I’ve been illustrating children’s books for years now. I’ve done it all; baby books, rhyming books, counting books, books about grief, books about monsters, books about eating healthy and books about sustainable living, books about having fun and everything in-between.
So what’s the secret?
Well, drawing for children isn’t as easy as it sounds. Children are the fussiest of readers, any parent will know how hard it is to keep a child interested in one thing for more than a second. They think differently, have different priorities, they’re still learning and they look at the world in their own unique way.
So I’ve got together a little list of tips and tricks for anyone drawing for children - weather that is for your own children for fun, or professionally as an illustrator.
CHILDREN ARE NOT STUPID
First and foremost, don’t ever think that because children are young, that you can get away with cheating them. No chance! They gobble up information and process it faster than you can turn a page, and if you’ve drawn four pigs but the text only said three - busted! Perhaps you think they won’t notice your inconsistencies, but as everybody knows, children will ask all manner of questions and are very persistant. If the story says the main character wore a red coat - you better make sure that coat is always red. If you drew a tiny egg hidden amongst the clutter of a well detailed kitchen and forgot to draw it on the last page, parents will hear, ‘Daddy, where did the egg go?’
CHILDREN LOVE POOP!
And slime, and splats, and gunk, and smears, and any other disgusting, and dirty manner of filth. Forget keeping that bedroom looking spick and span to set a good example, that’s just no fun! Kids love mess. Picking noses, smelly socks, you name it - kids love it.
RED AND YELLOW AND PINK AND BLUE…
This one’s a given, but well worth mentioning as it’s one of the most important. Kids illustrations are almost always bright, bold and beautiful. Things which are quite neutral colours in real life, can be jazzed up for kids. A donkey can be light blue, a fish could be a strong orange... A good tip is to use a colour wheel to see what colours go best together, and utilise them in your art. Use your imagination too! A bright red jumper might be good, but how about a red and yellow striped jumper, with a green bow tie? If you page looks like the rainbow exploded, you’re probably on the right track, but there are ways to use eye-popping colour without using every colour known to man too - play around and see what works. I often employ a ‘colour theme’ per page. So if I’m drawing a little girl’s room, I’ll use lots of different shades of purples and pinks.
A lot of children’s books, especially rhyming books, rely on repetition to capture their audience.
This is fine, but there are other ways you can sneak in visual surprises for the little ones to keep them on their toes. They’ll be grateful!
Try and use changes in angles when illustrating, a page looking down on your main character, or from behind shake things up a bit and provide a much better response when read in sequence. If the story involves a ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘hello!’ then you might want to try some extreme close ups to make the kids laugh. Next time you’re watching a cartoon on the TV, count the number of camera changes and angles from which they tell the story, and use some of the ideas in your illustrations!
HOW MANY RABBITS CAN YOU SEE?
This is an all-time favourite and a way of making the book last all that longer. Finding objects or counting doesn’t have to be written in the text, you can add this bit yourself without the author! Try adding some mini-games for your readers to entertain themselves with. It will be the difference between a child putting your book down after it’s been read to them, or not letting their parent turn the page until they’ve found all the flowers. Another little trick is to sneak a friendly face onto every page (without stealing the main character’s limelight!) so your child can look forward to finding him when they turn over.
THINK LIKE A 5 YEAR OLD
Or at least try to think about what your target audience likes. Countless times I’ve seen children’s books that were apparently made for adults. A 6 year old has no care about their clothes matching; princess dresses and trainers. Shorts and wellington boots. They have unbrushed hair, stained shirts, and mud on their face. Children like to see themselves in the book, so try to relate to what is most important to them, and make that important to your drawn character.
NEVER TRUELY SCARE THE CHILD
They might like to be playfully scared, or surprised so they squeal in fright, but never, ever draw something too scary. You’ll lose the reader instantly! So forget realistic blood, or too much gore. Don’t make your character appear dead or ripped apart horrifically. You may think this is a little obvious, but you’d be surprised how many illustrators draw fangs dripping with blood, or an eyeball falling from the bloody socket of a dinosaur’s victim. They’re just kids! Keep it safe.
Be inventive, enjoy your work, have fun and laugh a little. It will show through in your work. Good luck!
If you're looking for a professional illustrator for your book, you can check out my site, at www.izzybean.co.uk for my portfolio of work, or email me at;
Thanks for reading!