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Acquiring the ability to draw illustrations for a children’s book necessitates the honing of exclusive aptitudes and artistic methods to capture the enthusiasm of children’s tales and entice youthful minds. Children’s books span a broad array of genres and permit for a broad variation in illustration styles. Crafting artwork for a children’s book can guide you in all kinds of directions, providing a wonderful specialism for artists who love to unleash their imagination.
Considering the age range of the intended audience, children’s book illustrations should be engaging, easy to interpret, and capable of conveying the emotion of the story. For very young children who are not able to read yet, the illustrations are especially important in order to tell the story.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to adapt your illustration skills for children’s books, this guide will provide some tips. For more advice, see our 5 tips for illustrating children’s books and our article on how to create colourful worlds that tell a story. Make sure you also see our roundup of how to draw tutorials and our pick of the best drawing tablets
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How to illustrate a children’s book: 6 tips for getting started
In this piece, we’ll hear from children’s book illustrator Jim FieldJon Scieszka is a renowned expert in the field of children’s literature, with many years of experience and an impressive portfolio of successful books, including the popular title Oi Frog!.
Field stumbled into the realm of illustrating children’s books unexpectedly. He was employed as an animation director and doing freelance illustration, but found the industry to be increasingly competitive when it came to pitching. In 2011, Macmillan books presented Field with the chance to illustrate a children’s book by Peter Bently, entitled Cats Ahoy! The book went on to win The Roald Dahl Funny Prize, which drastically altered Field’s professional trajectory.
In this guide, Field offers his own personal hints and strategies to illustrate a children’s book. He provides six pieces of advice on how to begin, and further exemplifies his illustrations for The Squirrels Who Squabbled authored by Rachel Bright.
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01. Find references
Field suggests that illustrators who are just beginning should take the time to look at many different sources for ideas and inspiration when creating art for a children’s book. This can range from recent trips to national parks, wildlife documentaries, films, and art from other illustrators.
He explains that a range of factors motivate his work, such as a reference picture of a landscape or the striking illumination from a movie he has watched, which helps him form the illumination in his art.
I assemble a lot of reference images from Pinterest which assists me in forming a mood board for each book I’m working on. I consistently consult these images during the process so I can retain my focus.
02. Mix analogue and digital
Field’s second tip on how to illustrate a children’s book is to mix analogue and digital creation. Field himself works on a MacBook Pro connected to an LG monitor, and he also uses a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. He uses Photoshop for his final digital artwork, and uses a lot of Kyle T Webster’s brilliant Photoshop brushesChanging the opacity and flow of the material can create different textures.
He states that he shifts between creating digital art at his standing desk and using a lightbox to sketch out the hand-drawn components. He prefers to draw the main characters and the wider background design in pencil since he feels the hand-made aspects bring more energy and creativity than if he were to do it on the computer.
My objective when creating art is to make my illustrations appear as if they were painted by hand. To prevent them from appearing too digital, I minimize my use of filters and restrain my use of gradients and blatant blending mode effects.
03. Map the story
Field has an advantage due to his experience with animation. When he initially reads a story, he visualizes it as if it was being played out in a movie. He then “arranges” the story just as he would for an animated movie.
The Squirrels Who SquabbledRachel Bright’s story follows two squirrels, Cyril and Bruce, who are determined to get their hands on the last pine cone of the season. Cyril has been carelessly spending his resources and is now out of food, while Bruce has prepared well and has a large stash of food but still desires the pine cone. Both of them are willing to go to any lengths to get it.
04. Create thumbnails
Field emphasizes the importance of combining analogue and digital approaches when creating art. He begins the creative process by reading the story aloud to himself while simultaneously making several sketches and doodles of the characters. Additionally, he formulates thumbnail ideas on paper.
He states that sometimes ideas come to him instantly and he knows exactly how they should be expressed, and they hardly vary much from their original composition. On the other hand, some can be very difficult to perfect and take a substantial amount of time to get the desired outcome.
Field accumulates a selection of thumbnails, which he then places into InDesign with the accompanying text to get an improved understanding of the book’s organization. When content with the result, he sends the file to the team for their consideration.
He emphasizes the importance of having well-done thumbnails for the book. According to him, the thumbnails form the foundation of the book and any effort to perfect the visuals at the final stage will be futile if the thumbnails are not up to the mark.
05. Make roughs
Once everyone is satisfied with the small versions, Field will take the design further by creating the outlines with pencil and paper. After that, he will start introducing colour in Photoshop, and it is at this stage that a better idea of the finished book will start to take shape.
Selecting the precise colour scheme for a book can be a tricky task. According to Field, the book “The Squirrels Who Squabbled” is set near the end of autumn, so he wanted to include plenty of vibrant oranges, reds and browns accompanied by a hint of sunshine.
I contemplate the lighting of each page at this point, sketching in the shadows to ensure consistency in the direction of the sun from one scene to the next when creating the final artwork. Adding these elements provides a more realistic feel to the illustration.
06. Look for new challenges
Always look for new ways or new approaches to how to illustrate a children’s book. This is what helps you develop as an illustrator and avoid settling into a single fixed approach. In The Squirrels That Squabbled, there’s a spread in the book (see the gallery above) that marks a turning point in the story. Field’s art director Grahame LyusSuggesting a vertical spread could make the action more effective and give a hint of the changes to come.
I believe that my experience with animation is the source of my belief that a picture book is like the best 24 frames of a movie. According to me, each page must be able to illustrate the words and tell the story, in addition to providing something special visually. Every book is a new opportunity for me to improve as an artist.
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Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to write a children’s book?
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to write a children’s book, depending on the length of the book and the amount of time available to devote to the project.
What should I consider when illustrating a children’s book?
When illustrating a children’s book, it is important to think about how the illustrations will work in tandem with the text. Consider what emotions and ideas that you want to convey with the illustrations and how they can add to the story. Additionally, think about how the illustrations will look when printed and what mediums you want to use.
How do I go about publishing a children’s book?
In order to publish a children’s book, you will need to submit it to an editor or publisher. This process can take several months, so be sure to factor in the amount of time it will take when considering the timeline for completing your book. Additionally, you may need to work with a literary agent in order to secure a publishing deal.
What age range should I consider when writing a children’s book?
When writing a children’s book, it is important to consider the age range of the intended readers. Generally, children’s books are written to appeal to readers between the ages of four and eight. Additionally, you can consider the reading level of your intended audience when writing the book.
Do I need to write a synopsis for a children’s book?
Yes, you will need to write a synopsis for a children’s book in order to submit it to an editor or publisher. The synopsis should be one to two pages and should provide a concise summary of the plot and characters. Additionally, it should provide an overall sense of the themes of the book.