Making An Art Book
By Neil Blevins
Created On: June 21st 2018
This post is about the making of "The Story Of Inc", my first book. The
full "making of" story would be a book in itself, but this post will
mostly focus on the details that you might find helpful if you ever
decided to make your own book. While it will
touch briefly on the creative side of the project, it will focus mostly
on the organizational and business side of things, in the hopes that
telling my story will help others who've decided to take the plunge.
You might have plenty of creative ideas, but may not know all the
making the book itself. I hope that reading this will give you a window
into the process.
So you're an artist, and
you've decided to make your own art book. Fantastic! That's exactly
what I decided to do in the middle of 2013. I had worked for close to
2.5 years on the Pixar film "The Good Dinosaur", the film had just
stalled, and I watched 2.5 years of my work
disappear in a flash as we started the film all over again from
It was a
turbulent time, a sad time, a stressful time, and I decided that I
needed a new personal project, something of my own to take away the
sting of my work situation.
Over the years, almost all of my personal
artwork were little one
off paintings, none of them particularly connected with each other. I
decided it was time to do a larger work, a set of interconnected places
and characters. I had loved series like The Transformers and
french translation of Grendizer) as a child, and now it was time to
make my own universe to tell stories in.
Making a film, even a
short film, was a tremendous undertaking, so inspired by other books
as Steambot's "Exodyssey", Doug Chiang's "Robota" and Alec
Gillis's "Worlds", I decided to make a scifi book that fused story with
Looking over my past paintings, I decided I would take one
of them and expand it out into a larger story. The painting I ended
choosing was of a man and his robot, walking through a brutally hot
coral desert. It already seemed to have a narrative buried in there:
who were these two? what was their relationship? where were they
headed? Pretty soon I constructed a little narrative forming.
I decided to loosely base the relationship of the two main
off of the Manga Lone Wolf
and Cub, another inspiring story. It seemed to fit the bill of the
initial painting of two characters wandering the barren wasteland.
I then went about gathering tons of reference. I
watched films (for example, the
film Lawrence Of Arabia), I started collecting directories of imagery
favorite artists and real photos that could inform the story I wanted
more importantly, I decided to travel to a location to take reference
photography, which I could use for 3d textures and for matte paintings
as well as inspiration.
As well as desert, I also wanted large and strange rock formations, so
location to California where I could get all that was Utah. A family
vacation was planned, and we went off to visit 3 National Parks and
state parks. We took approximately 5000 photographs of ground, soil,
dirt, caverns, and canyons.
Since the desert in my story had been underwater at one point, there
would be giant alien coral
forms left behind. So I bought dozens of pieces of coral from
ebay, and took tons of photos, again, for reference, and to use for
textures and matte painting.
3) Setting Up The Team And Project
While doing a book all on your own may have a sort of
artistic romance to it, there are many advantages to working with a
with bringing my friend Bill Zahn on board. While I do environments,
robots and vehicles, I rarely do humans, and Bill was an amazing
character artist I met at Blur 20 years ago, and have since worked with
at Pixar. Bill had spent the last several years writing screenplays, so
he seemed like the perfect person to
help hash out the story as well. I told him the ideas I had, he said
cool, but maybe we could do this instead". He took many of the
elements of my original story and changed things around,
improving my original idea immensely. Then our friend Stephan
Bugaj came on board to help shape the story. After that, I decided to
adding some more friends to help with the art. My old buddy from Blur
Jeremy Cook was next.
newest version of the story had a pirate spaceship, and Jeremy seemed
like a perfect match for the job. Now that more people were coming on
board, it was time to start getting everyone organized, and set up
- First off, working with your friends is fun!
- Second, working with
many people will bring variety to the project.
- Third, you have people
to help you do all the work, and since a single book can be hundreds
and hundreds of paintings, a little help is a good thing.
- Set up a partnership: Myself,
Bill and Stephan would be the creators
of the project. We had a lawyer draft up a contract that stated that
we all shared the IP (Intellectual Property), and set up how much each
would get from the sale of the book based on how much they contributed
to the project. We are all good friends, and I wanted it to stay that
way. I decided that the best way to keep things harmonious
was to have a contract that clearly stated our business
relationship, and what was expected of everyone, so there was no
- Get team of artists together: we
cast the artists as if they were actors playing a
part in a film. In addition to characters and environments, we needed a
few creatures. I found Dom Qwek, one of my favorite creature
artists to help out. Bill
didn't have the time to do the final design for the alien, so we
our buddy Gio Nakpil to make the original alien designs (finished by
Modarres). I needed someone to
handle the Oasis environment. My friend Chris Stoski had both a matte
painting / concept background, but also an architecture background,
and he seemed perfect for the role of creating a human city.
- Get a lawyer: The initial
NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements, agreements you sign that says we're
gonna talk about secret project stuff now, so don't tell other people
about it) were just boilerplate documents I found online. The final
contracts were written by a lawyer. Lawyers are
expensive (many charge between $250-500 an hour), but they will save
your butt when things go wrong. And
believe me, things go wrong. So all of the contracts, the one for
the 3 partners, the ones for the artists, and the one for the
publisher, were all drafted by a professional lawyer.
- All artists get paid: I
felt it was very important that all artists
get paid something for their time. While it's nice to give your buddy
some free artwork for a good cause, we all need to eat and pay the
rent. If we don't charge money for our art, we can't survive. So
I paid all of the artists either with a freelance rate or a % of
profits from the final book. It wasn't exactly top market rate, but it
was enough that I felt people were being treated fairly.
- All work is owned by the
production: This is just to keep things
clean. All of the artwork created for the project was
owned by the project, just like if this project were a regular film or
videogame. Not only are most concept artists used to this model, but it
makes things simpler if the project ever moves into another format.
- All stock images get credit:
In the process of creating the artwork for the book, some reference
images inevitably ended up being used in the final paintings. We
sure to get licenses from any stock imagery or models we
used, and we credited these images in the book. That way, there are no
about someone coming after us legally once the book goes out to the
public. And of course, we mostly used our own photos, so we wouldn't
have to worry about copyright (like the photos from the Utah trip).
My greatest thanks go out to all of the wonderful people who helped
make this book possible. A team effort made it easier and much more
fun! You all rock!
4) The Story
Our goal was to make a concept art book for a film
that doesn't exist. And after poking at the story, we came up with this
"Inc is a scifi story that centers around a man and his robot trying to
survive on an almost waterless desert planet. Their lives change
dramatically when they come across a giant alien artifact that provides
plentiful water, and a society that guards the resource and is not
interested in sharing with outsiders."
We decided the book would have 3 parts, Illustrated Novel, World Of,
Now it was time to write the story. Bill, Stephan, and I started
the narrative. While maybe some writers just sit down and write, we are
more used to film production, where you get together and write a short
synopsis for each scene to the story. Then we'd discuss what needs to
happen: What is the heart of the story? What do the characters want?
What are their motivations? What are
their flaws? How would they react in their world? Then we'd revise the
scenes. And we revised them again, and again, until we had the skeleton
of a story. Then we divided up the writing work:
- The Illustrated Novel would be a short story length novel
with images showing key moments in the narrative.
- The World Of would be
images of the characters, vehicles, and environments from the story in
more "concept book" style.
- And Making of would be a series of tutorials
discussing how the artwork for the book was made. Originally the
making of was going to be entirely online, then we added it to the book
itself (at the request of our publisher), then we ended up going back
to putting it exclusively online when we left our publisher.
As we developed the project, we decided on a few guidelines.
- Bill Zahn would write the screenplay for the narrative portion of
book (40 pages of text)
- Stephan Bugaj would write the “World Of” portion.
- I would write the tutorials for the “Making of”
this story was basically a Buddy Movie, so we used other Buddy films as
reference (and tried to inject something a little different to the mix
- We also decided that the story would be Space Fantasy, like Star
as opposed to Hard Scifi. So not too much time was spent worrying about
how the technology worked.
- We would use the artwork to inspire
the story, and then the story to inspire the artwork, moving back and
5) The Artwork
I designed and built the Robot "Inc" for the
Bill, as a great human character artist, designed and built
the human Landis.
Most of the artists used a workflow that involved 2d
painting, 3d, and photomanipulation. A set of guidelines sort of
evolved. If the character or set appears in lots of images, make a 3d
it will only appear in a few images, hand paint or photobash in 2d. Use
whatever technique gets you the best looking image the quickest. It
didn't matter how you got there.
Since this was a book, and the final result would be 2d images, we used
simple rigging systems to help pose 3d characters. The rigs got us a
long way, but they weren't perfect. We painted out interpenetrating
joints, and other problems, in 2d.
Wow, the rigging job on that elbow is horrible! No problem, just paint
it away on the final 2d painting.
Then I got together a list of all the major elements we needed to
design and then paint for the story. This is the list I came up with:
As mentioned in part 3, the work was divided up among various artists.
For the most part, we tried to give an entire category in the list
above to a single artist. In the end, I created 309 images for the
project. The total amount of artwork created by all the artists
including my work was 526 images. And 225 images ended up in the final
- Inc The Robot
- Landis The Human
- The Coral Desert
- Desert Creatures
- The Citadel
- The Oasis
- The Settlers
- Guardian Robots
- The Pirate Captain
- Pirate Spaceship
- The Alien Mothership
- The Alien
Art By Jeremy Vickery
Art By Jeremy Cook
Art By Mohammad Modarres
Art By Christina Davis
While all this was going on, we started talking to 5
different publishers. Several didn't want to
publish the project, but offered us great advice.
In the end, we
decided to go with publisher X (name withheld, you'll see why in a
minute). At first, everything seemed to be going great. There were
issues and disagreements, but they seemed pretty small in the grand
scheme of things. But as we continued to work with them over the course
of 2 years, we slowly started to realize that Publisher X was not as
enthusiastic about the project as we'd hoped. We figured out that
publishing our book was something they kinda felt compelled to do, as
opposed to being excited about it, and it showed in how they handled
A publishing deal is like a marriage. Don't get
married with someone who thinks you're just okay. Get married to the
who loves and understands you. That doesn't mean refuse to compromise,
though. Publishers have lots of great ideas. I know you believe that
all of your ideas are pure genius, but trust me, they aren't. It's good
to have an objective, outside view to make your project stronger. But
at a certain point, if you don't see eye to eye on
the big things, it's time to move on.
This is the first place that having a lawyer really helped out. Before
signing with a publisher, have your lawyer read
over your contract CAREFULLY. Having a great contract was what allowed
us to pull our book from our publisher when we decided that we were
going in different directions. Otherwise, they could have chosen to
book, and possibly never released it. In our case, the publisher gave
us the book back without a big battle, and we managed to come to a
reasonable parting agreement, with our lawyer helping along the way.
If you do decide to go with a publisher, here's a few things to
The publishing timeline:
From handing in materials to landing the book on a bookstore shelf can
be anywhere between 6
months to 2 years. So don't expect the process to go quickly. It won't.
- Hand in the Materials:
get them all of the artwork and story and other supporting information.
- Editing: The materials
will be handed to an editor who will make suggestions on how to improve
the story, more artwork that's needed, artwork that should be cut. You
make edits and hand back again to the editor until everyone is happy
(or time runs out).
- Layout: The final
materials will be handed to someone who will lay out the book (see
- Copy Editing (Proof Reading):
A second editing process will occur to make sure there are no spelling
errors, grammatical issues, etc.
- Print Proofs: Proofs will
be printed to confirm what the final color will look like in the book
(see section 10). Artist and publisher both have to sign off on these.
- Printing: The book will
be printed (see section 10)
- Distribution: the book
will be sent to online and brick and mortar stores (see section 11)
And of course, if you decide to self publish, you will have to do all
of these things yourself.
We also learned a lot about publishing deals. A standard publishing
contract gives you 7% of book's sale price, or 15%
of net. So if your book sells for $20 at the bookstore, expect to make
about $1.40. $10 goes to whomever is selling the book (the book store,
Amazon, etc), and the remaining 43% goes to the publisher for doing
all of the things in the list above.
Layout is the process of
taking all the text and artwork and placing it on the page. It's not
nearly as simple as it may sound. We knew the process wasn't simple,
but after we went through it, we became even more respectful of how
difficult this job is. What format should be book be?
Portrait or landscape? We went with landscape because this was
an art book for a movie that didn't exist, we wanted it to feel
cinematic, which meant a landscape format like a widescreen film. And
how large should the
book be? We decided to do a book approximately the same size as the
As we worked on the paintings and text, I made a rough layout to
get an idea what parts of the story need more
illustrations, and what size illustrations we needed. I did my rough
layout in Photoshop, which is almost certainly not the right software
use, but I'm familiar with it, and this was a rough layout, so it
all the bells and whistles of professional page layout software.
The final professional layout is almost always done in Adobe
InDesign. Most printing places want it that way, and ours was
A professional layout, if the publisher doesn't do it in house, will
cost between $3000-5000. Anything lower, you're not getting a good job.
So if someone says "I can do it for $1000", walk away. Don't be
stingy on the layout. The layout is just as important if
not more important than the artwork itself.
Once we had a first draft of the professional layout, I went to Kinkos
to photocopy the book
at the correct size. It doesn't matter if the quality sucks. This is to
verify that this is in fact the right size of book, and that
the page layout feels good.
Also, take a look at the 2nd or 3rd page of most books, which contains
all the book info such as ISBN number, Edition, Library Of Congress
Number, etc. Use that as reference for your own page of credits and
After we left our publisher, we decided we'd print
and distribute the book ourselves (we also did a major revision to the
layout of the book, paying for a professional layout artist to do the
fixes, thanks Paul!). We needed money to do it, so we
decided to put the book on Kickstarter. Doing a successful Kickstarting
campaign is a whole topic unto itself. If you're interested in the
subject, there's tons of websites to offer advice. I'll give you a
few tips that we learned from our Kickstarter.
- First off, even if you have the money already to print your book,
Kickstarting has the advantage of marketing. About a third of the
people who contributed to the book were people who discovered the
project through Kickstarter. So if we had sold it ourselves without
having the kickstarter, we'd have started with only 2/3rds of the
sales. Kickstarter is a good way to get the word
out about your book and to find people to buy it. Think of Kickstarter
as a pre-order system with built in marketing.
- From our research, the best time to start a Kickstarter is
between January and May. Books that Kickstart during this time have a
higher likelihood of success. The best time of month is right after the
1st or 15th (People just got a paycheck, and they want to spend it).
The best time of the week is Tues-Thurs. On Monday people are too busy
catching up on post weekend emails, and on Friday everyone is busy
trying to get work done before the weekend. The best time of day? If a
primarily USA audience, 8-10 am PST.
- We added a bunch of rewards, from extra fine art prints, a
special edition of the book, to a tshirt.
- Remember Kickstarter takes approximately a 10% fee for their
services, so build that into the price of the rewards.
- With a kickstarter, you tend to get a large portion of sales on
the first few days, very little in the middle, and a ton on the last
few days. See our graph below, we thankfully had better progress than
many in the middle of the campaign, but in broad strokes our
kickstarter was pretty similar to others.
We actually ended up doing 2 Kickstarters. The first lasted 3 days, and
then we received a cease and desist letter from a well known company
that claimed the robot in the book looked too similar to theirs. This
is where a lawyer saved our butts a second time. We discussed the case,
and the lawyer told us that we'd certainly win in court. However, going
to court would likely cost between $15,000-$20,000. We really didn't
want to spend that kind of money, so we went back and redesigned the
robot, and re-inserted him into the paintings. While I'll always have
fond memories of the original design, many people like the new design
better, and over time the new design has become the character, even
more so than the original (at least to me). Then we did a new, second,
Kickstarter, which was a huge success! We made $11,640 of out $10,000
For ideas on how to perhaps set up your own book kickstarter, feel free
to check ours out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/artofsoulburn/the-story-of-inc-narrative-artbook
Once you have your book, and its getting close to final layout, it's
time to registered your book. These rules may differ in other
countries, but here's the two things you need to do in the USA.
- Get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, which
will go on the inside and outside of the book as an identifier.
Bookstores will want this, as well as Amazon, and other distributors.
You can get the number made into a bar code, which is the barcode found
on the back of most books. Here's a useful Article on ISBNs: Everything
the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books
and here's where to buy your ISBN: Bowker
- Get a Library of Congress number as well, and place it inside the
book on that 2nd or 3rd page mentioned in section 7. Then, once the
book is printed, send the Library Of Congress a copy of the book, and
it'll now be officially "copyrighted", which means you have some mild
legal protection if someone else decides to try and steal characters or
specific story points from your book.
Rule #1 of printing: the more books you print, the lower the cost of
printing each book. This can be huge. For example, printing 1000 books
can be $8 a book. 1500 books? $6.60 a book. 3000 books? $5 a book. So
decide on how many books you want to print, and keep the number as big
as possible so each book is as inexpensive as possible. We went with a
print run of 1000 books. 3000 books is a pretty common print run for a
book published by a publisher.
Next, you need to decide where to print your book. While it's nice to
print everything locally, the price difference between that and
printing in China can be substantial. The advantage of local printing
is that it costs a lot less to ship the books to you. The downside is
that our research showed that to print the book locally would be $15 a
book, and it could be as low as $3-5 per book if printed in China. So
we ended up printing the books in China and shipping them to the USA.
There are plenty of websites out there that can give you an estimate on
how much it would be to print and ship your book from China, just give
them the number of books you want, number of pages, etc, and they'll
give you a full quote. This number is helpful when deciding how much
money you need from your kickstarter, and how much to sell the book for.
Next, it's time to choose your printer. We went with On The Mark
after a friend recommended them. They were great, they really care
about quality, they had amazing communication, and they put up with all
of our annoying questions.
The printer will need the book layout from your layout artist, also the
cover for the book, which they will likely give you a template for.
Then they will print a proof.
There are a number of ways to print a book. The main two are Offset
Printing (giant printing presses), and Digital Printing (not too
different from using a standard
office printer). The Digital Printing books will be cheaper, but for
art, the colors aren't nearly as nice. For our first proof, we did a
proof with the Digital Printer (even though the final book would be
printed with Offset Printing), and the results looked really
desaturated. So we paid a little extra and did a proof using a process
much closer to the final Offset Printing process, and that proof turned
out great. And it was almost identical to the final printed book. So
I'd recommend going Offset Printing, and also, even though it's a few
hundred dollars more, go with the Offset Printing proof.
Our printer suggested doing two edition of the book, the regular, and
the special edition. The regular has a normal book with dust jacket,
the special edition was in black cloth with a shiny gold emblem. We
printed 750 regular, 250 special, and sold both as different rewards on
We also decided to go with using bumper boxes, per our printer's
suggestion. These are simple form fitting boxes that really protect the
book from damage. It added to the cost of each book, but can really be
a life saver, with fewer returns due to damaged books. Also, remember
to put a sticker on the outside of the bumper box with your ISBN
number, so when they are distributed, they don't need to be opened to
confirm it's the correct book.
The Special Edition of the book, in a bumper box:
Finally, once you're sure everything is perfect, flick the switch and
the books will be printed and shipped to you in the US.
A tiny warning, since we were bitten by this. Make sure you're not
printing your book anytime around Chinese New Year (Jan-Feb). The whole
country shuts down for a month and your book won't get printed or
after Chinese New Year is over.
Now that you have your book, it needs to get distributed. We already
had pre sales through Kickstarter, so step 1 was to send the books to
the Kickstarter customers who paid for to them. Then we'd do an online
store to sell copies of the book (we used Gumroad for our online store), and
went to brick and mortar book stores to get the book sold as well.
We're also hoping to sell some at future comic conventions.
Rather than ship the books ourselves, we decided to go with Fulfillment
by Amazon. All the books are kept in an Amazon warehouse, and when we
make a sale, we give Amazon the address to ship to and they do,
charging us once a week for the shipping cost for all the books shipped
that week. This has a number of
One of the downsides is it's very complex to set up. Amazon is very
picky about how you list and ship the books to their warehouse. But
set it up, it takes all of 60 seconds to ship a book, so every time you
get a new sale on your online store, just go over to your Amazon
sellers account and give them the name and address. We followed this
set up our Amazon account: https://gameswithoutstrings.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/using-amazon-fulfillment-to-ship-your-kickstarter-product-part-1-of-4/
- It was easy to know how much shipping was going to cost for the
US and worldwide since amazon gave us all that data, so we could build
that into the shipping price of the
book (for our book, amazon charges approx $6 to ship to the US, and $20
to ship worlwide). Do note Amazon does not ship to Canada or Israel, so
if you get orders from those two places, you'll need to ship them
yourself using USPS (this is due to some strange international laws).
- Amazon has a lot of experience shipping and keeping things in a
warehouse, so you don't have 1000 books in your garage.
Now it's time to publicize the book. The Kickstarter was a great first
step at publicity, but to keep the book selling...
This is one area that a good publisher can help, if they believe in
your book, they can do a lot of marketing, and reach a lot of people
that you are unlikely to reach on your own.
- do interviews
- send free copies of your book to everyone who might be able to
persuade other to buy it (word of mouth)
- Find magazines, online sites, any avenue to get the book out there
- If you hope to see the book made into a film, send copies to
producers and directors
- Make a book trailer! we made a book trailer as part of our
Kickstarter campaign to help get people excited about the book. It's
basically a bunch of the paintings lightly animated in After Effects
with music, sound effects, and a narrator. Check out the trailer here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/artofsoulburn/the-story-of-inc-narrative-artbook
Conclusion: The Hard Monetary
Reality Of Selling Books
So before we end this little article, here's a little
harsh reality for you of how much money you are likely to make.
The average book only sells 3000 copies in its lifetime. If you sell
the book for say $28, 3000 books x $28 (160 page book) = $84,000
50% of the sale price of the book goes to the bookstore or
online retailer like Amazon. 42.5% goes to the publisher for their
editing, layout, printing, marketing, distribution. And you get 7.5% of
the cover price (15% net).
So in this example, the Publisher gets $35,700, printing costs
approximately $3 a book for $9000, and the publisher gets $26,700.
The artist gets $6,300.
I did the majority of production on our book from Oct 2013 to Sep 2015
= 23 months = 100 weeks x 14 work hours a week = 1400 hours of work. If
add the time spent by the other artists and writers, it's probably
double that, or 2800 hours of work to make the book. That's 2800 person
hours of work, divided by 52 weeks x 40 hours a week, which means the
book took 1.34 person years to produce.
That comes out to making $2.25 an hour. Minimum wage in california is
$10 an hour, which = $20,800 a year.
So if I worked on projects like Inc full time, I would make $4700 a
What I'm trying to tell you is, while most of us have the dream to work
on our own artistic vision and get paid a living salary for it, that
dream is very unlikely. So the next best
dream is to find a company or set of freelance projects that you enjoy
believe in, make enough money off that to live comfortably, and find
to make your own books on the side. Or else move to a location in the
country where your rent is ridiculously low. :)
But don't fear! There are upsides to making a book, even if money isn't
one of them. Some of those upsides include:
And finally, a few things we'd do differently next time:
- You have a book! That's something to be proud of. It's so cool
holding your own book in your hands.
- I was inspired by books growing up, so if you do a good job,
others will be inspired by your book to make art. Pass along the torch!
- People will see your book, and may hire you for other projects.
Your book becomes a giant portfolio piece, not just because of good
art, but because you have shown you have the discipline to do all the
work necessary to produce a book.
- You can shop the book around for a film deal, videogames, comics,
Anyways, while a ton of work, we liked the project enough that we're
going to make future books. Hopefully this discussion inspires you to
make your own book, and doesn't scare you away from doing it :) Perhaps
some of this information will give you a head start in your own
project, so you don't have to learn everything through trial and error.
- Will anyone buy an art book for a film that doesn't exist? A more
standard format novel, graphic novel, etc is easier for a publisher to
market, and we may do a more standard format next time.
- The person who does the final layout of the book is just as
important to the look of the project as any artist making images, and
next time we will proceed with that in mind.
- Consider going straight to self publishing instead of going
through a publisher. It's more work, but we do get more creative
control, and now that we've self published once, doing it again is
likely to be easier.
And finally, please consider buying "The Story Of Inc", so
we can make more books in the future, and maybe even afford to buy your
book you're going to make in the future!
Go here to purchase our book: https://gumroad.com/artofsoulburn
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