How to Illustrate Children’s Books

By Alina Bradford


Case of the Long Lost Brother, cover art by Alina Bradford.
Case of the Long Lost Brother, cover art by Alina Bradford.

Illustrating children’s books is a dream for some artists, but it takes more than dreaming to impress a book publisher. Illustrators need flare, persistence and a clean package to get work illustrating kids books.

Develop an Illustration Style

To catch the eye of a publishing house, a children’s book illustrator needs to develop a very distinctive style. Publishers want readers to pick up a book and say, “I loved the last book this guy illustrated, so I’m going to buy this book, too.”


Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst Massachusetts, August 2010
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst Massachusetts, August 2010, by John Phelan.

Eric Carle, who created The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? and Maurice Sendak who created Where the Wild Things Are are good examples of distinctive style in children’s book illustration.

Each artist developed a unique way illustrate their characters in a fresh way. Carle developed his own paper textiles for his collage-style illustrations. He finished his creations with crayon and colored pencil details so that they form an artistic piece that still speaks to a young child. Sendak created untamed characters with the use of wild ink lines and dark cross-hatching.

Creating a style largely comes from experimentation with various mediums and techniques. Here are some ideas for creating a style:

  • Mix several mediums in one painting
  • Try collaging different types of papers, household items and fabrics
  • Use computer drawing and painting programs
  • Mix photography with computer illustration or painting
  • Use child-like color techniques, like the ones Felicia Bond uses in the Mouse books


By Felicia Bond [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Artists new to book illustration need to remember to start small and work their way up. Small book publishers and magazines are much more likely to use an unknown illustrator than big publishing companies. Some even have an open submission process that welcome new talent.

Getting work with new writers is a good way to build a strong portfolio that will attract a big book publisher, as well. Artist can get this type of freelance work on sites such as or

Present Professional Work

No matter who the publisher is, no one is going to hire an unprofessional illustrator. Artists need clean up all promotional material before it lands in the hands of a potential client.

This means:

  • Each sample illustration should be polished and tidy, without any eraser marks or ink blobs
  • All jpeg samples need to have good resolution and be free of any pixilation
  • Email correspondence needs to be formal and free of slang or emoticons
  • The artist’s website needs to be clean, easy to navigate and present a clear vision of the artist’s style

Following these guidelines will help aspiring children’s book illustrators make a name for themselves in a business that is full of competition.

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