How to Illustrate a Book: Expert Tips and Techniques - brilliantio (2023)

Illustrating a book can be rewarding and creative, bringing the story to life through captivating visuals. Whether you are a writer looking to enhance your work or an artist seeking to collaborate with an author, understanding the basic steps of book illustration is essential to producing a successful final product.

There are many ways to approach book illustration, and drawing from various sources and techniques can help artists develop their unique style. The process often starts with reading the story and deeply understanding the characters, settings, and themes. This allows the illustrator to create images that complement and enhance the narrative, making it more engaging for the reader.

Aspiring illustrators should seek inspiration from various sources, such as their favorite artists or award-winning picture books, to understand different approaches and styles in illustration. This can help them develop their distinctive style and make their illustrations stand out in the crowded book publishing market. It’s essential to practice and refine one’s skills, whether working on a personal project or collaborating with an author, to create compelling visuals that truly capture the magic of the story being told.

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Finding Inspiration

Finding inspiration for illustrating a book can be a challenging yet exciting process. Creating a unique and captivating visual representation of the text is essential, particularly for children’s books, as the illustrations play a significant role in engaging young readers.

Reading and Research

One of the best ways to gather inspiration is by reading and researching various books within your target genre. Expose yourself to different illustration styles and techniques to understand how other illustrators have successfully brought stories to life. Additionally, consider the reading level of your intended audience and ensure that your illustrations are age-appropriate and engaging.

Character Development

Developing strong, memorable characters is crucial for an interesting story. Take inspiration from the text and start sketching your ideas for the appearance and personality of each character. Consider their emotions, relationships, and roles within the story. Iterating and refining your character designs will help create a more immersive experience for readers.

Continuity in Illustrations

Maintaining continuity throughout your illustrations is necessary to create a cohesive visual narrative. Pay attention to the details in the story, such as character appearances, settings, and colors, to ensure that they remain consistent across all illustrations. This sense of continuity will make the book feel more polished and professional, helping the reader to be fully immersed in the story.

By actively reading and researching, investing time in character development, and focusing on maintaining continuity in your illustrations, you can gather valuable inspiration that will help you create a unique and captivating visual representation of the text in your book.

Choosing an Art Style

When illustrating a book, choosing an art style that complements the narrative and captivates the reader’s imagination is crucial. The art style sets the tone for the entire book, enhances the storytelling, and adds aesthetic value to the text. This section will explore two critical aspects of selecting an art style for your illustrations: Traditional vs. Digital Art and Color Palette Selection.

Traditional vs. Digital Art

Both traditional and digital art offers their unique set of advantages and aesthetics. Traditional art encompasses hand-drawn or hand-painted illustrations, often created with graphite, ink, watercolor, acrylic, or oil. This method provides a tangible, authentic feel and often showcases the artist’s handiwork and intricate details. However, it can be more time-consuming and require more physical resources.

Digital art, on the other hand, utilizes computer software and digital tools to create illustrations. This medium enables artists to experiment with various techniques and styles and edit, undo, or redo their work conveniently. Digital art can also be more cost-effective and efficient than traditional methods, requiring fewer materials and allowing for more effortless reproduction and distribution.

When choosing between traditional and digital art, consider your artistic skills, available tools and resources, production timeline, and the desired visual effect for your book’s illustrations.

Color Palette Selection

Choosing an appropriate color palette is essential for creating visually cohesive and compelling illustrations. A well-chosen color palette can enhance your book’s narrative’s mood, atmosphere, and overall perception. To select a suitable color palette, consider the following factors:

  • Story Theme: Choose colors that reflect your book’s tone and subject matter. For example, a children’s book may benefit from bright, vibrant colors, while a mystery novel may call for darker, muted hues.
  • Consistency: Develop a uniform palette to ensure your illustrations maintain a consistent appearance throughout the book. This consistency helps create a sense of continuity and familiarity for readers.
  • Contrast: Incorporate contrasting colors to draw attention to specific elements or create a visual hierarchy in your illustrations. Proper use of contrast can make your graphics more legible and enhance storytelling.


  • Emotional Impact: Consider the emotional associations of different colors and how they can affect the reader’s experience. For instance, cool colors like blues and greens often evoke calm and tranquility, while warm colors such as reds and oranges can convey energy and excitement.

When selecting your color palette, experiment with various combinations and consider consulting resources such as illustration style guides or color theory materials to make informed decisions. Ultimately, your chosen art style and color palette should enhance the book’s narrative, engage the reader, and convey the intended emotions and themes.

Creating a Portfolio

As an illustrator, having a professional portfolio is crucial for showcasing your work and impressing potential clients. This section will discuss some of the best practices for creating a compelling portfolio and explore various portfolio platforms you can utilize.

Best Practices

When building a strong illustration portfolio, curating a collection of your best work is essential. Utilize the following tips to make your portfolio more effective:

  • Start and end your portfolio with your strongest illustrations to create a great first impression and deliver a strong lasting impact.
  • Organize your work in a cohesive and visually appealing manner, grouping similar projects and illustrations.
  • Include a mix of personal and professional projects to showcase your range and versatility as an illustrator.
  • Consider including relevant testimonials from previous clients or art directors to highlight your professionalism and competency.

Portfolio Platforms

Now that you know what to include in your portfolio, choosing the right platform to display your work is essential. Various online platforms and websites are available, each catering to different types and styles of portfolios. A few popular options include:

DribbbleA well-known platform for graphic designers and illustrators to showcase their work and connect with potential clients.
BehanceAn extensive platform for creative professionals to display their projects, share feedback, and discover other creatives in the industry.
ArtStationA platform primarily aimed at artists and illustrators within the concepts, gaming, and entertainment industry.

Before committing to a platform, research each option to find one most suitable for the style and goals of your illustration career.

Developing and Sketching Thumbnails

Developing and sketching thumbnails is a crucial step in illustrating a book. Thumbnails serve as a blueprint for the final illustrations, allowing artists to experiment with composition, perspective, and visual storytelling.

Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail sketches are small, rough drawings that focus on basic shapes and layout. They are used to study the visual elements within a scene or page, without focusing on finer details. Creating thumbnail sketches helps the illustrator understand the composition of each scene and identify any potential issues early in the process.

When sketching thumbnails, it is important to let the pencil flow freely over the page, focusing on capturing the essence of the scene in simple, black-and-white shapes. The goal is to experiment with different compositions and visual elements, iterating on ideas quickly before committing to a more detailed illustration.

Creating a Storyboard

A storyboard is a series of thumbnail sketches that represent the sequential flow of the book’s illustrations. It is an essential tool for visualizing the progression and pacing of the story. The storyboard provides the illustrator with an overview of the entire book, allowing them to make any necessary adjustments to ensure that the story flows cohesively.

When creating a storyboard, the illustrator should begin by using the thumbnail sketches they’ve already created to arrange the key scenes in sequential order. This provides a visual representation of the story and helps to identify any gaps or inconsistencies in the narrative. If needed, additional thumbnail sketches can be created to address these issues.

In conclusion, developing and sketching thumbnails is a foundational step in illustrating a book. By creating thumbnail sketches and organizing them into a storyboard, illustrators can ensure that their final illustrations effectively convey the story’s narrative and pacing.

Working with Authors and Editors

Illustrating a book involves a close partnership with authors and editors. Navigating this collaboration is essential to create a visually appealing and cohesive work. This section provides insights into effectively working with authors and editors through feedback, communication, and collaboration.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Sharing and receiving feedback is an essential part of the book illustration process. The illustrator should be open to constructive criticism from the author and editors and use it to refine their work. It is crucial that illustrators:

  • Ask for specific feedback on their initial sketches and ideas;
  • Listen carefully to the suggestions and concerns of the author and editors; and
  • Be willing to make changes to the illustrations in response to feedback.

Similarly, authors and editors should:

  • Provide clear and constructive feedback to the illustrator;
  • Be open to the illustrator’s input and ideas; and
  • Approach the process as a collaborative effort.

Collaboration and Communication

Effective communication between the illustrator, author, and editors is vital to the success of the book illustration process. To maintain a productive and smooth collaboration:

  • The illustrator should have a clear understanding of the author’s vision and the story’s tone;
  • Regular check-in sessions should be held to discuss the work’s progress and raise any issues that may arise;
  • Both parties should respect each other’s creative process and be open to suggestions and changes; and
  • Transparent communication on deadlines and expectations is necessary to avoid misunderstandings.

By practicing effective communication and collaboration, illustrators, authors, and editors can work together to create a polished and visually engaging final product.

Navigating the Publishing Process

When illustrating a book, it is crucial to understand the publishing process to navigate it effectively. This section covers the essentials of working with publishing companies, contracts and agreements, and self-publishing options.

Publishing Companies

Publishing companies play a significant role in bringing your illustrated book to life. They are responsible for various tasks such as editing, designing covers, and marketing your book. It is essential to research publishing companies and their submission requirements to find the best fit for your work. Typically, you will need an agent to help you communicate with traditional publishing houses and show them your illustrations and book concept.

Contracts and Agreements

Once a publisher expresses interest in your book, you will most likely sign a contract. This legal document outlines the terms and conditions for both parties, including royalties, deadlines, rights, and responsibilities. As an illustrator, it is vital to read the contract carefully and ensure its fairness. Don’t hesitate to consult a lawyer specializing in intellectual property to clarify any confusing terms or negotiate better conditions if needed.

Self-Publishing Options

Self-publishing is an alternative to traditional publishing companies. This option allows you complete control over the creative process and rights to your work. However, self-publishing also means taking on the responsibility of editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing that a publishing company would handle. Some popular self-publishing platforms are Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), IngramSpark, and Lulu.

When self-publishing, do not neglect the importance of editing, cover design, and formatting. Professional-looking illustrations and a well-formatted book can significantly impact your book’s success. A good book cover can attract readers and entice them to purchase your work.

Designing Book Covers

When it comes to illustrating a book, the cover plays a crucial role in attracting readers and conveying the mood or theme. This section will discuss the use of photos and images, as well as software tools for creating eye-catching book covers.

Photos and Images

Using high-quality photos and images is vital for creating captivating book covers. These visuals help readers make an instant connection with the book’s content by providing a glimpse into its theme, narrative, or genre. For children’s books, colorful illustrations often appeal to young readers and spark their imaginations.

When selecting photographs for book covers, it’s essential to choose images that are both visually appealing and reflective of the book’s content. Ensure the images convey the mood of the story, characters, or setting, giving potential readers an idea of what to expect inside. Make sure to use high-resolution images to avoid pixelated or blurry covers, especially when printing physical books.

Software Tools

Various software tools can significantly assist in designing professional-looking book covers. Adobe Photoshop is a popular and powerful editing software, which is widely used by designers for creating custom artwork or editing existing images. Photoshop also allows users to work with layers, manipulate typography, and apply special effects, all of which are essential for an impactful book cover design.

Another user-friendly software option is Canva, which provides numerous templates, images, and design elements to help even amateurs create visually appealing book covers. Canva’s drag-and-drop interface makes it easy for users to experiment with design elements, typography, and colors without requiring extensive design expertise.

In conclusion, designing an engaging book cover requires both stunning visuals and the right software tools. By selecting relevant images and mastering software like Adobe Photoshop or Canva, designers can create attractive book covers that effectively convey the essence of the book and entice readers to explore its content.

Catering to Young Readers

Illustrating a book for young readers requires specific attention, as it plays a crucial role in engaging children and helping them understand the narrative. This section will focus on creating age-appropriate content and considering reading levels while illustrating a book for young audiences.

Age-Appropriate Content

To cater to young readers, it is essential to create illustrations that are appropriate for their age group. For instance, very young children respond well to simple, bold shapes and bright colors, while older children may appreciate more complex, detailed illustrations. It is essential to have a clear understanding of the target audience’s preferences and cognitive abilities while designing illustrations. A key factor is to strike a balance between providing visual appeal and ensuring that the images are not overwhelming or confusing for young minds.

Reading Levels

A critical aspect of illustrating for young readers is keeping in mind their reading levels. At different stages of their reading journey, children are likely to be more or less reliant on illustrations to help them understand the story. For early readers or pre-readers, illustrations need to be highly descriptive and depict the story’s main events, almost like a visual storytelling format. As children’s reading skills progress, the images can become more abstract, often complemented by the text rather than directly reflecting it.

Incorporating various visual elements such as tables, bullet points, and charts can help engage children and convey information more effectively in educational or non-fiction books. Using these elements ensures that the content remains accessible and appealing to diverse groups of young readers:

  • Use tables to organize and display complex data or lists.
  • Implement bullet points for breaking down key points and making them easily digestible.
  • Utilize charts and graphs to present numerical or statistical information in a visually appealing manner.

In conclusion, catering to young readers while illustrating a book involves creating age-appropriate content that is mindful of their reading levels. Focusing on these factors can help make the book more engaging and accessible to its intended audience.


What makes a good book illustration? ›

So, if you need some criteria to define what makes a successful picture book illustration, focusing on the theme, storyline and concept would be a good place to start! Having a strong visual theme throughout the illustrations is key. The style of illustration really depends on the story and the artist, in the end.

How do you plan illustrations for a book? ›

  1. Find inspiration for your story. ...
  2. Create the story brief. ...
  3. Define the illustration style you're trying to achieve. ...
  4. Find a book writer. ...
  5. Decide your book trim size. ...
  6. Find a book illustrator. ...
  7. Show the Illustrations to children (and get their feedback) ...
  8. Choose the right font style and color.
May 22, 2020

How do you illustrate a book if you can't draw? ›

If you're looking to illustrate your book, you have a few different options depending on your skills. You could hand-draw or paint the illustrations yourself and take high-quality pictures or scans of them; or you could use an iPad or tablet. Alternatively, you could use a USB drawing tablet and computer.

What medium do most children's book illustrators use? ›

Many children's book illustrators use watercolor paints, pastels, acrylics, oil paints, and black pen, as these media create smooth, pleasing images. Others use software programs like Procreate to draw digitized images that look fresh and cool.

What are strong illustration skills? ›

As an illustrator, it's essential to have excellent drawing, painting or sketching skills. In addition, a good understanding of layout, balance and colour is necessary to create cohesive designs that work well together. Another useful skill is photography if you're incorporating photos into your artwork.

What makes a powerful illustration? ›

As a rule of thumb, the approach to a good illustration should be to ensure it is clear and intentional. This means that an illustrator's job should be to find the most direct way to make their audience understand what they want them to understand and feel when they are engaged with their imagery.

What is the first step in illustrating a book? ›

Begin with a storyboard.

Go through the whole book and take notes or make sketches as you go. Once you have an idea of how to best illustrate the story, make thumbnail sketches for each page or scene of the book, along with a few more detailed illustrations and a color sample that shows how the final product will look.

How much should I get paid to illustrate a book? ›

For a new illustrator just starting out you will probably get paid anywhere from: $5,000-12,000 for your first children's book. If you agree to do something for a price then most likely your bottom line is lower than that rate.

How do you come up with illustration concepts? ›

Here's a little insight into how other illustrators generate their best ideas so you can experiment with some new, interesting concepts!
  1. Create an idea incubator. ...
  2. Take inspiration from the mundane. ...
  3. Whip out your camera. ...
  4. Keep a notebook with you at all times. ...
  5. Commit to a concept & don't look back.
Jun 26, 2020

How do you draw without thinking? ›

Experiment: Draw Without Thinking
  1. Take a blank piece of paper. Any size will do. ...
  2. Use a pen or a pencil. ...
  3. Now, start anywhere on the paper, drawing a line, a circle, or some other pattern.
  4. Let your mind go free and let your hand move anywhere you feel that it wants to go.
Apr 5, 2023

What to draw when you don t know how to draw? ›

Use a reference photo. A reference photo is a photograph or image on the computer or device that you look at to help you draw what you want to draw. Some great places you could go to for some great images are: Photos you take around your house or on vacation.

What skills do you need to be a picture book illustrator? ›

Skills required to become a book illustrator
  • Training in fine arts, illustration, graphic design.
  • Talent for visual communication, strong drawing skills.
  • Understanding of visual storytelling.
  • Familiar with color correction for print.
  • Able to work creatively with an author.
  • Knowledge of book genres.

What is the average salary for a children's book illustrator? ›

Children's book illustrator salary

However, the national average salary for illustrators is $48,893 per year . Exact salaries may vary based on factors like qualifications, education, experience, geographic location and the specific employer or project.

What is the hourly rate for a childrens book illustrator? ›

Book Illustrator Salary
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$90,500$44
75th Percentile$62,500$30
25th Percentile$40,500$19

What paper is best for book illustrations? ›

Art Book Paper: Coated Stock

White coated stock is the most popular and traditional choice for an art book—we carry it in gloss or matte at 80- and 100-lb. The smooth surface of a coated stock is a plus for reproducing art with a lot of detail. A coated stock is a less porous substrate than an uncoated paper.

How can I make my illustrations more interesting? ›

Re-Crop Your Drawings to Make Them More Interesting

Try zooming in on the part of the picture that interests you the most. A close-up is often more interesting and powerful than the image as a whole. If you've already drawn the image and something still nags, try re-framing the drawing.

What is a perfect illustration? ›

meanings of perfect and illustration

complete and correct in every way, of the best possible type or ... See more at perfect. illustration. noun [C or U] /ˌɪl.əˈstreɪ.ʃən/us.

What are the traits of illustrators? ›

Skills and qualities
  • A creative imagination.
  • To work well using different art techniques.
  • An understanding of colour, shape and form.
  • Knowledge of computer graphics software and digital imaging.
  • Good communication, presentation and negotiation skills.
  • To work to deadlines and budgets.

How long does it take to illustrate a book? ›

Illustrating a children's book

Just because picture books are short, doesn't mean they will be published quickly. It's not unusual for the entire process to take anywhere between 18 and 24 months, given all the intricacies of perfecting the text and illustration.

What part of a book should you write first? ›

Plan the opening sentence of your book

One of the most important parts of writing a book is starting the story! It's no exaggeration to say your first few pages can make or break your book — if these pages aren't good enough, many readers will lose interest, possibly never returning to your book again.

How to design a book step by step? ›

How to Write a Book
  1. Establish a consistent writing space. If you're going to write a great book, you're going to need a great space to write. ...
  2. Hone in on your book idea. ...
  3. Outline your story. ...
  4. Do your research. ...
  5. Start writing and stick to a routine. ...
  6. Finish your first draft. ...
  7. Revise and edit. ...
  8. Write your second draft.
Mar 2, 2022

Are book illustrators in demand? ›

Book Illustrator Projected Growth In The United States

Yes, book illustrator jobs are in demand. The job market for analysts is projected to grow 1% from 2018 to 2028.

Can you make a living as a book illustrator? ›

You can create an illustration once and sell or license it hundreds or even thousands of times, earning money with each sale, based on work you've already put in. Just be sure you own the copyright and other rights for the work you sell (in other words, don't try to license work you've done for other clients).

Do book illustrators get royalties? ›

An author-illustrator should expect a higher royalty percentage than an illustrator working with an author. If the royalty is 10% for a book the author/illustrator should receive all of that 10%. If solely illustrating the book the illustrator would receive half that percentage – 5%.

What is taught in illustration? ›

Illustration students develop their artistic skills through studio classes and critiques. They also practice techniques in both traditional and digital illustration and apply visual storytelling skills in hands-on, client-focused projects.

How to find work in illustration? ›

Create a presence on art and freelance platforms

Professionals often search for freelance illustrators on design platforms such as Upwork, Behance and Deviant Art. Clients may use social platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn to find freelance artists, and view their artwork there.

How do I stop being lazy to draw? ›

Give Yourself A Routine To Create

To eliminate the excuse of not having time to work on your art, you need to make time. Prioritize your time in a way that makes it possible to work on your craft even just a little bit. It could be on your lunch break or you could set aside a day to spend time by yourself.

Can you draw if you have no talent? ›

Some people believe that you need to be born with talent in order to be a good artist, but this is not true. Anyone can learn to draw or paint with enough practice. Some of the most famous artists in history were not born with talent, but they practiced regularly and became great artists.

Why can't I draw what I see in my head? ›

But for others, such a task would be almost impossible. These individuals have a rare condition called aphantasia, which prevents them from easily recreating images in their mind's eye—in fact, the phrase “mind's eye” may be meaningless to them.

What to draw when you have no inspiration? ›

100 Cool Drawing Ideas
  • A fern.
  • Your favorite animal.
  • A succulent.
  • An animal that has gone extinct.
  • A mountain.
  • An animal that lives underground.
  • A strange cloud formation.
  • A body of water.
Feb 2, 2019

How do you draw without being a perfectionist? ›

How to overcome perfectionism
  1. Break the cycle by making things ugly on purpose. Often when I'm drawing, the first thing I make is the worst thing I've ever made. ...
  2. When in doubt, do something boring and repetitive. ...
  3. Invite eyes on your work. ...
  4. Make a commitment to yourself and your crew.
Aug 16, 2017

What do illustrators do daily? ›

As an illustrator, you'll work to commercial briefs to inform, persuade or entertain a client's intended audience, adjusting the mood and style of images accordingly. Many illustrators specialise in a particular design medium, such as drawing, photography or digital illustration.

What valuable skill of an artist is needed when doing illustration? ›

It includes proficiency in constructive drawing, the ability to judge distances and proportions, an understanding of perspective, the capability to think three-dimensionally, and others.

Do book illustrators get paid well? ›

However, the national average salary for illustrators is $48,893 per year . Exact salaries may vary based on factors like qualifications, education, experience, geographic location and the specific employer or project.

How much does the average book illustrator make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $129,500 and as low as $19,500, the majority of Book Illustrator salaries currently range between $40,500 (25th percentile) to $62,500 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $90,500 annually across the United States.

How do you make a perfect illustration? ›

All you need to keep in mind are these 3 principles:
  1. Start with a clear idea or concept in mind - what are you depicting?
  2. Get inspired with existing artwork and styles - steal like an artist.
  3. Observe and translate complex elements into basic geometric shapes you can work from - keep it simple.

How much do good illustrators make? ›

Illustrator Salary
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$106,000$8,833
75th Percentile$80,500$6,708
25th Percentile$41,000$3,416

What valuable skill of an illustrator is needed when doing illustration? ›

A good Illustrator must be:

Creative and imaginative with an eye for color, balance, and layout. Able to create a drawing that expresses an idea or concept. Excellent at drawing, sketching, and painting skills. Solid on photography skills.

Is illustration a hard career? ›

But, working as an illustrator is never easy. Just like a graphic designer should never stop learning and work hard to keep up with new trends, an illustrator is always “required” to keep working hard and advancing their skills.

What is the royalty rate for illustrators? ›

If you are both the author and the illustrator, average royalty rates are 7% to 12%. Here's what's important to know about an advance: It's an advance against royalties. That means your book must earn enough in royalties to pay back that advance before you get royalty payments for that book.

Who makes more money the author or the illustrator? ›

Picture book illustrators often earn a higher advance than the author, but they generally earn the same royalty percentages. Rather than a lump sum, most advances for picture books are divided into halves or thirds and paid at specified stages of the two-to-four-year editing and production process.

How long does it take an illustrator to make a book? ›

Expect the process to take a minimum of 3-4 months for a 32-page picture book. If you have a tight deadline, expect the overall cost to go up accordingly. “Allowing at least 6 months for the illustration process is a reasonable time frame,” Jeanette Bradley says.

Who gets paid more writer or illustrator? ›

It depends on how you look at things. If you consider just a single issue of a comic book, the artist is paid more - much more - than the writer. However, if you consider their pay by the amount of hours worked, they are much more even.

How do I know my illustration style? ›

How to find your illustration style
  1. Get inspiration from fellow illustrators work. ...
  2. Be different. ...
  3. Ask yourself which themes you want to illustrate. ...
  4. Don't try to please everybody. ...
  5. Draw, draw, draw. ...
  6. Never stop practising. ...
  7. Don't follow trends and be true to yourself.
Feb 19, 2021


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