In a picture book, the illustrations are arguably the most important part of the book. Obviously, the story itself needs to be solid, and lack of editing will hamper true enjoyment for the reader, but a book that has well done, professional illustrations will go a long way in smoothing over these potential faults. Therefore, use care when selecting your illustrator. Obviously, budget is a large factor, but don’t settle on someone who is completely wrong for your project just because the price is right.
Before You Start
Before you start looking for an illustrator, you need to figure out what you want. Your first step should be to read as many picture books as you can. The more picture books you read, the better idea you will have of what you want your own book to look like. Read books that are similar to yours, but don’t limit it to that – read as many picture books as you can lay your hands on. This will serve you well while preparing your own book.
Once you start to have an idea in your head of what you want your book to look like, more or less, take your edited manuscript and start dividing it into pages and spreads. Figure out the best places to put the page breaks – usually in a place that will add some suspense and leave readers wanting to turn the page. Give thought to which paragraphs will have one page of illustration or two, and think about pacing. You want the illustrations to enhance the text and keep kids interested, but you want to be careful not to make it too busy with a lot of spots or too much going on, or too boring with not enough illustrations or illustrations that don’t add anything to the story. Add illustration notes to your text so your illustrator will know what you have in mind, and label each page and what text will go on it.
A good idea is to print out your story and cut out the paragraphs of text, and then glue them into an actual book dummy. Just take several pieces of paper and cut them to what you imagine the proportions of your book to be, and fold and staple them together. It doesn’t have to be full size, but doing this will give you an idea of how the story flows and will give you a clearer idea of what you need. Once you have that all setup, then you will know exactly how many illustrations to request, and you can start looking for someone.
Don’t worry if you have no idea how to do this! Many illustrators can help you figure out what you need. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want, though, try to have a rough idea of how many illustrations you want before you start so the illustrator can get a feel for the scope of the project.
What to Look For in an Illustrator
There are many styles of illustration. The first thing to do when looking for an illustrator is to look at other books that are similar in tone, style, and genre to yours and see what kind of illustrations they used. Get ideas from these, and start to form a picture of the type of illustrations you want. Is your book more serious? Is it silly? Is it historical? Is it educational? These all call for different styles. A silly book might have wonky illustrations (Oliver Jeffers, Quentin Blake come to mind), while a historical book might have more realistic illustrations. An educational book, like a book about animals, for example, might even have photos instead of illustrations. Before you go looking for a person, determine the basic style of illustration that you would ideally like to see, and then start looking for people who fit that profile and your price range.
Where to Look
If you are working on an adult book – novel, self-help, nonfiction, etc – and you need the illustrations to help you illustrate a point or to lighten a serious moment, many photos and illustrations can be purchased online, royalty-free, for a nominal fee. Some of these websites include (but are not limited to):
- Adobe Stock
- Unsplash (free photos)
- Pixabay (also free)
- and many more.
I have found pretty good cartoons and illustrations on these sites as well. If your needs are not super specific, these sites can be a good resource for inexpensive ways to spice up your work.
If you are working on a picture book, things get slightly more complicated. You want to avoid using stock illustrations in a picture book since they will never tell the story as well as custom-made drawings. But where do you find artists?
Depending on your budget, some resources for illustrators include (listed in order of how expensive the illustrators might be, from least expensive to most expensive):
- Your networks of friends and colleagues!
In general, the more experienced the vendor you are working with, the more expensive they are. This means that finding someone on Instagram, contacting an artist you know on LinkedIn, or hiring one on Reedsy might cost you more money than you thought to spend. On some of the contracting websites, though, the artists might charge you per image without providing you with any additional services besides the exact number of drawings you contracted for, with that exact number of characters, which can be limiting and frustrating if the project shifts in scope slightly while you are working. If you contract with an experienced artist, you will receive VIP treatment where you will be able to have a broader contract that covers some contingency options like endpapers, extra characters, and promo drawings, in addition to working with someone who has an enhanced understanding of the picture book process. Whichever service you use to find yourself an illustrator, just be sure to discuss the terms of your agreement before you start, and never assume that you will receive anything more or less than exactly what you ask for.
So Many Choices!
Once you have a general idea of the type of art that you like and that you think will fit with your story, post a job description on Upwork, find a few artists on Reedsy to reach out to, or post a new project on Fiverr. You can also troll Instagram and find artists you like and contact them there. You’ll be surprised at the hidden gems you can find if you look hard enough.
Once you start hearing from the different artists, ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for a sample drawing. Many will ask for a payment, and that’s fine. I don’t mind paying a fee to test out if this artist will be a good fit for my project. You also want to make sure that the person you choose is reliable, can listen to instructions, accept criticism, and be willing to make changes. You can test this out by giving them feedback on the sample and asking for them to change certain things, and see how they handle it, and how well you work together. For illustrators with more experience, speak to former clients and ask them questions about their experience, and look through the illustrator’s portfolio to get a sense of their style.
- Read as many picture books as you can to get an idea of layout, styles, and illustration techniques
- Figure out the page breaks inside your text before you start thinking about how many illustrations you’ll need
- Get a rough idea of the number of illustrations you are asking for before you approach an illustrator
- Get a wide range of quotes from different places to give you an idea of the different price ranges
- Ask as many questions as you need, and make sure to have a good contract!! Anything that isn’t written down doesn’t count in the final agreement.
Did I miss any important points or tips about hiring an illustrator? Please let me know in the comments, below!
Learn everything you need to know about hiring and working with illustrators for your next book.