Five Tips About Illustrating Children’s Books
William Low has been writing and illustrating beautiful children’s books for more than fifteen years with Henry Holt Books For Young Readers. But he thought it might have been a mistake when Henry Holt Books first approached him. “I don’t do teddy bears,” he said. “We want you to do what you do best,” the editor responded. Since then, he has created many artistically illustrated books for children. Low offers some advice on book illustration.
- Don’t talk down to the audience. You can modify your artwork to appeal to children, but don’t change your identity as an artist. “The books you create need to feel like you,” Low says. “Be true to yourself and create artwork.
- Appreciate simplicity. Children’s books are deceptive in their simplicity, with rhyming words and broad-lined images. Low explains, “Even the baby books, the cadence of the words, the subtle meaning—it’s hard work to do simplicity well.
- Don’t create a book on your own. Many people believe they can write the next great children’s book, so they self-publish. “When they shop it around, they get really discouraged. Artwork and words need to fit like a lock and key,” he explains. “That’s what editors and publishers do.”
- Use a dummy format to market books. To market a book to publishers, Low suggests a 32-page “dummy” of black and white drawings. (Most picture books are 32 pages, with 12 to 16 two-page spreads to illustrate.) “That’s all you need,” Low says, “for publishers to see the consistency and visual flow of the story.” A finished illustration or two will demonstrate your level of skill.
- Use digital technology. “With children’s books,” Low explains, “there is a distinct advantage to working with the computer. If I’m coming up with the artwork, I don’t know how well the text will fit with the images. The words have their own tension as a graphic element to coexist with the images. You have to tweak the images so the words will be okay.” By using digital technology, Low can change illustrations in an instant, something you can’t easily do with paintings.
Low’s books reveal a new world to children by demonstrating the art in the everyday. It’s a good thing he doesn’t do teddy bears.
William Low - demonstration of technique and inspirations for his book "Machines Go To Work" from William Low on Vimeo.