How to Illustrate a Children’s Book (Even If You Can’t Draw!)

Illustrations are vital in children’s books. They enhance the readability of the text and bring the book to life. In this post, you will learn how to illustrate a children’s book, even if you do not consider yourself to be the best artist!

In this post, I will discuss why it is crucial to illustrate children’s books and the best way to go about getting the illustration done through each of the four methods.


Importance of Illustrating Children’s Books

Kids enjoy reading illustrated books over regular, text-only books, which appear boring to them. Therefore, illustrations in children’s books are doubtlessly vital.


Below I address the importance of artwork in children’s books and the role it plays.

It motivates children to read

One of the benefits of illustrations in kids’ books is that it motivates them to read. Colorful images on books make children want to pick them up and flick through the pages even if they cannot comprehend the storyline. They are, in fact, the first motivational factors that help kids develop positive reading habits.

Illustrations strengthen visual thinking.

Illustrations in children’s books enable them to connect emotionally with the drawn objects they observe.

The pictures also improve on how they reason and connect concepts with the text.

Improves listening

Children’s books with pictures help them become better listeners. In read-aloud books, children sit and listen to the story without talking, paying attention to the illustrations. This assists the child in developing their listening skills

Boosts engagement

An image in children’s books boosts engagement between them and the teachers or parents. The pictures give conversations as the young readers can comfortably discuss what they see, what various characters are doing, and the story’s happenings. This builds the kids’ confidence and improves their communication skills.

Deliver fun

Picture books make reading a fun-filled experience. Children view books without pictures as dull and lifeless, making the reading appear to them as a chore.

Build language skills

When children read books with artwork during storytime either in the classroom or at home, they can practice language skills as teachers or parents introduce and explain new words. The rhyme and rhythm in children’s books alongside engaging images make it fun to read aloud and easy to understand and remember, enabling them to learn words fast.

For this same reason, picture books are amusing for kids to read and re-read, which helps young readers build their vocabulary effectively.

Illustrations refine children’s skills.

Illustrations help them to conceptualize and trigger their imagination hence reinforcing analogical thinking. With picture books, children can relate objects with pictures and texts that go along with them.


How do i illustrate my own book?
Your Options:

The golden question. Here are your four options for illustrating your own children’s book:

Option 1 – Drawing and colouring or painting the illustrations yourself by hand.

What you will need:
– Pen
– Paper
– Laptop

Step 1. Plan or storyboard your book. Set the scene, create sketches that tell the story and match what will be the text on each page.

Step 2. Draw it. Using your sketches, draw the scaled image exactly how you would want it to appear in your book. You might want to use a marker or sharpie as you will need solid scanner-friendly lines for the final stages.

Step 3. Either color/ paint etc. by hand or go to step 4.

Step 4. Scan or use a high-quality camera or phone to take pictures of your completed drawings or outlines. If the drawings are complete and ready to use in your manuscript – you might want to do simple touch-ups like enhance vibrancy or saturation.

If you know how to use software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, this will be quick and easy – and you can do this in batch so all of the illustrations have a similar look and feel to them.

However, this is not necessary and if you do not wish to use any additional software you can put these images straight into your chosen formatting program.


If you have just scanned the outlines, you will need to fill the color in – you can do this in Photoshop or any photo editing program before adding them to your manuscript.

Options 2 & 3 – Drawing using an iPad/Tablet or USB drawing tablet

What you will need:
a) Ipad Pro (any) + Apple Pencil + Procreate App
or
b) Drawing Tablet
or
c) Graphic Drawing Pad

Below I have run through these three options which are all at different price points, ‘a’ being most expensive and ‘c’ being most affordable. They will offer different levels of design capability but essentially you will accomplish the same thing; digital illustrations for your book (and tracing!)

A) iPad Pro 10.5″ + Apple Pencil

The 10.5″ iPad Pro is the cheapest iPad Pro on the market at around $300. This is what I have used from the start, along with the 1st Generation Apple Pencil and the drawing app, Procreate.

The ease of being able to draw and edit on the fly without having to connect to a PC won me over. Procreate is an AMAZING piece of software and I do all of my illustrations on Procreate alone.

Procreate is available in the app store for a one-time fee of $9.99, and was created by the developers who made Brushes (another amazing app that I’ve used for years).

The Apple Pencil is pretty much one of a kind at this point. There are other styluses out there that mimic its use in apps like Procreate and Photoshop Sketch but they have their kinks to work out.

The Apple Pencil is the easiest to use and most precise stylus on the market. You can get it directly from Apple or Amazon for $99 or even cheaper second-hand on eBay.

With that being said, to get started with the iPad Pro and Procreate, you are looking at an upfront investment of $300-$400.

B) XP-PEN Artist12 11.6″ Graphics Drawing Tablet Monitor Pen Display

The XP-PEN is the next best thing if you do not want to spend $400 on an iPad Pro and pencil. You still benefit from the display screen feature but also have the ability to connect to your laptop and additional design apps.

So at a mid-price point, it offers the best of both worlds. A visible drawing screen, great compatibility with Windows and Mac, and the portable drawing experience.

The XP-PEN Artist12 is a great gadget for new designers and animators. I have only used it once but was impressed by the high resolution. And if you are working on illustrations for your book, this tablet will give you everything you need to create stunning, engaging images.

The pen also has 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity which gives you the ability to create incredible shading effects when using it with your favorite design app.

C) Huion H420 USB Graphics Drawing Pad

The Huion H420 Drawing Pad is the most affordable option. These cheap but highly compatible drawing tablets do the job. They do not have a screen like the other two options. But, just connect to your laptop and Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator (or any design software) and you are good to go.

They are only around $30 and perfect for somebody testing the illustration waters not quite ready to commit to a high ticket item like an iPad Pro.


I have grouped Options b & c together because the process is very similar, the hardware is different, but you get the same outcome. All of these products are top-rated in their field for what they do, and although I am biased with my preference for the iPad Pro, any of these will help you achieve the results you are seeking – high-quality digital illustration ready to add to your children’s book manuscript!


Step 1. Sketch your storyboard as you would have with option 1.

Step 2. Take a picture of it on your iPad/tablet or send to you PC (if using a USB tablet such as the Huion)

Step 3. Trace each frame of you storyboard one by one. It will help greatly if you set the document dimensions according to the size of your book. For example, if you are creating an 8.5″by 8.5″ book with bleed, you would set the dimensions to 2550px by 2550px. This will ensure your final illustration fits your manuscript precisely.

Step 4. Colour and shade! This is where the tablets with screens win over the USB interface. The ease of illustrating on Procreate with all the brushes and features makes the process so smooth.


If you are using the USB interface you will be doing the same thing but via Photoshop.

* This is how the USB drawing tablet works with Photoshop.

Step 5. Construct your manuscript in your chosen formatting program.

Even if you are not confident in your drawing ability, the following tips will help you correctly illustrate your first children’s picture book.

Remember, your drawings don’t have to be perfect.

Honestly…

Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, David Williams

So you see, you can keep reading for tips on how to turn your not-so-perfect drawings into illustrations or you can skip right on ahead to Option 4 and be done with it!


Tips to help you illustrate your first children’s picture book 

#1 Learn from others

If you are illustrating a children’s picture book for the first time, it will be best to start by learning from others. Thankfully, we live in a time where we have the most revolutionary invention of the ages… The Internet.

The internet has made it possible to learn all sorts of skills, for free! This includes cartooning and illustrating. You can get many educational online tutorials that can provide detailed step by step guides on how you sketch, draw, paint and digitally illustrate. There are also some really well-crafted, affordable courses on Udemy which many people hold positive testimonials for.

If online courses and tutorials are not your thing, there are also books that can assist if you. It would be best not to rely on just one book or tutorial but check out several to provide you with maximum advice and current trends.

#2. Be keen on the drawings that inspire you

Do you have your favorite artists? You can get inspiration from them or any other picture book you find interesting. Look closely at their drawings and think about what makes them appealing to you. Try to integrate some of the features they include in the pictures in your work without copying.

Someone else’s book illustration could help you to develop and shape your unique style.

Seeking out stylistic inspiration from others’ work is a vital part of this process. It would be best to look out for the new picture books in the market. They will make you aware of the current trends and learn what the illustrators are doing to make the books funny, unique, and attractive.   

#3. Draw as much as possible

This point may sound obvious, but the secret of perfecting is to keep on practicing on drawing. When you keep drawing more and more, you improve over time and perfect at long last. Many people find it hard due to time constraints, but you should make time for it. And when you keep on practicing, you will develop an a deeper affinity to drawing. You will often want to do it again and again hence naturally finding time to do it.

#4. Focus on character development

The first thing you should do when working on a children’s picture book is come up with the main character. This character usually features in every illustration and is ideally the character that connects with the readers. Exercise drawing the main character using different expressions while in different situations. While practicing, keep in mind that continuity is vital, especially for young readers.

It will help immensely to learn techniques to draw facial expressions easily. Ones that you can replicate again and again with no issues. These will become part of your uniques style and something children can expect to se from your books.

#5. Start with a storyboard.

When you want to illustrate a children’s picture book, but you can’t draw, you should start by making a brief outline of what each illustration should portray. Go through the book, page by page, while taking notes or making sketches. You will be able to get an overall idea of how best to illustrate your story.

Then, make thumbnail sketches for every page, adding detailed illustrations and the color samples you will use on your final work. This will help you as you construct your masterpiece (or help prepare you to hire a freelancer…)

#6. Seek Feedback

Before you work on your final product, it is very important to get feedback and comments regarding your intended artwork. You can get this from fellow children’s illustrators, friends, family, teachers, authors, or editors. Take note of the critiques and redraw the illustrations to improve on your artwork.

Option 4 – Hiring a professional illustrator

Step 1. Sketch your storyboard (yup, you cannot escape this step :-))

Step 2. Write descriptive text for each frame and save it in a word document. This is what you will send to your illustrator once you hire them. You will not be sending the entire book script!

Step 3. Create an account on Fiverr.
(There are of course other freelancer sites which you can hire a professional illustrator on, however, in my experience, Fiverr has one of the easiest, newbie-friendly interfaces and a very competitive variety of professionals.

Step 4. Browse illustrators and discuss.
Fiverr has thousands of illustration services available – that is a lot to consider. All at varied prices and styles. You will need to pick one that suits your most preferred style and open dialogue with them. They will be open to seeing your storyboard and anxious to know what you have in mind for your characters, their clothes, skin color, background, image dimensions, etc.

You will likely be paying a set price per inner-page.

Step 5. Hire one and wait.
They will tell you how many days/weeks the job will take and throughout the process they will update you. For example, once they have done the digital ‘line art’ for your sketch, they will message to confirm it with you. At this point, if you are unhappy with the character’s hair or face etc, you can direct them.

They will need to make changes now before they begin to fill in colour and shade etc. You can request a number of revisions until you are happy and at the end, you will have a professional library of illustrations for your book!

The final product from the professionals


If you are looking for a good illustration or character drawing course, check out my Recommended Products and Services page where I list the best resources for self-published authors as well as beginner-friendly illustration and marketing courses.

Last update on 2021-08-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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