When people I meet asked me what I do and I tell them I’m a children’s book illustrator, there is usually a brief pause. Then they ask, “Is that a real job or just a hobby?” Most people don’t know that artists actually illustrate children’s books as their full-time job.”
Every week I get email requests to illustrate children’s picture books by authors or very small publishers who offer to pay me far below minimum wage to illustrate their books. Because my job is fun to do and I enjoy it, they think it’s not a real job and I don’t need to be paid a fair wage. They know they can’t draw well and it would take them forever. But, they think because I do draw well I should be able to quickly knock out a complete 32-page picture book of full-color illustration in a few hours. They think I should illustrate their book for pennies “for the great exposure” it will give me.
Believe me, exposure doesn’t pay the studio rent or utilities. It doesn’t pay for computers, computer software, art supplies, children’s book conferences to keep my skills up-to-date. It doesn’t pay for my website and blog or the cost of updating my portfolio.
They don’t realize I actually have to read their story several times to fully understand the characters and the story. That I must decide what words will be on each page to build excitement and discovery with each page turn. That I then make a rough dummy book with the text breakdown on each spread and decide what illustration will help enhance the excitement on each page. It’s not enough to simply illustrate the words on the page, I must add another dimension of interest and a back story. The pictures in a picture book tell half the story.
Then I must give considerable thought and drawing practice to each character so I can visualize and draw them from all sides and angles before I start. The traits must be unique for each character. I research period or regional clothes and backgrounds so the book is accurate. I also research the particular genre of the book so the cover of their book will be appropriate but also stand out from others on the shelf. All of this is done before I even start illustrating the story.
At this stage, I then make rough sketches for each page for the author or art director to see to make sure they approve of the direction I am going.
I then proceed to finished pencils with all details and do a few color trials. When everyone is happy with these pencils, I finally get to start the actual illustrations. Most 32-page picture books have approximately 14 spreads and two single pages of illustrations.
When all the illustrations are finished and approved, it is now time for me to set up the digital files for the printer if the book is being self-published. All the text must be in place and any custom lettering or lettering effects added. The final digital file is packaged and made ready for the printer using not only the correct specifications for exact size with bleed but correct specs for color space and resolution as well.
I also do a lot of mentoring with first-time self-publishers. I can walk them through the self-publishing process and help them make the right choices. I help them carefully check the proofs from the printer or print on demand company they are working with so everything turns out exactly as it should.
Illustrating a children’s picture book takes between four to eight months from start to finish. But it can take well over a year if the author or art director is slow to respond and make decisions when I send roughs and pencils for approval at each stage of the process.
Illustrating a picture book is a labor of love, but Yes, it is a real job and illustrators should be fairly paid for their expertise and talent.
I love to work with authors and art directors. You can contact me and I will be happy to discuss your book and give you a fair price to illustrate and even mentor you through the self-publishing process.