Do You Want to be a Children’s Book Illustrator?

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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 and Benjamin Hummel

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:

 

  1. 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.
  2. Get the publisher’s approval of the preliminary work.
  3. Research and acquire photo reference to create final line drawings for each illustration.
  4. Develop character model sheets.
  5. Work on black and white value studies. This adds drama to the illustrations and carries the concepts throughout the story.
  6. 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.
  7. After any modifications are made, the final illustrations are produced.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

 

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Comments

  1. ahhhh the good ole its not what you know its who you know. I doing drawings for a book cuz the lady commissioned a piece and loved it so much she wanted me on board with her project. Then i was tell someone else about it and they had a book that needed pictures too. When it rains it pours right.

  2. So true Nemo, so true. It is a gift to be recognized for doing the art you love. I think that passion is contagious (in a good way!). Your work would make for some fun kid’s books. I’m looking forward to your signings.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Nemo. Your work is really fascinating – I love your use of circles and patterns in your designs. They would be great for a book!

  4. I’m a childrens book illustrator from Cornwall and I have to say this blog is fantastic – its spot on! x

  5. Sarah, the great information about children’s book illustration from Cherish Flieder has made the article one of the most popular of all time.

    Best to you in your own illustration practice.

  6. JojoPadgett says:

    This is fascinating work. I am a preschool teacher and love Children’s books. Just curious about the financial aspect of illustrating books. Is it stable and steady work? Can it be a full-time job or is it unstable from project to project? And, do you use extras; people that love the work but lack the full talent to create?

    • Hi Jojo,
      Typically children’s book illustration is a freelance job which means that nothing is really “steady” as it would be in a salary position. However, sometimes you get lots of work and sometimes you get lots of time to promote your work and develop your portfolio. Most of the other children’s book illustrators I know tend to have multiple pursuits that may include art licensing, writing and illustrating their own stories and creating art products for sale at festivals and online. There are some that seem to be always busy with work, typically these artists have agents that arrange this on their behalf while they work hard at turning art around quickly. However, it can takes years of work and practice for some artists to get to that level, but it is possible!

      I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “extras,” are you talking about assistants or models? I guess that is a question you would have to ask an illustrator on a one-to-one basis. I think every artist must have a great support system to be successful at this. This could include a group of like-minded artists that meet regularly, a spouse that can help keep the bills paid when work is thin and even back-up artists to call on when work and deadlines are overwhelming. If you wanted to dip your toe in the water, you could apply for an internship/apprentice position with an artist and see where it takes you.

  7. Hi! Thanks for the information! I’ve been googling this subject and trying to find information buts it has been difficult. What do you do when in portfolio preparation you realize that every piece is different? How do you find your ‘specific’ style? Also, how much of a College degree is required for this field? I just got my general A.A (loaded with art classes), but it looks like my bachelors will have to be communications majored. I’m concerned my art will stifle while I focus on the degree. Thanks for reading my rambling post–any advice you have for a student wanting to break into the field would be appreciated.

    • Hi Rebekah, That’s OK, we all start somewhere. :)

      A degree is not as important as a solid portfolio (although, a degree can give you a head start and make the process easier). The only way you can begin a portfolio or even begin to discover your style is to practice illustrating. When I started, I illustrated everything from my favorite poems, songs and of course children’s literature. You can find plenty of stories in the public domain (like fairy tales) to begin practicing on. Try to develop your own characters and give the story your own twist.

      I definitely think you should keep taking art classes and see if you can even find some local or online classes that teach illustration. It is important to get feedback from other artists and professionals in the children’s publishing field as you progress. It can take a while to develop your own voice (A.K.A style) as an illustrator, but don’t give up. Once you find it you will never want to stop drawing and painting everything around you!

      Also, join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and get connected with local members. This will be a huge help to you in your journey.

  8. Jessica says:

    hello! Ive been drawing and painting my entire life. As an artist you know from time to time you observe other artists work and then you kinda feel like your work is inferior or not very good.So I never knew what direction to go in with my art. But I think im starting to realize now that maybe I can use my style for illustration. I love childrens books and i feel like its still a good market because even though many books are becoming e-books,parents are still purchasing childrens books for thier kids. This post is very helpful. It does seem daunting to try and break into this industry. I dont have a degree but I draw often. Im gonna start drawing and sketching daily to improve and really refine my style. Id love for people to take a look at some of my work. Im on instagram as JessicasPencilStudio. Thanks so much for sharing the information I appreciate it!

  9. Rhonda Ravalli says:

    i’m interested in getting into the field of becoming an illustrator/Artist. I have a passion for drawing and have done so all my life. I have worked with all kinds of different mediums; such as colored pencils, markers, and oil paintings…..i would like to know the steps to become a illustrator/Artist,and if you need to have any degrees to become one?

  10. Hey Cherish,

    What about the technical aspect of working as a children’s book illustrator?
    Do you use Illustrator and Photoshop to color in your drawings?
    Or do you do everything by hand using water colours/pencils/acrylic paint/…?
    Do you just use photo reference or do you use models?

    • Hi David,

      Any and all art materials and programs are used in children’s books these days. Personally, we use a mixed media, hand painted approach on many of our pieces. We also use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop on other book projects, it just depends on the style that we are looking to achieve.

      Yes, we also use photo reference and arrange to photograph models so we can make final character model sheets. We often take video of kid’s in movement so we can get the gestures we need as well.

  11. Hello I am a blossoming illustrator. Going to school for a Drawing and Illustration degree. I have researching what to do to get noticed and how to get the ball rolling in this field. I find your blog and writings to be helpful. This may be a juvenile question, but how does one go about getting their own website? I have a facebook with an album of my works, could I make a separate page for just my illustrations and art? Other than that, are there any words of wisdom to an aspiring illustrator that you could share?

  12. do you need a licence to practice becoming an illustrator

  13. Cherish, I agree with your point that working for free or “on speculation” is not a good idea. One job board I like alot that agrees with “no spec work” is http://www.Freelanced.com. I’ve seen Freelanced shut down jobs if the employers start asking for free samples or other types of “spec work”. You know the type I’m talking about.

  14. Mia Rios says:

    Oh lovely!
    I found this more then helpful! I am a starting freshmen at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. majoring in illustration and i was a little uneasy with little knowledge ! This gives me high hopes seeing what this lovely lady has achieved and im very excited to see just how much i can achieve! THANK YOU! <3

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