Art Unboxed

Art Unboxed Children’s Illustrations

Last week we talked about Art Challenges, today I have one for you. Have you ever illustrated a Children’s book? I don’t mean that you have to professionally, but as an art challenge. You can either write your own story, or pick a favorite to create illustrations for. This isn’t about getting paid for it, but learning to visually convey a story.

While a single painting does this, it’s a great way of learning to convey a story through ongoing illustrations. I bring this up partially because I’m currently illustrating a new children’s book about a brown bear and the thimbleberry plant. Previously I illustrated The Beaver Egg, The Christmas Lion, and The Giraffe And The King.

You might think, if you hadn’t tried this before, that writing the story is the hard part. For some it can be challenging, for me the story is not the biggest aspect. Crafting the proper images to be a partner with the story is the anchor for me.

While it seems as if it was a lifetime ago, when I grew up, there were Little Golden Storybooks. For the classic ones of these, the story and pictures were married to each other. One was not more important, or less vital than the other.

I’ve learned a lot about Children’s illustration over the years. For example, traditionally picture books had thirty two pages. This was because books are produced in page count multiples of eight, though this rule does change with digital content.

If your story is longer than you can convey successfully on that number of pages, or the story is so short you can’t create the necessary pictures, you’ve got a problem. While this isn’t a post about story structure, I mention this to underline that it’s an essential element to illustrating a children’s book.

I remember that as a child, the pictures they needed to be interesting, colorful, and well drawn. They didn’t have to be a specific style, but they needed to be well executed. Back then it wasn’t about artistic quality or anything like that, I just wanted something I liked.

Even today I don’t claim too be an expert on this by the way, but a student. As a student, I will say that I still want the illustrations to be something a child would like. If I draw them and I like them, it’s less important. Notice, as a parent, I said less important. You want them to be a book that the child will fall in love with, and the parents will as well. Chiefly though, it’s the child who matters most.

I suppose I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of children’s books over the years, and many styles come to mind. While an artist may have different styles, I will tell you I can match the style with the author. When I think of Dr Seuss it’s a consistent style, however the same is true of books where the author and artist were not the same person.

A child reads a second book because they liked the first book. Also because they recognize something about the second book which reminds them of the first. Interest, quality, and consistency are the three areas I strive for illustrating a children’s book.

This isn’t just true of a series of books, but of the illustrations in the same book. While there are exceptions, the pictures on page two need to remind the viewer of those on page 1. I’ve made this mistake before, and it’s one I hope not to repeat.

You have to be mindful of it, because it can happen quickly, it almost did yesterday. I drew an illustration that my Chief Reviewer felt wasn’t consistent with the other illustrations for the book. My first reaction was to be stubborn, having confidence in my wife’s opinion back to the drawing board I went. The result as usual was that Ashley was right.

Illustrating a children’s book can be an art course in and of itself. If you want to improve your art work, and are looking for a new challenge, I would strongly suggest trying this. You could do illustrations for a classic, the three little pigs, or red riding hood.

Once you’ve started, it’s a rewarding ride. I think you will be amazed by the end to find more than that fairy tale wolves don’t fair well. You can find a new method of enhancing your draftsmanship, improving your color palette, and strengthening your visual storytelling through illustrating a children’s book.

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