Welcome to my blog series on how children’s books are actually made. Last time, I explained illustration from the author’s perspective. This time, we’ll look at how the illustrator does their job.
I’m not an illustrator, so I’m going to let them speak for themselves. I’ve gathered together videos and blog posts of different illustrators explaining their process.
First, let’s talk about how illustrations are made and what the process of working with an editor is like. Second, we’ll cover how to get started in illustration.
How Illustrations are Made
First up is the illustrator Lynne Chapman who has illustrated over 30 picture books.
In my last post, I explained how the editor at the publishing company works as a matchmaker to pair the right illustrator with each manuscript. Lynne picks up there to explain what the process looks like from her side of the bookmaking process.
An editor will contact an illustrator to see if they want to work on the project. If the illustrator agrees, they’ll start making the art.
Often the illustrator will discuss the artwork ahead of time with the editor or art director. Together they will develop an overall vision or discussing what to put on each page. Sometimes not.
Often the illustrators will spend time developing character sketches before making the rest of the artwork. They may make thumbnails or other rough sketches of their work. Sometimes not.
But once the illustrator develops the line art, they will usually send it off to the editor to get their feedback.
Illustrators don’t finalize the artwork (adding color etc.) until after everyone at the publishing house is satisfied with the line drawings.
If you want to learn more about Lynne’s process, she has even more videos on her blog.
Next up: Author/Illustrator Will Hillenbrand has done an amazing 70 picture books.
Each artist has their own process. The way I create my manuscripts is not the same as another writer, though some parts of the process are similar: we all revise. (And revise. And revise. And…)
The same is true for illustrators.
While Lynne drew her illustrators by hand with physical materials (paper, pencils, paint), in this video Will is using computer software that allows him to draw on a tablet with a stylus.
Isn’t this video soothing?
Notice that although the medium is different (paper vs. computer), both Lynne and Will go through a similar process: they create a rough sketch, refine it until they’re satisfied with the line art, then begin to color it in. Whatever you call it, revision really is universal.
Will has a video blog series full of more nuggets you can check out.
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author/illustrator of five picture books. She also creates cartoons about writing and reading that are on point.
(I have asked people weirder questions while writing.)
In this video, she shares how she created one of her cartoon images. Like Will, Debbie is creating this piece using computer software. And you can see how she refines her initial idea – trying variations, tinkering, and making adjustments until she lands on a final version she is happy with.
There are more videos on her YouTube channel.
Debbie’s blog is chock-full of information and goodies.
Check out Debbie’s series on the creation of her picture book, Where Are My Books. Since she was the author of this book, the first parts of the series cover writing the book. The last part of the series talks about how she created the illustrations for it.
While you’re at it, read her whole FAQ and you will learn a ton about illustrating, writing, and kidlit.
How to Get Started in Illustration
For anyone wanting to be a children’s book illustrator, this is a burning question: how do I get editors to offer me those kinds of illustrating jobs.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) is the professional organization for kidlit writers and illustrators. On their page, they share a short version of the process of becoming an illustrator.
But we can also revisit one of our illustrators to see what she has to say.
Here Lynne Chapman shares her story of how she became a children’s book illustrator:
These days, illustrators typically send portfolios to art directors, art agents, or show them at conferences like those hosted by the SCBWI. If you entice them with the quality of your work, they will contact you to discuss illustrating a book.
However you get your big break, the starting point is the same: work really hard by practicing your art, perfecting your craft, and learning about the business. Joining the SCBWI is a great first step as it gives you a wealth of resources.
If you missed my first post in the series, check it out below. Next time, I’ll discuss the different paths authors can take to publication in more detail. Stay tuned!