clock - estimated reading time  Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Illustrating a children’s book can be an exciting and rewarding undertaking, but it comes with some challenges. Effective children’s illustrations are not only charming and visually captivating, but also consistent with one another while interacting with and adding to the story.

1. Decide on your illustration style

If you go to a store and look through children’s book section you’ll see a variety of styles and tones. Some may be similar to each other, but all have their own take on the style that is uniquely theirs. When illustrating your children’s book, you need to decide and develop your own style.

  • Consistency is key
  • Style that matches your writing – tone and audience

One important factor in deciding your style is figuring out what medium you’re most comfortable working in. The first choice you need to make is whether you’ll be creating your illustrations digitally or through traditional means.

1.1  Digital medium for children’s book illustrations

To digitally illustrate your book, you’ll first need the hardware and software to do this.

The advantage of illustrating digitally is that you can draw in layers and easily alter and re-do your pieces. You can also be sure that, if your artboards are set up properly, your illustrations will translate over well to print.

Conversely, the disadvantages may be the start-up cost and learning curve for illustrators who don’t already have the equipment and experience with digital mediums.

1.1.1 Digital illustration hardware

Hardware can include:

  • Android tablet / Apple iPad, including the accompanying stylus
  • Dedicated drawing tablet (Wacom is a common and quality brand)

Deciding on which hardware best suits your purposes can be either personal preference or based on your finances. If you’re unlikely to use a dedicated drawing tablet again, it may be best to get an Android tablet or an Apple iPad which has many functions. If you’re wanting to really get into illustration or other digital art, then I’d strongly recommend doing your research and deciding on what hardware you’d prefer to specialise in.

1.1.2 Digital illustration software

Once your hardware is decided, you need to look into software. If you have an Android tablet, there are many different software options including Krita, Infinite Painter, Sketchbook, and more. For Apple iPad users, the most popular is Procreate, but there are others like Inspire Pro, ArtRage, Clip Studio Paint Ex, and more. Using a tablet with your PC the software options include Krita, Artweaver, Sketchbook Pro, Clip Studio Paint, and many more. Each vary in price and functions. It really depends on your personal preference and what you feel complements your style most.

1.2 Traditional medium for children’s book illustrations

There are so many options regarding traditional mediums. By “traditional medium” I mean physical, tangible mediums. This would include things like pencils, pastels, paints, crayons, and even felting and paper-craft. Illustrations created using traditional mediums will need to be scanned at a high quality and likely even edited in software such as Adobe Photoshop to make sure that they keep their original quality.

Deciding on which traditional medium you’ll choose is personal to what you’re comfortable with and your skill level.

The advantages of traditional medium that it is more accessible for most beginner illustrators as many of us would already have experience with one or more of these mediums. Also, it can be cheaper to purchase the materials needed in comparison to digital illustration equipment.

1.3 Examples of digital and traditional mediums used for children’s illustrations


Two girls in a tent - Full page illustration style
Child reading off a list - Vignette illustration style


2. Practice illustrating your characters

To ensure that your characters look consistent and that your illustrations look professional, it’s a good idea to practice illustrating you characters beforehand. If your characters don’t look similar in each of their illustrations, it can look messy or be confusing for the children reading the book, effecting their reading experience.

A good exercise when practicing your characters’ illustrations is to draw them from different angles, with different expressions, and in different poses. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’ll use this in your book: what you’re looking for is consistency of style and a character who believably looks like the same person no matter what they’re doing. Be sure to use your preferred medium, whether that is traditional or digital, to ensure that all of your practise pays off and that you won’t have to restart all of your work on another medium.

practising illustrating your children's book characters

3. Make every element count

One of the guiding principles of children’s illustrations is the idea of every element adding to the narrative in its own way. A common error of children’s books is that the text and illustrations don’t add to one another to build the narrative together, rather they just repeat each other.

For example, compare how the following paragraphs interact with the illustration to create a story:

The illustration:

Children's book illustrations that compliment their text

Repeating the content:

Greg and his friend Penny the mystical woodpecker wanted to grow an apple tree from the core of the apple they’d eaten, so they went down by the river to dig a hole in the ground with their trowel to plant it.

Around them were colourful leaves and little white flowers all over the green grass.

Adding to the narrative:

Penny had a wonderful idea. ‘I know what we should do, Greg. Let’s plant our apple core and see if it turns into a tree!’

They searched the park and came across the perfect spot: a grove filled with all different kinds of enchanted trees.

‘Maybe if we plant our apple here, it will give us magical apples!’ Penny exclaimed.

‘What is a magical apple?’ Greg asks.

Penny thinks for a moment. ‘I’m not sure. Let’s find out!’

Remember: when illustrating a children’s book, your pictures should complement the text, not simply duplicate it. Repetition can be boring to read and take away from the impact of the illustrations.

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4. Storyboard your children’s book illustrations

A storyboard is a series of basic sketches that give an idea on the layout or elements for each illustration within your children’s book. It is a helpful tool when visualising what your book will look like and what elements you want in the illustrations before committing to the final illustrations. By mapping out your pages, you can play with different layouts and ideas to see what works best for your book.

Storyboarding is also important when considering your text, too. There needs to be a balance between illustrations and text. Do you want the text to be on the same page as the illustration? If so, then you’ll need to be sure to leave enough room for your text to fit, otherwise it may clash with the illustration and become hard to read. Alternatively, will your text be on its own page with the illustration on the page next to it? You may need to consider adding some interest to the text in that case, maybe some colour or a decorative font.

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5. Hire a professional children’s book illustrator

If illustrating your own children’s picture book becomes too daunting or your illustrations aren’t coming up as you’d like, then hiring an illustrator could be the way to go. Professional children’s book illustrators possess the skills, creativity, and experience that will help your book come to life. There are many children’s book illustrators out there with numerous styles to choose from. Illustrators can work off your storyboard too, creating a collaborative relationship between the two of you throughout the project and help make sure you are both on the same page.

Hiring a professional illustrator will help guarantee a quality product, ensuring that your book will stand out among its competitors in the market. At the end of the day, if your illustrations look amateur or inconsistent, it can reflect poorly on your book regardless of the quality or importance of the story. So, hiring an illustrator can be extremely beneficial for children’s book authors in the long run.

Green Hill works with a number of children’s book illustrators who are experienced at working with self-published authors. We’ve cultivated a portfolio of children’s book illustrators with a variety of styles of budget options to choose from to help ensure there is an illustrator for each author.

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