By Carolyn Edlund
Are you interested in knowing more about how children’s book illustrators work? Here’s a step-by-step process and how to get involved in this exciting field.
Cherish Flieder, a Colorado native and children’s book illustrator, spoke with me recently about her career and how she has developed her full-time business. She partners with husband Benjamin Hummel on children’s book illustrations, greeting cards, art prints and gifts as well as freelance projects and art licensing. They also are planning to publish children’s books that they have written and illustrated together.
How do you become a children’s book illustrator? Cherish explains that her background prepared her well for this type of career. Interested in children’s books as early as grade school, she worked on a portfolio geared toward this type of illustration, and attended Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where she met her husband, and currently teaches as part of the adjunct faculty.
The Career and Alumni Services department of the college put her in touch with her first book publisher, who gave her an opportunity to present her portfolio and get started in the business. Since then, she and Benjamin have pursued projects working with authors and publishers on multiple children’s books.
When publishers feel that their portfolio is a good match for a manuscript, they are contacted about developing illustrations for it. First, Cherish and Benjamin read the manuscript to be sure they feel the story would fit well with their art style, and that the project is one they can be excited about. Since each project is extremely time-consuming, the illustrator needs to be passionate about working on it and being part of the finished book. A negotiation follows, nailing down the price for the illustrations, and royalties.
What’s the process of illustrating a book? Cherish explained the steps, in general:
- Break the manuscript into a storyboard layout, creating a thumbnail sketch of what happens on each page spread. The focus of this step is to make sure the story flows visually.
- Get the publisher’s approval of the preliminary work.
- Research and acquire photo reference to create final line drawings for each illustration.
- Develop character model sheets.
- Work on black and white value studies. This adds drama to the illustrations and carries the concepts throughout the story.
- Color versions are created for each page. Working with the publisher, they show the finished set and consult on any changes that will be needed.
- After any modifications are made, the final illustrations are produced.
- Scanning of the illustrations is done by digital image capture. A color press proof is made and final files are delivered to the publisher on disc or FTP.
- Cherish and Ben may design covers and packaging for the book as well, taking the project from concept to final product.
For artists interested in becoming children’s book illustrators, Cherish offers a few suggestions:
- Working for free or “on speculation” is not a good idea. A project could be time-consuming, taking a year or more for a book project. Make sure you are getting paid for your time and talents.
- Develop a solid portfolio with a singular style. Include in your portfolio action illustrations as well as static scenes. It is also important to show character consistency from image to image.
- Your portfolio must be available on your website, which should be well-constructed and load quickly. The site should be uncluttered and not confusing. Remember, visitors want to get information easily and you only have a brief time to make a good impression and attract interest.
- A resume or CV and well-written artist statement are important. A link to contact info including phone and email address must be shown on every page.
- Get involved with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where you will find vital information on becoming an illustrator and understanding the industry.