Wednesday, January 4, 2017

if you just want to illustrate and not write

Happy New Year! Do you have any goals or resolutions for the year?

I don’t usually make resolutions, and I tend to make goals throughout the year, not just at the beginning. One of the goals I have for this year (which I’ve actually been working on since November) is to focus on illustration and to replace all the work in my current portfolio with new art (even if I really like the old art). Here's a new piece I made in December because another one of my goals is to start making more black and white art:

(FYI: If you're looking for coloring pages for your kids (or you), this image, plus robots, a mermaid, and more are available to download for free here -

Like many illustrators, I also write. But sometimes I wish I could just make art! Then again, stories sometimes start because of making art! So, focusing on the art will help me create stories too.

What if you don’t want to write stories, but only want to illustrate?
I wrote a post about the path illustrators take to get published (note: it’s not the same as it is for authors). If you aren’t familiar with that path, check out my post on the path illustrators take to get their work noticed and advance their careers -

If you just want to draw for a living, the reality of children's books (at least trade book publishing) is that there's usually not a lot of money in it. Also, it takes a while to get your foot in the door, sometimes many, many years. That said, there are illustration opportunities out there.

First, you will need a portfolio. If you have one, great! Keep reading. If you don’t have a portfolio, or need to update your portfolio, you might find it helpful to read the post I wrote on what to draw for your portfolio - Once you’re all ready with your portfolio ...

Opportunities to illustrate for children:

(Note – This is a post for illustrators, but a lot of it applies to writers too. For all these categories, make sure you have a contract. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the terms of the contract. Have a lawyer, or your agent, look over the contract before you sign it. Also make sure to follow submission guidelines.)

* Trade Picture Books (at both small and large publishers): There are writers who don’t illustrate, so there are publishers who look for illustrators. Two ways you can get your work in front of editors and art directors by having a website and sending out postcards. Don’t forget to also send postcards to agents if you’re looking for an agent and they represent illustrators. Note: Always follow submission guidelines. If an editor, art director, or publisher prefers an email with a link to your website, send that instead of a postcard. If they don’t want emails, send a postcard if they accept snail mail.

* Educational Publishing: Textbooks, study workbooks/worksheets, and home schooling materials are all part of educational publishing, and a lot of those materials need illustrations. Research companies and guidelines so you know what they’re looking for before you submit.

* Work For Hire (a.k.a. WFH): Some publishers, packagers, and magazines need illustrations and purchase all rights for a fee. WFH isn’t for everyone. Consider reading about it and/or talking with others who have done it before you dive in.

* Art For Older Kids: Don't forget to think about illustrating covers, black and white illustrations for the interiors of chapter books and middle grade novels, and graphic novels. Check out current books at the library or bookstore to see what kind of work is being published now, and who publishes it. Send postcards or website links to publishers as requested in their submission guidelines.

* New publishers and upstart epublishers: New publishers can be wonderful opportunities or shady businesses that you'll wish you stayed away from. Beware of who they are and what kind of contract you're signing before you decide to work with them. Carefully look over the contract for what they are asking for in terms of rights and non-compete clauses. Have a lawyer go over the contract before you sign too.

* Children’s magazines (both print and online): Again, beware of the contract you're signing, the rights you're giving them, and whether or not you're being paid (they should pay you, although there may be a case where you believe in something enough to illustrate for free).

* Self publishing: If you go that route, make sure you’re getting a fair price for your time, skills and expertise, and make sure you have a contract to protect yourself should the deal go sideways. Always make sure to factor into the contract what’s allowed for changes to the art, and at what point they will have to pay extra for continued changes. Do research to see what other illustrators are charging, what questions they ask before working with self publishers, and what to avoid based on experiences others have had with difficult jobs.

Other Advice For Illustrators:

* Don't discount luck. You could get lucky and be at the right place at the right time for a great opportunity. Luck plays a large part in a lot of careers. But don't count on being one of the lucky ones either. Most of the time you have to make your own luck, by having a great portfolio and getting your name and work known, so that you're in the position to be in the right place at the right time.

* Consider joining SCBWI. If you do decide to pursue illustration for children, then an SCBWI membership is something I'd recommend. It's true that there are more resources for writers, but they are increasing the resources for illustrators. And don't discount the advice for writers. I've learned a lot about illustrating for kids by learning about writing stories for them. The biggest benefit of the SCBWI (for me) has been community. Meeting people, going to conferences, sharing resources and critiques. Finding others that are at the same stage in their journey is important, so that you have someone who understands where you're at and can cheer you on (and you can cheer them on too).

* Even if you don’t join SCBWI, check out their discussion board. The general sections of the board are open to the public, some sections are only for members (FYI - membership to the discussion boards is free), and there are SCBWI only sections as well. Look through the posts on the discussion board for illustration, contracts, magazines, small publishers, etc. There's a ton of info there about the industry. It will give you a better idea of what it's all about and whether or not you want to pursue children's books and illustrating for children.

* Five things for illustrators (that have helped me with illustrating for children, and will hopefully help you too):

* The truth is that if you want to make a living in this field, you will likely have to do many different jobs/types of illustration for kids. At least at first. Being able to draw people, especially children is a big advantage, but if you're really good at drawing animals, that could work too.

* The biggest thing is to have a strong portfolio that reflects the market you're trying to work in. So, if you want to illustrate for kids, you need to look at the art in picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels, children's magazines, and online sites for children. Think about your strengths and what you like to draw. Then consider where you might fit in to this market. Create art to focus on that. When you have a really strong portfolio, that you think can compete with the art that's out there for what you want to do, start submitting.

* Attend conferences and sign up for critiques if you are able to. It can be a great help to go to a conference and get a professional critique. Just remember that everything is subjective, and you could have two portfolio reviews with two people on the same day, one of which will love your art and one who will hate it (it's happened to me many times). Either way, if you get constructive feedback on what's working, what's not, and how to improve for the market you want to illustrate for, it's a successful critique. Unfortunately, not all critiques are successful, but most give you some take away that will help your art and career.

* Consider creating a dummy to go with your portfolio. If you don’t have a story you’ve written, take a classic public domain story, like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, and put your own spin on it to show how you’d interpret a story. Not sure how to make a dummy? Here’s a post I wrote on three ways to make a picture book dummy that could help, or maybe make you laugh.

* Consider writing a picture book. Okay, I know I said this was all about illustrating and NOT writing, but sometimes pictures decide they need stories. If that happens to you and you need some advice of writing a picture book, check out my post on how to write a picture book in twelve easy steps (note – it’s not really easy, but it is doable).

* If you decide you want to illustrate, but not for children, you will still need to do research on whatever field you decide you do want to illustrate for, and you'll need a strong portfolio. Remember that in any field, it will take time to break in.

Good luck, and most of all, have fun making art!


  1. All good advice, and I say this from the perch of one who only writes.

    1. Yay! Happy you thought it was good for writers too :)