Animation, Illustration and Writing – Part 3: Observation

By Sarah Lynne Reul

(This is the final entry in a three-part series – earlier posts here: Part 1: Iterations and Part 2: Planning)

Finally, my favorite point – observation. Animation, illustration and writing all provide me with an excuse to slow down and pay attention to the things that are going on around me all the time.  In order for me to capture reality or some version of it, to create an “illusion of life”, I need to spend time sketching, listening, watching and thinking. It’s wonderful to have a “reason” to really notice and discover the unique way that things are actually happening – to nerd out about how a squirrel’s tail flows in an s-curve while it’s bounding away, to be unreasonably enthusiastic about how the leaves of a certain kind of plant curl around the stem while another plant fans out its leaves in even plumes.  

It’s that fleeting sense of wonder that I try to capture in my writing, illustrations and animation.  Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter of the recent stop-motion film Anomalisa, wrote a lovely essay about the observation skills of animators.  

This kind of observation and interpretation relates directly to writing and illustrating children’s books. Once you’ve paid attention to the world and recorded your experiences in your own way – jotting down words, sketching out the shapes and feelings –  you can then apply these observations to your work… or defy them entirely for a different effect. Having an understanding of how things really work can lend a feeling of reality and authenticity that I don’t think you can get any other way.

And while talking about observation, I have to mention Pinterest, since it’s such a staple of my research and sketching inspiration. I know it’s not the same as real life experience, but I love using pinboards to find and save images of things I’d have trouble seeing all together in real life – like vintage neon signs

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Scores of cassowaries (aka the world’s most dangerous bird!)…

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or insane door handles from around the world. Who might live inside those houses?

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Also check out this past Writers’ Rumpus post by Carol Ekster: Pinterest for Authors and Illustrators? You Bet! 

Spending some time researching and making observations can have a profound effect on your writing and illustration work.

How have you incorporated observation into your process?

Sarah Lynne Reul is an illustrator, writer and award-winning 2D animator who likes science, bright colors and figuring out how things work. Learn more at


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