Character Development

Nov 7, 2023 | Picture Book Development

My production schedule has been very full with graphic design projects lately. In between juggling three larger, long term projects with the day-to-day website and advertising campaign assets that I generate for a Toronto-based marketing company, I’ve been quietly working on writing and illustrating my very first picture book for children.

Although I practically grew up in the library and have been a proud bookworm almost since birth, this is my first attempt at writing a book. I’ve illustrated a few story and activity books for clients but that was always done on the computer, with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

I wanted to do this one the old fashioned way: illustrating with ink and watercolour. With my own two hands.

So, starting back in January of this year, I began reading everything I could find about the art of writing and illustrating picture books, along with what the process looks like and how the industry works. I like to do my homework. It feels important to take the time to get this right.

I’ve also been practicing my painting and illustrating skills at night and on the weekends. I attended ‘Plein Air’ painting meet-ups, watercolour painting workshops, weekend art retreats and other classes across Ontario. I’ve learned a lot in the last year.

I’m getting better. My painting and illustration skills are improving.

And it’s fun!

So, the next steps included taking courses online. The first one was about writing and the second was about illustrating picture books. I’ve now completed the first draft of my manuscript, and the storyboard. My character development is coming along nicely. It’s exciting!

The main character is an Old English Sheepdog inspired by a combination of my two sheepdogs, called Barkley and Bella. They are hilarious. Barkley crossed the rainbow bridge a few years ago but I have so many stories and memories banked of the adventures we went on together, and they many ways they made me laugh.

Old English sheepdogs are clowns by nature. They love their humans, are intelligent, emotional and endlessly curious. How could I not at least attempt to create and publish at least one story about them?

According to the books I’ve read, it’s a rookie mistake to admit this—so I promise I won’t include it in a cover letter to potential new agents or publishers—but I would love to create an entire series about the Adventures of Bella.

Character Development Sketches

Here’s a peek at my sketchbook. Bella’s face is very expressive, so I wanted to capture her smile and the mischievous look in her eye.

The first rough sketches had too much muppet, or fraggle influence so I kept at it and eventually came up with something I was happy with. It will be interesting to see how this character evolves throughout this process.

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    Julie Bateman

    Hi there! I've been a self employed graphic designer, working from a home office in Barrie, Ontario Canada since 2003.

    In the summer of 2022, I decided to start an ink & watercolour travel journal to document an upcoming road trip from Ontario to Prince Edward Island with Rob, my husband, and Bella our Old English Sheepdog.

    From there, I fell in love with drawing, painting and documenting my world in sketchbooks. That learning process inspired me to follow the dream of writing and illustrating a picture book for children.

    That's where this blog begins.

    If you're interested in collaborating or hiring me for freelance projects, please email me at


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