Writing a children’s book may seem like an easy task. There are fewer words than in a novel, and the concepts are simple so that children can easily understand them. However, children’s books come with their unique challenges and you have to decide how to illustrate a children’s book at some point in the process.
The book is designed for young readers, and sometimes it is a picture book for toddlers or infants. The first thing that small children are often drawn to in a book is the illustrations. You have to understand what appeals to children, how to illustrate a children’s book if you have no artistic skills, and the costs involved with such an endeavor. Writing children’s books is not as simple as it may seem at first glance.
This article will help you write your own children’s book. We will discuss the options for the illustration process and how to make your book one that will appeal to young readers, parents, and teachers who often purchase this type of book.
How to Illustrate a Children’s Book
When you start to write your book for children, you need to keep several things in mind. First of all, who is your audience? Are you going to create a picture book or a full-fledged story, complete with the main character, plot, and conclusion? Even picture books need to make some sense or follow a theme. Otherwise, they appear too busy, directionless, or sloppy.
1. Consider Your Audience
Once you have decided who your audience is for your children’s book, you need to understand the mentality, emotional maturity, and reading level associated with that age group you have chosen to write for. For example, you do not want to add many scary elements to a book geared towards toddlers, but a few creepy features are fine for an 8 to 10-year-old. You also do not want to use too many words that are difficult to read or define or themes to mature for their age group.
2. Draw Inspiration from Other Children’s Books
Take a look at other successful children’s books and notice the illustrations. Ask children what illustrations they prefer. Ask parents and teachers which illustrations they like when looking for or shopping for children’s books.
Picture books for infants that use simple black and white illustrations are popular. Storybooks that are colorful and whimsical, much like the style of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss, are also popular. Remember, though, not to imitate these styles too closely. You want your creation to be your book, not a knock-off of Where the Wild Things Are.
3. Analyze Your Own Story
Do you have a main character in your story? How do you present this main character as the story progresses? Is there character development that can be shown artistically? These, and many more, are the questions that you need to ask yourself when you decide what sort of illustrations are suitable for your children’s book.
Illustrating children’s books means understanding the tone and message of the story idea. If your main character starts upset or angry, character development includes them learning to overcome these challenges, and you can go from darker illustrations regarding color to bright and happy hues. Understanding the tone of your children’s book will help you immensely when you start thinking about illustrations.
4. Study Fellow Children’s Illustrators
If you are not experienced or are new at illustrating children’s books, it is a good idea to do your homework. Visit a library and explore the children’s book section. Take note of the different styles of illustrations, the age groups those illustrations seem to be geared towards, and how the tone of the story affects the colors and details put into the artwork.
Talk to fellow children’s illustrators, and if you do not know any, research for a group of children’s book illustrators online. A professional illustrator can give a fantastic insight into generating ideas for a book cover, page illustration, and more.
5. Choose a Style
When illustrating children’s books, decide what style you would like to use. Even if you plan to hire a professional illustrator rather than doing the artwork yourself, it will be easier, faster, and likely less expensive to already have an art style in mind.
For example, if you are writing a picture book, and you know that you want it to resemble the black and white picture books geared towards young infants, you can convey that to a professional illustrator or attempt to conquer that style on your own. But making that decision is the first big step.
If you are writing a children’s book for elementary children, detailed illustrations may be the better choice. You want to hold the child’s attention who is just starting to read, and detailed illustrations in children’s literature are a great way to do that.
How to Illustrate a Children’s Book for Free
If you are a writer of children’s stories and want to have illustrations for free, the only realistic way to do that is to illustrate the whole book yourself. It may sound like a terrifying process, but it is still a doable task, even if you do not know how to draw well.
How to Organize Your Illustrations
If you are artistically talented or inclined, there are a few steps you can take to get high-quality illustrations to come to life on the pages of your children’s book in an organized process that will make things run more smoothly.
1. Write a Brief Outline
Nearly everyone has heard of a storyboard. They are used for books, television, film, music videos—any time an artwork or movement needs to be captured or recorded in a way conducive to a story being told, viewed, or read.
When you are writing a children’s book, you can do much the same thing in the form of a brief outline, with the story played out in a rough but organized way. You can do this on a large piece of poster board, in a drawing tablet, on the backs of napkins, or in a regular notebook. It does not matter what you use to create the outline, as long as you give yourself the proper amount of space to complete the outline.
You do not need all the details, just the major plot points. Once you have completed this, you can usually decide how many illustrations you will need for your book, based on the number of important plot points, character development, and points you want to make.
2. Thumbnail Sketches
Add small thumbnail sketches to your outline. This means that for each point or page you have outlined, draw out a small rough sketch that shows the general idea of the artwork you want. At this point, you can start to bring the book to life by deciding what picture you will feature for each page, whether the characters should be roughly drawn, somewhat abstract, cartoonish, or realistic.
3. Choose a Medium and Get to Work
Once you have the outline and the thumbnail sketches completed, you can start drawing things out. Make use of whatever stylistic inspiration appeals to you most. Use colored pencils, markers, drawing pencils, a drawing tablet, watercolor paper, whatever you want, and start to illustrate.
Remember that it may take you a few tries before you are happy with the final artwork and decide it is what you want to publish. Only make that decision after assessing your work yourself and seeking feedback from others, adults and children alike.
Also, feel free to get feedback from other authors, artists, art directors, or teachers. If you do not know an art director or artist, they are easy to find in a college art department. A quick call to the university or school can usually get you an appointment with their artist.
How to Illustrate a Children’s Book When You Can’t Draw
If you have an idea of what illustrations you want, but you are not an artist and cannot draw, there is still hope—you have options. The biggest hurdle you will have to overcome is finding a good artist who will work and communicate with you. You can also learn to create art in drawing or digital illustrations in free seminars and courses online.
Find a Freelance Illustrator
A freelance illustrator is someone who will create the drawings you want for your book and give you a final product that is as close to your vision as possible. When interviewing an illustrator, ask them what medium they are most comfortable working in and see some of their work. This is important because you do not want to hire someone who deals only in colored pencils or can only paint on watercolor paper when what you are looking for is digital imagery.
Ask them who their favorite artists are and who they take inspiration from. Ask if they have ever illustrated a published children’s book, and if they have, ask to see the final product. Tell them about your main characters and what you envision as your stylistic inspiration for the story. You do not need to tell them about every detail in the book—the major points are enough.
Once you find the artist with a style you like, you can start creating your first picture book or children’s book illustrations. Be sure that you communicate everything about the artwork you love or would like to see change along the way. Remember that you are the book’s author, and you have the final say over every image created.
Communicate in the planning stage when images are no more than rough pencil drawings or a sketch. Communicate during the illustrating process, and be open to the artist’s ideas as well. You should both be paying attention to each other in this delicately constructed working relationship.
An Important Note
Even if you are planning to hire an artist, you still need to do your outline with rough sketches and the storyline of your book. This is a must so that when you start to talk to artists, you can show them the ideas you have to get the most important message of your book across to the consumer. You can also make notes in your outline, if you are not artistically inclined, as to what sorts of colors or art you want. It is also a good idea to have a list of your favorite artists in the industry so that the artist you hire can draw inspiration from them.
Revision of the Final Artwork
Once you have completed the illustrations, either by hand or with a hired artist, you need to revise the work and combine it with the book’s text. There are many steps involved in this, and one of the biggest mistakes you could make would be rushing the work and skipping this step.
Putting it All Together
Once the illustrations are complete, you need to put them together with the story for several reasons. First, you need to make sure that the word count on any given page does not take away the importance of the illustrations and that the illustrations do not take away from the content of the story in text. If you find when doing this that there are too many important points on a planned page and that the picture for that page is too general, you may need to break up the text and add a page, which means you will need to add illustrations.
1. Make Sure the Book is Easily Readable
Once you have the appropriate number of pages to go with the pictures, you need to ensure that the story can be read easily. You do not want the artwork to cover up the words. If it does not work and is not easy to read, you may need to rethink some of your illustrations if you cannot feasibly make them smaller without distorting the quality of the work.
2. Make Sure Different Expressions of Characters Match the Context
People’s faces show different expressions when they are in different situations or have changes in moods. Keep this in mind when you illustrate your book. Make sure that each character has an expression that matches the situation in the text. For example, you do not want your protagonist smiling in a drawing on a page where the story says they missed the bus and had to walk ten blocks to school in the rain.
If the text calls for a fun illustration, then make it fun. If it calls for sadness, make it sad. Illustrate in a way that adds to the story and does not confuse it.
3. Avoid Current Trends
When drawing or designing characters, try to avoid current trends. As the book’s author, you want the story to succeed for years to come and not appear outdated after just a few years. You can do this by not dressing or styling characters in trendy ways. Children in overalls, moms in sundresses, dads in jeans, and grandmas in sweaters will never go out of style. Stick to the classic approach of what people wear to avoid having an image that seems really out of touch in just a few short years.
4. Seek Feedback
Ask your children to check out your story. If you do not have children, use grandchildren, nieces, nephews, a friend’s kids, or ask a library if you can sit in on a kids club meeting and get feedback then. Also, ask teachers, parents, grandparents, artists, and other writers of the same genre for feedback. Children do not usually purchase their books, so seeking the opinions of those who do can be critical to publishing a successful children’s book.
Book Cover Design
Most children’s books have covers made of a board book. This is a hard and thick cardboard material that can usually withstand the abuse that small children can put books through. Most of the time, these books are glossy and relatively protected from food spills, liquids, dirt, mud, and the other favorite elements of small kids.
When it comes to the illustration of your book cover, you need to attract the child and the parent by giving them an idea of what the book is about while not giving away too much. You want to let them know with that one illustration what they may find within the pages of your book, but you do not want to spoil the story before they even turn the first page.
It is standard to include your protagonist on the cover of your book. Think about the Arthur book series by Marc Brown. Arthur is on nearly every cover. Think of the Little Critters books. Again, the little boy “critter” is there on the cover. The same can be said of nearly all children’s stories with a protagonist and an actual storyline.
Even if your book only has black and white sketch drawings as illustrations within the body of the book, consider making the cover more attractive to the consumer by having a high resolution and color image. This helps your book gain attention while on a shelf both at the bookstore, the library, and online. Other forms of creativity can be used within the body of the story, but for the cover, be bold with a colorful image that will grab the short attention span of a toddler or young reader.