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What does a Children's Book Illustrator do?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A children’s book illustrator creates the pictures that accompany text in works written for children. Through artwork, the children's book illustrator helps bring the book’s words to life. Children's books generally are defined as works for children 12 years old and younger, and they include picture books, chapter books and others. Illustrators create artwork for both fictional stories and non-fiction books. They also provide the cover art for children’s books.

Children’s books are illustrated in a variety of media, including paint, collage and computer-generated art. Children’s book illustrators often specialize in a particular medium, though some can work in more than one area. Many children’s book illustrators are noted for a particular style of art, such as realistic or more cartoon-like art, and they are sought out by publishing houses and other clients seeking a certain style.

The children’s book illustrator is often a freelancer in the publishing industry. He or she might work for trade and educational book publishers or might be hired directly by writers planning to self-publish their books. Children's book illustrators might receive royalties for published works to which they have contributed or might be paid flat fees under work-for-hire contracts. Some illustrators are also writers, and vice versa, so they deliver the entire book package.

For traditionally published books, the children’s book illustrator typically does not work one-on-one with the writer of the book and, often, the two never meet. Instead, the publisher provides the text to the illustrator. It is then the illustrator's job to interpret the text and create artwork that complements and furthers the story or non-fiction work. In the self-publishing realm, writers will directly seek out artists to illustrate their works. The illustrations will take into consideration both the texts of the works themselves and the style preferences of their authors.

Children’s book illustrators gain training in a variety of ways. Some have earned formal arts degrees through colleges and universities. Others take occasional classes in drawing, painting and other areas. Some children's book illustrators are completely self taught as artists.

Many children's book illustrators put together artist portfolios to gain exposure for their work. The portfolios might be online or print or both. They present their portfolios to publishers, writers and other prospective clients. Children's book illustrators might also use publishing agents to help them gain work. Some children's book illustrators use their talents helping advertising agencies, product developers and others who need illustrations that are geared toward children.

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Discussion Comments

By JessicaLynn — On Oct 16, 2011

@SZapper - You make a good point. However, most children's books I've seen seem to be illustrated just fine. So the system must be working, at least to a point!

Anyway, this article totally made me think of a very funny (and kind of sad) incident that happened to a friend of mine awhile back. One of her friends went to school for illustration, and he was quite talented.

However, he had trouble getting enough work in the publishing industry. He decided to go to school to be a tattoo artist so he could still use his artistic skills but also get some work.

When he was partway through tattoo school, my friend let him tattoo her. He had tattooed himself, and the tattoos looked awesome. Plus she had seen his illustrations, so she though-why not?

Long story short, the tattoo turned out horrible. Since he had only ever tattooed himself before, he barely knew what he was doing when he went to tattoo my friend.

This story has a happy ending though: my friend got the tat covered up, and her friend ended up being pretty successful as a tattoo artist, once he figured out what he was doing. Oh yeah, and he's illustrated a few children's books too.

By SZapper — On Oct 15, 2011

I find it really interesting and a little weird that in traditional publishing, the illustrator and the writer don't meet.

I imagine it must be really hard for the writer to have a certain image of the story in their head and not be able to tell it to the illustrator. And it must be equally hard for the illustrator to just dream up the imagery all by themselves.

I think it makes much more sense to have the writer and the illustrator at least meet once and discuss the illustrations for the books.

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