Since illustrations are central to the success of children’s books, it is critical for the illustrator to get the visuals in sync with the written text. The illustrations should not just complement the narrative; they should also add to it and enhance it as much as possible.
Understand the brief
The illustrator must begin with understanding the brief. Not only should the illustrator read the text and understand it, she should be able to perceive the author’s requirements. If the author has a rough visual picture of the story she has written, then as far as possible, the job of the illustrator is to translate this mind map onto the paper in the best way possible. It is necessary also to understand the nuances of the story that go beyond the written word. An illustrator has to be able to translate the setting, style and the mood of the story into visual compositions. The illustrator must be thorough with all the details of the story before she picks up the tools to begin work.
Prepare the initial draft
The illustrator can get her creative juices flowing by thinking about the characters, location and the setting. It is also important for the illustrator to consider the audience and ensure that the readers are able to relate to the illustrations. The illustrations should always be as authentic as possible but sometimes, if the locale or the time period is too alien, the illustrator may need to tweak it a bit so that it remains relevant and familiar to the modern child.
It might help to draw some thumbnail sketches first to explore multiple ideas. This could also help to finalize the general layout of the book and the flow of the narrative. As far as possible, the illustrations should be colourful, cheerful and eye-catching. The initial rough sketch is the most challenging since there is so much to consider but if that falls into place, the rest of the assignment will be a breeze.
When done with the initial draft, it is time to get some feedback before continuing with the detailing. Once the author and publishers are satisfied with the visuals, it is time to finish the illustrations. Sometimes, there may be requests for some changes or for additional detailing. Work must be done on the suggestions and the alternatives worked out based on the feedback. Once the changes are settled upon, it is time to redraw all the layouts. This is also a good time to check for continuity in the picture book and to refine the characters drawn.
The process of moving from the rough into the final sketch can be quite a time-consuming process. The outlines, the colours, the highlights – all of them have to be painstakingly done to get the right depth and texture in the final illustrations. This process is even more long drawn out if the illustrations are for a full length children’s book. But patience is the key to a perfect end-product and the illustrator should bear in mind the joy of seeing the illustrated books on bookshelves in foreseeable future.