How to become a children's book illustrator
Hello! My name is Michael Angelo Go and I have freelanced as a children's book illustrator for 2 years now and I have learned a lot from people in the community. Many newcomers rush into the industry not knowing what they are in for and I am here to help you to get to know the ropes and quirks of children's book illustration.
I started my journey as a children's book illustrator when I was listening to a radio ad for a website called "Upwork" while commuting to my college and I was curious to start freelancing for the first time. I was an architect student and the curriculum is very busy and also expensive, so I thought I could benefit if I could make some money on the side with work that I felt was loose and very manageable. So I took children's book illustration as a freelance job, because I have always loved cartoons and drawing.
I did not really benefit from Upwork at all, so I moved on to Facebook to see if I could get more traffic. I connected with local Facebook groups with experienced illustrators and they gave me incredibly helpful advice. I could not thank them enough. Here are a couple of tips you need to get started on your career as a freelance children's book illustrator.
Know your Art
One question you may have about your own art "is my work good enough for children's book illustration?" and the answer to that question is a broad stroke. There is no singular style that which you must conform to in order to become a children's book illustrator.
Children's books come in a vast and diverse array of styles. Some children's books are digital, some are traditional; some are cute, some are more humorous; some are juvenile, some are superdetailed. The list goes on.
A good children's book illustration is artwork that can tell a compelling story. Children's books contain illustrations that can captivate a child's imagination. It is most of the time fun, but most importantly creative in its nature.
While it might be recommended for your portfolio work, a children's book does not need to be about a small child or a cute anthropomorphic animal if the story and its protagonist can capture the mind of a child in the clearest way possible that which is true storytelling.
The best way to tell a compelling story with your art is to have a clear narrative + clear form of composition. Who are the characters in your story? Is the character just the background itself? What can you do to convey the focal point of the image? Are the objects of focus clear in your illustration? Very basic tips for any children's book illustration of any style.
Create an Online Portfolio
Creating a digital portfolio is very important. It's a platform for your audience to get to know the type of work that you do. You can create a portfolio by joining websites such as Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy! and plenty more.
There are just several custom website generators on the internet. I highly recommend getting a custom domain name for your website. This makes your website look more professional and you as an illustrator much more credible and appealing to potential clients.
What you will need for your online portfolio is:
A Homepage that consists of all your primary illustrations.
An About page that contains a short biography of who you are and why you are interested in illustration.
A Contact form page that allows visitors to your website to send to you messages for inquiries and even potential job offers!
This is optional, but these are only if you have them:
Add testimonies to your website so that you clients can know that you are a reliable illustrator. Insert them into your homepage, or under your biography. I put mine on both my home page and my contact form page.
List books that you have already worked on if you have the experience. You can combine them with your homepage or make a separate page. If you do have book experience but the work is not up to date, don't worry you only need to input the best to sell a strong portfolio. Wait until you get more gigs where you can show off work you can truly be proud of. You're portfolio is as best as its worst piece so keep that in mind.
There are other website apps such as Behance, Instagram, Twitter and more. These are not what you would use to compose your portfolio, but we can go more into depth about them.
Social Media and Forums
Social media is the best way for people to reach out to you and view your work in mass populations. While it cannot replace the function of your portfolio, social media apps such as Twitter and Instagram offer you a platform where you can directly communicate with your audience in a public forum. By creating strong ties with your audience, you increase the chances of your work getting noticed and broadening the scope of your audience.
Behance is a social media platform that presents all your work in the form of a gallery. To get the best traffic using Behance, use the right tags and fields to describe your illustrations. You want to pick terms like "character design", "children's books", "illustration", "concept art" etc. The nice part of Behance is that it's owned by Adobe. Behance is connected with Adobe Portfolio and if you want to make a website using Adobe Portfolio, it automatically links all your work from Behance to appear in your new website.
Twitter and Instagram are both microblogging platforms that allow you to share your work in the form of posts. The key to success using these types of social media is hashtags. People using these apps look for posts by typing hashtags. When you add as many hashtags as possible in your singular posts, increases your chances of that post being seen.
Don't be too hashtag happy though, try to keep your hashtags at a minimum of 15 to maybe sometimes 20 at most. If you make a lot of posts with the same hashtags over and over, the websites might automatically pushes your work down, so they become less visible and your audience won't be able to find you.
Another key to using microblogging platforms is following other hashtags yourself. Use hashtags and follow specific users who you personally believe matches your type of illustration style. Friending and liking other people's posts generate a lot of respect and your follower count naturally rises. I went on a friending spree and befriended several starting artists on Instagram and maybe 8 out of 10 they would always follow back and for long term.
I now have almost 200 followers on Instagram and every time I make a new post, I get at least 10 likes for every new post that I make.
Connections are Everything
I recommend for any starting children's book illustrator to do their research and join groups whether it's on Facebook or an online forum to get educated about the ropes of children's book illustration. Facebook can act as another social media platform to share you artwork with other people and to get audiences interested in your own work.
But I mostly use Facebook to educate myself on the knowledge of far more experienced children's book illustrators than me. When you become a children's book illustrator you need to know things like prices, establishing a realistic deadline for yourself, types of contracts and so much more. Children's book illustration as an industry looks pretty straightforward from face value, but if you are a vulnerable and lay person, you don't want to open yourself to predatory behavior. Protect yourself and your work. Know the ropes.
I also use an online forum called 'SVS Forums' or the 'Society of Visual Storytelling Forums' hosted by longtime children's book illustrator Will Terry. The website offers you classes that you can join to better improve your children's book illustration skills. But the forum itself is free, anyone can join, you can even link your Facebook account to make a new account.
I have learned a lot using that forum from people just like me and I enjoy sharing my feedback on specific pieces and getting feedback from the community. Having these types of connections cannot only improve your work, but even strengthen your chances of getting your next big gig.
Newsletter and Updates
Try to have a consistent schedule of when new work will be available for your audience view and expect. This keeps your views consistent as well and may even help it rise. Don't force yourself into an unrealistic schedule where you are producing what should be quality work at unrealistic paces. If you cannot keep up a schedule you believe will maintain the attention of your audience, try forming a newsletter. If they ever forget about you, they will receive an emailed notification of new work you recently published and you will regain views.
Seek an Agency
The first two steps are the most important in your illustration career: "knowing what kind of children's book illustrator you want to be" and "having a professional portfolio". When all else fails and you cannot seem to find work through your social networks, why not seek help from a children's book agency? Agencies either have a broad or specialized roster of illustrators represented by literary or illustration agents. Agents are the people that are going to help you get the best gigs and do all the legwork in finding the best clients.
There are several tutorials online that can help you find the best results in getting hired with an illustration agency or an agency that accepts illustrators. My two favorite Youtubers experienced in the field are Vanessa Matte and Anoosha Syed.
I cannot add anything new to what you need to do to contact an agency, because it's pretty straightforward. What you need to do is make sure your website portfolio is set up right and check out which agency you want to work for. Check out their current roster and determine whether your work will fit in with the rest of agency. Make sure it's primarily a children's book illustration agency, because there are illustration agencies that focus on graphic design.
Check if the agency you like is accepting submissions, and if not go to the next agency that is similar to the one you felt you fitted. Next you need to read the submission guidelines very carefully, there are certain agencies that have very strict rules on submissions, so I advise that you follow them or risk yourself getting berated if they choose to reply.
Usually when you submit an email, you want to introduce yourself, talk about your experience in illustration, why you think you are a good fit and they might ask you to attach a file containing jpgs or small pdf that contains some of your best work. If you have already formed your newsletter be sure to include that in your email. Make sure you address the agency properly in your email letter and then hit send. You will typically have to wait maybe a week to several months. You might not even get a response back at all.
If you are not getting responses over three months, you should probably email them back. They either did not see the email or thought you were not ready to join the gallery. There is no way of telling. But you should constantly be updating your work to be its best.
Thank you for joining me and reading this blog post. I hope this was helpful. I am still learning myself and the goal of this post was to help newcomers understand the very basics of what you need to do to become a children's book illustrator. It is a lot of hard work, but in the end it will be worth it because if you already believe you were good enough to be an illustrator, there is no reason why you should think you will never get the job.
Comment down below to tell me what you think. If there is anything that needs to be clarified.
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