milly is from a mixed cultural background, free spirited and individual. Trying to convey this through her unique dress sense and also reflect an island lifestyle. Lesley McGee

Drawing Mr Bumbles – Megan Higginson

“Wow! Finally, I was able to draw Mr Bumbles. He was a bit difficult as I knew in my head what he should look like. I just had to translate that to the page, and then draw him again and again. Getting there. Thanks for the advice, Nina.” – Megan Higginson

Learning to move and draw my character from every angle – Nichole Wade

Things I’ve learned so far…

  1. It is VERY important to draw you characters face from all angles
  2. It is important to keep the face the same looking throughout (I have some adjustments to make as she develops)
  3. Study and print out gestures/poses/character sketch references–these have been invaluable!
  4. Save all your sketches! One evening I played with drawing faces and they are now her classmates in this picture.”

– Nichole Wade

Bringing characters to life

Considering movement – Nichole Wade

“Learning to draw from all angles and considering movement were probably the most eye opening lesson. It inspired me to make sure that the characters weren’t static AND Nina’s lessons using the wire figures literally changed my drawing technique. I started seeing natural placement for joints and body proportions. It led to me creating a second analog book just for movement! It is now that important to me.” – Nichole Wade

Bringing movement to my character by working on a series of vignettes. Pamela Martin

Thumbnail sketches

Thumbnail sketches – Jo Bone

“Here is my next version of thumbnails for [my story] with some great changes suggested by Nina. I’ve sneaked a jam jar into every double spread. Can you spot them in my thumbnails? Gosh this has been fun!” – Jo Bone

Working in the pace, rhythm and flow of the story. (left) Pamela Martin (Right) Lesley McGee

“Have revised my storyboard yet again and also played with flow and change up of page layouts. I started this story some time ago and I am finding that I would like to incorporate some of my original ideas with new.” – Lesley McGee

Thumbnail sketches – Alicia Cash

“Playing catch-up but I have one round of thumbnails done after cutting down the story. Also, I’m really lucky that my folks had kept my grandpa’s old drafting table so I get to use that now, it helps to have that extra space to lay stuff out.” Alicia Cash

Storyboarding and Dummy Book

Storyboarding and making a dummy book – Lesley McGee

“Been working hard to achieve the goals I have set for myself. To have a clearer direction in my manuscript (definitely after all the rewrites), strong character map, (main character is on her way), still developing the others, completed storyboard, Yes! With everything we have learned and continue to learn, I feel much more confident on the way forward to publishing one day.” – Lesley McGee

Storyboarding – Megan Higginson

“As a beginner in illustration, Nina has helped me grasp the fundamentals of Picture Book Illustration in a way that was not overwhelming. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and learned a lot. I believe my picture book writing will be tighter and clear now.” – Megan Higginson

Amy’s video of her storyboard

“As for the time I dedicated to the PBIC course each week varies. Storyboard week was about 20 hrs in total … this week I fixed up my story boards and now I have a full dummy book I am proud of.” – Amy Calautti

Storyboarding and considering tonal values – Amy Calautti

“I spent today redoing pages. My pool page looked way to busy … so that’s why I experimented with some shading. I’ll probably shade in some more … as it turns out, it was a great way to learn tonal values. In summing up I had a great week sketching up a storm, and wore down another pencil!” – Amy Calautti

Storyboarding – Kate Anthon

“Thank you to everyone and your kind words yesterday. I was ready to throw in the towel and give up but thanks to your understanding and encouragement I have managed to pump out some more storyboards overnight and am working on some more … I’m really on a roll now! Only seven more pages to go. Yay!” – Kate Anthony

Storyboarding – Belinda Ryan

“Finally posting my storyboards. What a self confidence roller coaster this has been. A couple of pages didn’t work out quite as I had planned in the thumb nails, I think I would probably tweak them a bit if I was taking them through to publication, but I am equally both pleased with myself and relieved to have finished my first story board.” – Belinda Ryan

Storyboarding – Ester de Boer

“Ok, I am very behind due to the combined events of inner-suburban rhinoceros stampede, fiery asteroid shower and a plague of flesh-eating un-dead meerkats, but back in the saddle now. I redid my thumbnails larger in square format, which I thought suited the pictures due to the emphasis of the architecture of each home … There are nine kids in the story, so I want to keep their individuality. Oh, and now that I look at it, I think the last page would be better looking down at the cat.” – Ester de Boer

Storyboarding – Nette Hilton

“I have been working back into my storyboard which always seems to lead me back to the text – maybe because I’m a writer before an illustrator. However, I’m loving this and just wish there were more hours in the day to work it. Life seems to get in the way. Today I want to find another couple of storyboard sketches to take into my dummy book.” – Nette Hilton

The final artwork

“This was an amazing experience. everything was helpful and relevant. if I had questions, they were quickly answered. the online atmosphere of the class was so positive for beginners and advanced alike. as a beginner, I never felt looked down on or less important. Critique was given in a positive, affirming way. This class was one of the highlights of my year and the things I learned will mould this coming year and years to come.” – Jenny Peterson

Creating a college – Jenny Miller

“When I first began to dream about doing a picture book, I was drawn to paper creations after 20-years of scrapbooking … then I started doing the 52 week illustrators challenge as a way of developing a “style” and I found that I enjoy watercolors. The catch is that I have never had any training and didn’t realized the scope of instruction available online until taking Nina’s class. I think watercolors can capture more of the nuances of character so I plan to immerse myself in classes to learn more but in the meantime I wanted to try the paper idea … What do you guys think?” – Jenny Peterson

Alicia Cash’s workspace

“As with taking any masterclass, I learned a lot and made great leaps in my technique and style and I think I’m much closer to being published now than I was when I started. I could not have made these leaps with youtube videos or even skill share classes because I don’t get the feed back from those and I don’t have a group of amazing artist pushing me to do better, and holding my hand when I don’t feel like I’ll never measure up … I learned so much from Nina and the Tribe and I’m grateful to have this amazing support group that I plan to be active in for the rest of my life.” – Alicia Cash

Final artwork – Alicia Cash

“I finally got it done!” – Alicia Cash

Taking an illustration through to final art – Lesley McGee

“Finally decided on the illustration to take through to final art and have worked up more comprehensive roughs. The cover is calling to me, with many elements of the story to tease the reader. Not quite decided on the text treatment. On a faded pastel background, reversed out of the background or on a scroll? Tending towards the scroll as it ties in to the missing recipe. Love to hear everyone’s thoughts. Can’t believe we are nearing the end, wow what a ride it has been.” – Lesley McGee

From sketch to final artwork – Belinda Ryan

“I’ve almost made the finish line! I worked on my final piece till 4am in an attempt to finish on time today. Regretting that now, but this is where I’m at. I’m kind of getting the hang of the water colours a bit more, but large backgrounds are not my friend. Am so pleased I’ve got this far, but scared I will do something to wreck it. I am thinking I might leave the background and just add detail and outline.” – Belinda Ryan

“I think I must be a crazy perfectionist. I’m re painting my pool illustration. I’m leaving the water until last so my characters hopefully don’t get muddy, and I will make the pool water lighter.” – Amy Calautti

Amy redoing her final illustration

Hi everyone here’s my revised version. I’m a lot happier with it. Amy Calautti

From sketch to finished art – Pamela Albino Martin

“Just uploaded my final illustration…phew. Thanks so much for this amazing course Nina Rycroft! So happy to have shared this experience with you all.” – Pamela Martin

Kate Anthony’s finished art

“I have learnt a lot of invaluable information about body proportions and creating characters from scratch. I had trouble creating a profile of my character but Nina helped me out with that aspect and I am now much more confident in my approach to my own work. I loved seeing all the other participants work in the online group and I highly valued all feedback on my work and the work of others. This is been an incredibly fun and exciting opportunity and the experience gained in priceless. Many thanks to Nina and all other participants for all the unwavering support and unforgettable encouragement.” – Kate Anthony

“I made a promise to myself that I would finish my final illustration this week. As usual set a high bar for myself… argh… Well, after several wake ups at crazy O’clock, I finally finished just now. This has been such an important personal journey for me…Nina, thank you, thank you, thank you, your course has given me focus, at times frustration (with myself) and a fabulous sense of achievement. It will be a long road to bring the whole book into being, but I am well armed with awesome knowledge and a better understanding of the Picture Book world thanks to this course.” – Jeanne Sullivan

From sketch to finished art – Jeanne Sullivan

“Will wonders never cease! I’m finally calling it done. What a ride!!! Thank you one and ALL. My picture needs some help, but it was the best I could do since I ran out of natural daylight…again. Can’t thank you enough, Nina! You’re a most extraordinarily gifted teacher, mentor and beyond generous in sharing every tantalizing skill to help your students on the path to realizing their goals. You’ve opened the door to a whole new world for me. Sending you my most heartfelt thanks and appreciation.” – Jeanne Sullivan

Setting up and illustrating the final artwork – Jo Bone

“The Picture Book Illustration e-Course came along at a perfect time for me. As a newbie to the process and working on a project on my own, Nina’s course gave me all the information, mentoring and support I needed to learn how to successfully take a picture book manuscript through the stages of development to dummy book and full-scale final illustration. I have seen a huge improvement in my skill level and my creative toolbox is now full of practical ways to approach drawing and painting people and animals. It was so helpful to have Nina’s one-to-one feedback on my drawings, especially when trying to figure out how to draw a character in profile, and creating thumbnail images which flow and carry the narrative in the best possible way. Nina’s live videos in response to what was happening in the TreehouseTribe group was also a great help. Since finishing the course I have already been back to watch a video she posted on how to anthropomorphise an animal, which made a big difference in successfully bringing to life a character I wanted to create. The course is a complete package, which sets you up to confidently approach how to go about illustrating a picture book from start to finish. The best way to participate in the course is to keep up with the homework and make the most of Nina’s personal feedback on your work. This made all the difference to me as her experience and advice was spot on. The TreehouseTribe Facebook group of other course participants, along with Pamela Martin’s helpful support and assistance as administrator, was another wonderful component of the course. All the participants encouraged each other and provided feedback and thoughts as we posted our work and made our way through the course. It was fantastic to see everyone’s progression and growing confidence. I am so proud of all I accomplished during the course. A short time ago picture book illustration was a childhood dream, but now it feels like a possible future reality. With Nina’s course under my belt, I feel equipped to build up my portfolio and see where the future takes me!” – Jo Bone

Final artwork – Jo Bone

“Woohoo peeps I am DONE! Had to dig deep to get this double spread finished – I think I’ve lost at least a kilo – too busy to eat! What a ride – so happy to have taken it with you and am looking forward to keeping up with everyone’s arty adventures..thanks again for all your wonderful encouragement along the way.” – Jo Bone

From sketch to final artwork – Megan Higginson

“Woohoo! I made it. Nina, I actually got my final finished in time. Here’s my double page spread. I’m so happy with it….From revised thumbnails, to storyboard, to dummy book, to painting my final. What an amazing journey, and I’ve learned so much.” – Megan Higginson

Nichole’s illustration design and layout

I am furiously painting! I will have that cover spread in tonight and hopefully I will have everything scanned in if the machine cooperates! If nothing else the scans will be a day behind. Ahhh! So close!!!! – Nichole Wade

‘Florence Fox goes to School’ Final artwork – Nichole Wade

“I suddenly realized that my desk is empty for the first time in weeks! What ever shall we do? Thanks again Nina Rycroft. You truly are a phenomenal teacher.” – Nichole Wade

Once the dust settled

“Words can’t express what this class has meant to me. It came at a perfect time. Every question I had has been answered and I feel that any questions going forward can be asked in our Tree house! Everyone has been so encouraging and helpful. The ideas and talents spinning around in this group is amazing. Nina Rycroft, you are a true blessing and I can’t believe that I have been able to learn from you firsthand! You rock!” – Jenny Peterson

“Outstanding!” – Pam Martin

“Wonderful! I learned a lot about picture book illustration and most importantly, I came out of the class feeling ready to further develop my skills and knowledge. I now know what I need to work on more.” – Connie Dowell

“I loved the Picture Book Illustration e-course. Picture book illustration has been a dream of mine for a very long time. I have looked into many art and design courses, but found nothing as specifically geared to illustrating and the process of illustrating a picture book as this course. Nina was a wonderful instructor who shared her knowledge and experience and took us through the process of illustrating a picture book from beginning to end, through very clear video tutorials. She was extremely supportive and accessible throughout the course and gave very personalized feedback. The community formed through the course, “the treehouse tribe” became an integral part, we became each other’s cheer squad and support network who helped and encouraged each other throughout the course. This was an invaluable part of the course and provided opportunities for learning from each other beyond many of our original expectations. Overall, I personally am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in this course and have learnt so much. It has been a life changing, turning point for me and I would absolutely jump at the chance to participate in another course with Nina Rycroft in the future.” – Belinda Ryan 


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