Is children’s book illustrating a real job?

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.

Theres a Mouse on My Head!_proof

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.








More illustrations for “Don’t be a PIG in a PANIC”

I’m moving along with some of the digital color now on these fun illustrations. Below is the pencil for the cover and the almost finished color. You can see my rough pencil in the background of the color version.  In the second illustration, I still need to work on the stripes on the pig’s shirt, they don’t look right to me. I have created the heading in Adobe Illustrator so I can get the letters of the word PIG exactly right and the curve of the other words. I’ve put them together in this last version.  Now I just need to clean up the jungle foliage and I will be done with the cover. This fun book was written by Leila Leidtke. Click here see my online portfolio.

Pencil rough for cover

Pencil rough for cover

Cover "Don't be a PIG in a Panic"

Almost finished

Almost finished

I’m Illustrating a picture book about pigs!

This gallery contains 6 photos.

I’m illustrating a book about three little pigs in the jungle to be exact. It’s called “Don’t be a PIG in a Panic!” by Leila Leidke.  I’m having a lot of fun and the pigs are getting easier and easier … Continue reading

Character sketch for a new book I am illustrating

Dayne Sislen character studyThis is an early character sketch for one of the children’s picture books I am illustrating. I am working on two new children’s books right now. Working on two at the same time helps me fill the time gaps in between approvals. When an illustrator works directly for self-publishing authors like I do, it sometimes takes awhile for the authors to approve roughs and the character sketches I send for approval. I like to keep busy, so two books works perfectly.

It is important to keep all correspondence separate, and remember which character and directions go with each book. It also helps if one story is about animals, the other about real children.

Most authors I work with, like me to keep their books a secret while I am working on them so it’s hard to share my progress as I go.

I usually start with rough character sketches. When they are approved by the author I do rough color work-ups like this one of the main characters and major props. Then I do a complete rough dummy of the whole book so I know exactly how many illustrations I will be doing and if they will be one page Illustrations, vignettes or spreads. After this rough break down and a dummy is made, I move into rough sketches of each illustration for each page and plan where the text will be. When these are approved, I make tight pencil drawings for final approval before starting the finished color illustrations. When I work on the finished color illustrations, I first make a tonal rough, then play around with color balance. Finally on to the finished illustration. I work in traditional watercolor, gouache, digital pastel and digital oil. The character study above was done in digital pastel (my current favorite).

There are a lot of steps to the process of illustrating a children’s picture book. Many non-illustrators think illustrators just crank out these drawings in one sitting without any planning. More time is spent on planning, sketching and layout than anything else.

If you have comments and or questions please click the thought bubble at the top right of this post or fill in the form below.

My illustration will be used on the MO SCBWI Fall Conference material

FallConfBanner_pastel*I just found out my illustration of a young girl dreaming about Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” has been for use on the Mo SCBWI’s Fall conference material. I posted this image a few weeks ago, right after I had entered the competition and  before I knew it was selected.

I am thrilled, I now will receive a scholarship to attend the conference.

I do all my sketching in pencil on layout paper. I then scan the pencils and bring them into Corel Painter 12 as a top layer set to multiply. Then all my color work is underneath. Sometimes I use one of the smaller brushes set to colored pencil settings to do the line work, but I still draw best with pencil on paper. I used the pastel and colored pencil brushes for the color on these illustrations. At first I thought I would like the watercolor brushes the best, because that’s always been my go-to traditional media.But the water color brushes really don’t work very well for me. The oil paint brushes are incredible, they can be blended just like real paint. I also like the acrylic brushes and the gouache brushes for flat work. You can also set your paper to be rough like canvas or concrete or very smooth.

The illustration that was selected was actually the third idea I came up with. The first idea that came to mind was a little boy with a space bubble around his head floating over the earth with his dog. Somehow that didn’t work out for me. Then I did a rough color sketch of a little girl sitting by a pond sailing a paper boat, with real sailboats on a lake or ocean behind her. I liked this idea a lot, but never really took the time to develop and finish it because I had a dream one night about another little girl dreaming of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.

color sketchComments and suggestions are encouraged. Click the thought bubble at the top right of this blog.

Color Version of Scottie

By Dayne SislenThis is the same rough pencil that I posted in my last blog (see below). I have added some color using Corel Painter 12 to experiment with technique and color. I will probably redraw the drawing for the final illustration. I like the loose watercolor on the water, I’m not so sure of the exact technique used on the sky. I also want to show a little more definition between the sky and the water. The text will be over the Scotties head on the left and on the right side of the spread.

This is a work in progress, feel free to comment. Click on the thought bubble in the top right corner.

Some more roughs of Scottie dog story.

Illustration by Dayne Sislen

by Dayne Sislen

I am writing his story myself. This week my writer’s critique group  associated with SCBWI gave me a lot of great suggestions to improve it. Writing is hard work.

I can’t wait to finish all the illustrations. I must work on my own work in between my real children’s book illustration jobs. With my work I can post images as I go along. Most children’s book authors, I work for, want to keep everything secret until they publish the book. Because of that, I don’t get to show everyone what I am working on.

I plan to do this illustration in loose watercolor over a charcoal or pencil drawing. I want the water to have a lot of movement. I will probably paint it digitally.

Attended SCBWI conference in St. Louis

I am so excited and empowered, I attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference today. Will Terry was the speaker for the illustrators. Will  is incredibly talented and a very good speaker. Visit his site to see some of his work: He also sells some wonderful tutorials for illustrators.

He talked about the emerging technology for e-books and story apps. It’s another tool for writers and illustrators to help get our work out to our readers in an exciting way.

I appreciate the SCBWI of Missouri for planning this wonderful conference. Thank you

Is digital painting the way to go?

I am taking a course in digital painting this semester using Corel Painter 12. Up to now I have created all my illustrations using traditional media. I have always created harder line vector work like logos and lettering in Abobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop mostly for retouching, adapting, outlining and blending photos and some simple artwork. But I have mostly used watercolor and ink, gouache, pastel, colored pencil, markers, acrylics and oils for my illustrations.

Using digital media has not really changed my style very much or speeded up the process yet. I do like the ability to make changes a lot more easily and less destructively.  I also like not having to worry about my paints drying out or matching a color at a later date. I find matching an exact color after the painting dries very difficult to do in acrylics and watercolor. What I do miss, is the feeling of holding a real paintbrush or pencil in my hand, some how the digital stylus just doesn’t feel the same to me yet. I keep practicing.

By Dayne Sislen, Children's Book Illustrator Posted in Uncategorized