Children’s Book Illustration

Sidney and the Traveling Tree, by Lolisa Monroe

I’ve illustrated a book! For years I aspired to illustrate a children’s book. When the kids were small, taking them to the library and looking at picture books was my favorite thing to do. I even wrote and illustrated my own children’s book – although that one hasn’t seen the light of day.

This book – “Sidney and the Traveling Tree” is by Lolisa Monroe is “a story about a grey squirrel from Western Maine and his adventures in the woods. He discovers a mysterious tree that takes him on the journey of a lifetime. Your child will be engaged as they help ‘fill in the blanks’ in Chapter 1 and actually write and illustrate Chapter 2 by themselves! Develop the writer and illustrator in your child.

This is the first of the series of Miss Lisa’s Little Writers featuring the illustrations of Eileen McKenna. More volumes coming soon!”

Finding a children’s book illustration style

The early days of my blog were about trying to find a children’s book illustration style. I struggled with that for a long time. How do you decide on a style? What I learned is that you develop a style, by drawing or painting a lot. Just keep painting – your style will emerge. It’s okay to emulate the style of others in the beginning or try out their techniques. In the end your style will shine through. And it will evolve as time goes by.

How to get hired as an illustrator

I’m working on two books at the moment – one is the second book in the Sidney series, the other is about a dog (by a different author). So how did I suddenly find myself with all of these book illustration projects? The dog project is through a friend. The other is through Etsy. The author of the Sidney books, Lolisa Monroe, found a watercolor clipart squirrel that I sell as a digital download in my Etsy shop. Lolisa liked my style so she reached out and asked if I would do custom work.

Visit my Etsy shop

How can you get hired as illustrator? Post your work. Even your friends need to know what you do, in order to consider you for a project or to recommend you to a friend. Post the work you are doing on social media. I hate to say this, because it’s what everybody says and because for me it took years for it to happen. I was posting in 2015/16 about children’s book illustration.

I will say that even though the children’s book work took awhile, other great opportunities have come my way because I post my artwork. I have been teaching art to kids for over three years. I got the opportunity because I posted a watercolor seascape on facebook. The owner of the art studio, who was my web design, marketing client, saw my painting and ask me if I would teach a three day summer camp week. That one week of summer camp has evolved into me teaching three days a week. And I absolutely love it. I love working with the kids.

Side note of advice – take opportunities that scare you. I was terrified to teach that week of camp. Now I can’t imagine teaching not being part of my life!

how to Illustrate a book

Because I am new to illustrating books I am learning so much about the process of working with an author and about illustrating. Here’s the top things I’ve learned in hopes of helping you with your process.

Request detailed descriptions from the author with photos

Since we can’t visualize what is someone else’s head, ask the author to provide a description of what they want the illustrations to be. Also ask for supporting photos. These things will help you visualize what the author is thinking. Don’t rely only on the text of the book unless the author is giving you creative freedom.

I realize as I’m writing this that the two books I’ve been working on have been very different processes. In the dog book, I was given the text of the book and creative freedom. With the Sidney book, the author has had specific ideas of what each illustration should be. Before you pick up your brush get as much direction as the author has to give.

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show rough sketches and/or descriptions of illustrations

Before painting, show the author what you are intending. It is much easier to adjust at that point than after you have fully painted an illustration. In the case of the dog book, where I was given creative freedom, I wrote out what I intended each illustration to be, and got approval beforehand.

In the Sidney book, I learned the hard way. I completed illustrations based on the author’s descriptions and photos and then got feedback. For the second Sidney book, for a more complex cover illustration I did a pencil sketch and made adjustments based on the author’s comments before painting.

Sketch for future illustration

image retouching is part of the process

Incorporate into your estimate the time it takes to scan and retouch your illustrations. It is rare that you would be mailing your originals to the author. They probably will want digital files that are ready for a graphic designer to insert into the book.

high tech and low tech tools for adjusting illustrations


Photoshop was extremely helpful for me when I completed an illustration and then had to make edits based on the author’s comments. In some cases, I painted elements separately and put them together on the computer in Photoshop, so I could have more control and it would be easier to change things.

This was especially useful when I painted the squirrel separately from the grass background. I had to adjust the illustration proportions to fit on the cover. I was able to reduce the squirrel but not the grass. If the squirrel and grass were one illustration, it would have been more challenging to fix.

Tracing paper

A couple of times, when I had to edit an illustration I used tracing paper to trace the area that needed to be changed. Then I put graphite on the back of the tracing paper. Then I traced the area onto mixed media paper. This way I had a light pencil line indicating the exact size of the area I needed to repaint.

This transfer technique is one we use with the kids at the art studio to transfer their drawings onto canvas. It came in handy! I didn’t have to repaint the entire illustration. I used it for the folded quilt below. The original quilt illustration had solid red border. The author requested that the border be removed and instead I continue the leaf pattern. For the quilt, I added the shadows in Photoshop. I figured I’d have more control than if I added them with paint.

get sizes up front, work larger and include bleed

Again, I learned this the hard way. You can always reduce an illustration but for resolution reasons, you can’t increase it. As a graphic designer I should have realized that any illustrations that go to the edge of the page need extra image size so that there is “bleed.” The image needs to have about .125″ more to give room for some of it to be cut off after printing. This prevents a white edge if things shift slightly in printing or trimming.

refine your process

With each illustration and book – keep track of what went smoothly and what didn’t. Try to incorporate ways to improve the book illustration process.

check out “sidney and the traveling tree” On Amazon!

want to learn watercolor?

Check out my “Watercolor Exploration Guide” – which walks you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and five painting projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

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3 thoughts on “Children’s Book Illustration

  1. Pingback: Summer Reflections

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