What does a Children’s Book Illustrator do?
Even though the job title ‘Children’s book illustrator’ sounds pretty self-explanatory, people tend to get a little confused about what they really do.
For some, they might answer with something such as "people who only draw for children's books". Well, children's book illustrators are more than that. It takes time, patience, dedication, and determination to be able to illustrate children's books. To illustrate a children's book is also to understand the message of the story, the setting, and the characters as they do not illustrate for grown-ups but for young children who are still learning and continuing to grow through their curiosity about all things. Just like any other artist out there, children's book illustrators need to be dedicated to deliver a message to young children and also educate them about the things that they need to know about. These artists are not also educators who aim to teach children about all the good deeds and morals that they need to know about while they are still young.
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Children's book illustrators are those who do the illustration of a children's book, make the design for the characters, decide what colors and settings best suit the theme of the story, and also are the ones who help the author deliver the message of the story to the readers. They usually choose to visualize the key parts of the story so the readers could easily grasp the concept and especially the message. Children's book illustrators do not illustrate what they want to show, but rather choose only those parts that will make an impact on the reader that can make him/her understand the story more. The colors and the type of illustration also play a big role in attracting the children's attention as colors can help them know more not just about the story but about the theme of the story that they are about to read. Colors help young children to explore the surroundings around them and to learn about them in an engaging and fun way. Children are always curious whenever they see something new that catches their eyes, and that is why illustrators have to put and blend in as many colors as possible— but not too many as children will get confused and may get fond of the colors— just to engage them more into reading and deepens their curiosity about what they are reading about. They are also the ones responsible for making the characters of the story, based on how the author describes them physically and even their personalities. These artists must be imaginative enough to be able to visualize and make an original character with only a description of how it looks, or even just the personality itself. Some authors just leave it to the illustrators on how they wanted the characters to look but most of the time, the authors will let them know of how they wanted their character to be portrayed by illustration as there is a theme that needs to be followed. The same goes with the setting of the story.
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Artists back then use the simplest medium ever— their canvases, the palette, and paintbrushes... or the traditional pen and paper. But now that we are on the brink of an all-technological era, a lot of illustrators make use of professional software such as Adobe Illustrator, Medibang Paint, Procreate, and more to mention. They usually illustrate on drawing tablets and some even use their computer screens to monitor the changes made in the illustration. Although the new methods of illustrating were mostly done through digital now, some artists would still prefer going the traditional way of illustrating through painting. Whatever methods and medium they will use, both require hard work and focus to maintain the process.
Creativity and talent are both necessary to become a children's book illustrator, but some artists had formal education in art schools. Some had degrees in courses such as animation, fine arts, graphic design, and more. Most people say that to become a professional artist one should take formal education first, but this is not that true at all. There are lots of illustrators out there who haven't had any formal education and just started out trusting their own skills and creativity, and to many people's surprise, it is completely normal in the industry. Children's book illustrators who got formal education and those who did not were no different from each other, some even got formal education on other courses but still ended up illustrating for books instead due to their passion for art... but some just had the natural-born talent to be artists just like the famous illustrator and writer of the books "Where The Wild Things Are" and "In The Night Kitchen", Maurice Sendak. Maurice started to illustrate his first book at age 12 after gaining inspiration from a film that he watched. There, his career as a children's book illustrator and writer bloomed, and gained recognition for his stunning works worldwide. On the other hand, California-based animator and illustrator Christian Robinson had formal education regarding animation at the California Institute of Arts. His focus was only on animation until a mentor made him shift his forte into illustrating for children's books such as "Rain!", "When's My Birthday?", "Just In Case You Want To Fly", and more. Both children's book illustrators mentioned had their own success in the path that they took, regardless of what education they took back then. It's all about being creative, imaginative, and passionate to be an artist of children's books.
It's not always sunshine for the children's book illustrators when trying to get into a project, especially for those who were just starting out. Before getting their big break into illustrating books, they have to go through different processes such as submitting proposals to different companies or even directly to art directors. Getting an agent to represent your works and do some communicating with companies or art directors are also a must. It was hard to get in touch with companies as technology was just being innovated back then, but now, contacting and communicating in order to get the big break as an illustrator is quite easy. What's hard is finding companies that are open to hiring new illustrators.
Children's book illustrators often face discrimination as their work is deemed just "drawing" or "illustrating" for books, and some were saying that there's no money in the art industry. The work of a children's book illustrator requires lots of time and energy to be able to accomplish a piece, and that's what some people should know about. Illustrating children's books is honest work and something that should be proud of. It is not just skills that one must showcase in illustrating, but also the talent that the person has in creating lovely and vivid illustrations for children. It is not just an easy job—from contacting companies and art directors, brainstorming and drafting the models of the characters, thinking about what theme suits the story the most, to doing the work for how many hours in a sitting. Children's book illustrators are not just ordinary artists but storytellers, giving color and meaning to the story that a child is reading. These illustrators did not choose the children's content field just because they're "easy-to-draw", but because they found passion in educating and teaching children about the beauty of the world, the morals, and everything else that they have to learn about as young children that are still in the process of growing and nurturing.
Personally, I myself as a child back then have learned about different values and morals through the works of different children's book illustrators and writers such as Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, and Eric Carle, Enid Blyton, and much more that I could mention. I am forever grateful for these children's book illustrators and writers as they helped me become the person that I am today.
Author: Blaine Kaye Morales