Sketchbooks: Your Gateway to Children’s Book Production

by Sabina Hahn

Steve Light is a children’s book writer / illustrator and a teacher.

He studied Illustration at Pratt Institute, where he met master artist and teacher Dave Passalacqua, who became his mentor for years to come. Upon graduating he did some corporate illustrations but decided he would rather not. Now he teaches art in the nursery school, develops books at night and completes finished art in summer during school breaks.

Steve loves to draw and carries a sketchbook everywhere he goes. Steve loves fountain pens and illustrates primarily with pen and ink. He also loves making things; some of his early book proposals are carved, cut or glued. His alphabet book encased in an old dial-up address book is particularly lovely, with bold typography and paper cut-outs for each letter.

When Steve starts a book, he carries a sketchbook for the ideas for just the one book. He doesn’t use pencil but instead works directly with pen and ink, making his mistakes work and having fun (so for example, the extra hot dog in the Have You Seen My Dragon? becomes a bowl of nachos).  Steve sometimes makes look books for each project full of things that inspire: images for the look and feel, color, photo references. He also keeps a  little cardboard template for the trim size so that he can make his thumbnails in the correct proportions. Thumbnails then get blown up and reworked on the lightbox with ink.

Most of his books starts as drawings and doodles, then develop wordless books. Words come later. But reading widely and going off on tangents seems to be his style and his strength. Little details added to his drawing add depth and surprise for the adults and children alike.

Some things grow as Steve works on the book. Getting obsessed with a particular color blue, led to the blue becoming it’s own character in Swap! and for his new book to be made. How exactly is a secret that was revealed during the talk.

Steve’s main advice is to have fun and draw. To be creative. To try new things: some other material, some other technique (Steve himself carves wood). When drawing, he tells himself stories : what the people in the windows are doing, how was their day, what they had for dinner. Go places and draw is his other advice. Get obsessed and enjoy.

Steve Light’s links:

Wikipedia page:
Amazon author page:
Candlewick author page:
All the Wonders:

Some artists mentioned during his talk

Early book dummy for Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak:
Ben Shahn:
Andre Francois:
Saul Steinberg:
Ronald Searle:
J P Miller (Golden Books):
Kelly Light:
Chuck Jones:
Richard McGuire :

Sabina Hahn is a freelance illustrator, animator and sculptor currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She is also a co-founder of Interval Studios. You can view her portfolio at and her daily drawings at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s