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

By Carolyn Edlund

Are you interested in knowing more about how children’s book illustrators work? Here’s a step-by-step process to get involved in this exciting field.


Cherish Flieder and Benjamin Hummel

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?

  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.


Wisdom Prayer Posies by Cherish Fleider


Suggestions for artists interested in becoming children’s book illustrators:

  • 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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  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 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. 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

  15. I am just starting out, as far as education goes – am about halfway to getting my AA before I transfer to a university and considering which university I want to go to.. RMCA sounds great, but the tuition is so high, I am not sure I can go there. The same can be said for CC down here in Colorado Springs. I have been drawing for practically my whole life, and painting for about a year. My paintings have surpassed my drawing skills, I think, even in such a short time, because I have applied what I know about drawing to my painting, and I prefer to paint now over drawing. My ideas are what my teachers call “whimsical” and they have all encouraged me to get into children’s book illustration, but I haven’t known exactly where to start with that. So I am looking into it today to see where to begin. I found your article to be VERY helpful, and I saved your steps and tips to refer back to as needed as I move along. Thank you for posting this article! And thank you for helping me maintain hope that this CAN happen! 🙂


    • I am looking for a whimsical illustrator for my line of children’s books, this may be a good match….can you contact me please
      thank you,

      • Lisa,

        I am so sorry for the delay in reply – the email notifying me that someone replied was sent to my spam folder for some reason. I would be happy to discuss working with you. Feel free to email me at [email protected] to talk more directly. Thank you!

        Lorraina at ChromaDream Art Creations

      • I would love to give this a shot, or at least be considered. I have some work up at
        my facebook page. If you feel like it’s right for your project, contact me. Either way
        best of luck.

      • Hi Lisa,
        I may possibly offer the type of illustrations you are looking for. I hand draw cartoonish and whimsical style illustrations, as well as more realistic comic book style. My web site is Please check it out, and feel free to send comments or questions.

        Take care,
        Steven J Hilt

  16. I like the process of illustration , and thanks for introducing to another great blog!

  17. A beautiful information, great idea! many thanks

  18. Excellent elaboration of children book illustration. Thanks for sharing such a nice information.

  19. Hello,
    Thanks for all of the great information. I have been an artist for many years but just beginning illustrations for children’s books. Does anyone know a site to get an idea of pricing (ex. what to charge/ percentages, what to expect, etc.) for someone just starting out? Thank-you

  20. Hi there,

    I just wanted to say, I love your site. I am an art-teacher-turned-illustrator, attending RMCAD, and all your insights and advice really resonated with me. Thanks! Also, so cool you get to work with your husband. Best to you both!


  21. I have been doing some research in this area for some time and have had some difficulty finding resources. Your advice on children’s illustration is very helpful and you have obviously spend some time putting this article together so thank you very much!

  22. I am an aspiring children’s book author/illustrator, and I really appreciate this post. I have a question about deadlines. I’m trying to set up deadlines for myself I’m my personal work, but i wanted them to be close to the industry standard. What does a typical deadline schedule look like for a picture book?

  23. hi everyone ,I’m a professional artist, portraitist , n I do children’s book illustrations in the classical traditions ( rich in colors n details) someone interested? please do contact me, samples on request

  24. Hi, I want to be part of making Children’s book. But I don’t know how to start. I have already here a sample of my handmade story with pictures . I want also an extra income at the same time I want to develop more my skills in drawing and story book making/illustrating.most of my stories came from Bible and I draw the characters base on my imagination about the story and I have also my original short story for kids. I wish that you can help me. <3

  25. Hello, I am an aspiring artist with a BA in fine art and Certification in Graphic Design. I would love the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book, so if anyone is looking for an illustrator, please feel free to contact me .

  26. Just wondering if publishers accept illustrations done on illustration board? This is what we used in college (20 years ago) and I have been unable to find anything, other than one artist saying she preferred using watercolor paper. I personally do not like watercolor paper as much as the board. But if I want to get published I want to make sure it is done on the right surface! Any advice/opinion?

  27. Elayna Hipol says

    This has helped a ton… I was originally trying to write my own stories but I’m not that great so I decided to try illustrations… I love drawing and use just about anything to create my artwork… however as a result I don’t really have a style…. I bet if I actually employed thought and reason in what I do I could find my style though… wich leads me to my next question. How do I get my portfolio out where it can be seen?

  28. I want also an extra income at the same time I want to develop more my skills in drawing and story bookmaking/illustrating.

  29. Hi. Thank you so much for all the great info. I ‘m a little older than most people trying to get into the business. I’m in my 3rd year of school, but want to be a author/illustrator, it just seems like i’m Not going to get there. What kind of art pieces should I have in my portfolio before I contact a publishing house or magizine company?

  30. Hi! I just finished illustrating my first book. Would you suggest getting LLC? Thank you!

    • Clarice, an LLC is a business structure which basically helps limit liability to an individual or group of people. That is entirely up to you. If you have a particular reason for wanting to form an LLC please do so. Is that the case? Or have you just heard you should do so?

  31. I am an illustrator, at the very beginning of my search, and am so glad that I found my way here. This is a wealth of extremely valuable information. Bookmarking and subscribing to updates! Thanks so much.

  32. My dad and i recently published a children book and we want to expand into making t-shirts based on the art work. since the book is copyrighted under my dads name, not mine, do i need a copyright on the characters in the book since i am the illustrator of the book in order to print t shirts??

    • As the illustrator, you own the copyright as soon as the art is made. (I assume you did not sign a contract with your father transferring copyright of the artwork to him when he published the book.) You are in a position now to make t-shirts featuring your designs.

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