Dream it covers side by side.
On the left is the first version of the book cover that was used in the classroom while we conducted research on whether the book improved optimistic thinking. And the second image is the final book cover.

How the book cover was illustrated

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover!?

In this article, we will discuss not only the book cover was illustrated but how this process affected the title of the book and the website name and everything moving forward. We have lots of thumbnails to show you how the concept evolved and at the end, there’s a short description of the hand-drawn technique.

To give you an idea of how much work went into this book, witness above how far we have come judging by the cover alone. The first cover was what we used during our testing. It was nice but never felt quite right. When we presented the book to our future publisher, Magination Press, they immediately said it looked more like a book about sleeping dreams. We knew we had to change it, but how? That process took another 14 rough drafts that were put to the vote on social media. We think the final cover pictured on the right makes the dream process look more purposeful and interactive. And, by the way, this is an illustration of Sara, who actually wore a hat like this one. And our favorite part of the new cover is that there is a fill-in-the-blank line so kids can add their name and become a co-author; after all, they will be doing just as much writing and illustrating as we did. Later, they are also encouraged to create their own author bio. We worked hard to make every page interactive.

"Dream It!" book cover composition animation show 3 steps from fancy thumbnail to final cover.
An animation showing 3 steps from fancy thumbnail to final cover. Can you spot the differences?

More concepts

Below you can see some more cover comps. “Comps” is illustrator lingo for “composition.” A comp is essentially a rough idea. A rough idea is called a “thumbnail” because these drawings are done so fast and small, they are about the size of your thumbnail.

So, my first efforts were to try to make the cover look less like a book about sleeping dreams and more like a workbook about life goals. Of course, my first solution — which are never the best — was to try and salvage what I had already worked so hard on. I was emotionally attached to these covers because they were influenced by my bicycle ride around the world when, on a perfect day, I felt like I was flying over the mountaintops. My trip and this feeling were an inspiration for the book. (That’s another story.)

Below you can see the result. The one on the left was initially supposed to be the back cover. On the front cover (above), the boy and cat and were flying over the mountains searching for their dream. It was a dreamy night-time scene, with a full moon and magical stars. Then on the back cover (below), it is daytime, and the boy and cat have found their dream. The cover on the right (below) has a graph paper background to make it look more like a workbook. The idea is that kids could begin drawing, coloring and brainstorming right on the front cover.

"Dream it!" Cover compositions rounds 2 and 3
“Dream it!” Cover compositions round 2 and 3. The one on the left was initially supposed to be the back cover, where the boy and the cat have found their dream. Scott loves the symbolism of climbing a mountain. And the cover on the right has a graph paper background to make it look more like a workbook.

Well, no one was liking the stick figure. And, everyone still thought it looked too dreamy. So, now — you guessed it — we also changed the title of the book. We were given a bunch of options and eventually chose “Dream it!” It actually helped us solidify our thinking and contributed to the name of our website because our dream process involves three steps: dreaming, mapping, playing. So, of course, we needed three books: 1) Dream it! 2) Map it! 3) Play it! and that led to the website name of DreamMapPlay, which we shortened to Dreamaplay, which could also look like this Dreamaplay

For the record, we didn’t call the book “Big Goals” or “The Goal Playbook” because a goal is a dream that you have committed to actually doing. So, of course, first, you need a dream, but not just any dream. We wanted to teach kids how to dream big and small and everything in between, which really meant teaching them how to find their passion. (That’s a whole other story, too.)

Anyway, so more covers. Below you can see a few of my thumbnails as I explored different ideas. There were many more. You can see I’m still in love with my first cover and try to carry over the flying theme.

"Dream it!" book cover thumbnails. These are almost all flying themes. Hot air balloon, a Leonardo da Vinci inspired air screw.
“Dream it!” book cover thumbnails. We have several variations of the flying theme including hot air balloons and a Leonardo da Vinci inspired air screw. And we also have a man on the mountaintop. These covers were influenced by Scott’s bicycle ride around the world where on a perfect day he felt like he was flying over the mountain tops.

I put these drawings to a vote on social media. The winner was the hot air balloons, and a lot of people liked the hot air balloon where you could add your own dream. My idea here was that man had the dream to summit the mountain and, after summiting the mountain, he has the new dream to fly. Unfortunately, our publisher had just approved another book with a hot air balloon on the cover. I couldn’t believe it! What are the chances of that?

So, it was back to the drawing board again. The last thumbnail pictured above is an all-type solution that our editor wanted to see. It looks dreamy without being sleepy, but I wanted something more. I felt the cover needed an image that would arrest the casual passerby and something that implied we were creating new dreams and new realities. Finally, I had the idea of the girl wearing the inventor’s dream cap. And after more thumbnails and a lot of fine-tuning, we had a winner!

How did you draw the pictures?

These days most people do digital illustrations, but it makes me feel disconnected. I still love the feel of a pencil in my hand. So I sketch everything out on paper. I also love watching a marker soak into the paper. (I haven’t yet mastered a sable brush like Bill Watterson, author and illustrator of Calvin and Hobbes — another favorite.) However, I do retouch everything on the computer and add color. Another one of my oddities is that I prefer to hand-letter everything. For example, the cover is completely hand-drawn and hand-lettered. I love to integrate the words with the pictures and I want everything to be unique. Perhaps this is just an extension of how I work because once Sara gives me a great idea I automatically start sketching it out and use pictures like I would use words. Often, I read children’s books where if the illustrations were subtracted — as beautiful as they might be — the story would be unaffected. In other words, I think if you read “Dream It!” you will notice that the pictures help tell the story and create a unique symbolism for our lessons.

Picture of Scott Stoll

Scott Stoll

My claim to fame is that I rode a bicycle around the world and wrote some books. More about me.

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