I always tell my students that illustrators must wear many different hats while they are working on a book. They must be a casting director to cast their characters, a movie director to choose their camera angles, a set designer to find locations, an interior decorator, a costume designer, an actor, and oh yes, an artist!!!
When I'm writing a manuscript, I usually have a pretty good idea who my characters are, but I don't begin drawing until the manuscript is finished. I think this is because while I write, they are still evolving in my imagination. Once I begin drawing, I must think about them visually in specific ways. Here are some questions I ask myself to get started:
Is he/she an animal or person?
How old is he/she?
What time period does he/she live in?
Does he/she wear clothing? What kind of clothing?
Is there something about him/her that is distinct or recognizable?
Does he/she have a sidekick?
From the beginning, I knew that Boris and Stella were going to be animals living in the city, and I knew that Boris was a bear. But I wondered ... would he be a bear living in a world of people or a world of animals? And if it is an animal world, will there be different kinds of animals or just bears?
The drawing I made of Boris was almost perfect right from the beginning.
Pssst ... My father wears a hat like this.