For illustrators to acquire success in children’s literature, they require not just great illustration skills and storytelling ability but also a keen knowledge of audience taste. Illustrators need to have a deep knowledge of children’s literature and an ability to discern which subjects are appropriate for which age groups. Working as an illustrator for children’s books is an exciting but also challenging work that involves much planning, organization and hard work.
Read, Read, Read
If you plan to make your mark as an illustrator for children’s books, research the market by reading as many picture books as you can. Look closely at the illustrations and study the technique of weaving the words and the pictures together. Check the libraries and bookstores for the books which are currently popular with children. This will give you a sense of what succeeds and why. Talk to children you know, specifically the age group for whom you are illustrating, and understand key emotional triggers for this age group. Keep gathering ideas and experiences both for your immediate assignment and to upgrade your skills as a children’s book illustrator. Understanding children’s literature is the key to doing outstanding work in this genre.
Rewind to your childhood
Think back to your childhood and the books that were your favorites. Revisit your perspective as a child and think about what compelled to read and reread a book. It is important to get into the details – stories that made you happy, stories that made a strong impact, stories that inspired you and finally, stories that disappointed you. The best children’s books have high quality of illustrations that are memorable and relatable. The literature that entertained you as a child can be an inspiration for you as an illustrator.
If you were a big fan of Roald Dahl in your childhood, then you were probably also charmed by Quentin Blake’s unique artwork in his books, which is instantly recognised by millions of children all over the world. If you look at the illustrations today, from the viewpoint of an illustrator, you will notice the consistency and fine details in these creations, which is what made them so successful among children.
Know your Readers
While children are the primary audience for children’s literature, adults also form a part of the book-buying audience. The books and illustrations need to take into account teachers and parents who need to read it “one more time” on a daily and nightly basis. Children’s literature needs to cater to this dual audience; check on mommy sites and school sites for recommendation lists and read up on what the adults are looking for. Most adult consumers are looking for children’s books that feature attractive illustrations, clever lines and educational or moral content that keeps the young reader engaged. Books that include elements of family narratives and school experiences are popular among adults. Picture books like “I love you forever”, “Where the wild things are” or “The kissing hand” have content and illustrations that appeal to the dual audience and it is necessary for every illustrator to understand the reason why.
Complement the Writer
The famous illustrator, Quentin Blake had defined a good illustration as‘one that both complements and contrasts with the text’. He further illustrated this point with an example, ‘There’s a point in Matilda where Trunchbull is so cross that she picks up a plate and smashes it over Bruce Bogtrotter’s head. I chose to draw the moment when she lifted up the plate, not the bit where she hits him with it, because that’s the writer’s moment. Your job is to work around that.’In other words, the job of the illustrator is to support and enhance the performance of the writer, who is the main character, and not to upstage him.
Being an illustrator for children requires a thorough understanding of children’s reading preferences and the skill to design visual elements that match their visual reading abilities. Quite simply, a children’s illustrator needs to draw constantly and read voraciously to be successful.