FAQ for New Illustrators
Do I need a qualification to be an illustrator?
No. If your work is good enough, no one will care. But a good course can give you experience in seeing a project through from start to finish, working to set instructions and meeting deadlines. It can also give you a chance to develop your talents and explore different techniques as well as teaching you about the business side of illustrating.
I'm still at school. What should I study if I want to be an illustrator?
Art is a good choice and so is graphic design. It's worth learning computer skills as an increasing amount of work is now done on screen, and business skills could be useful as most illustrators are self-employed. Once you've left school, there are some excellent courses on illustration at universities around the country, including Kingston and Falmouth.
How should I contact a publisher?
Buy a new copy of the Children's Writers and Artist's Yearbook which contains full details of who publishes what and where they all are. It's always best to send your sample material to a named person so ask around or phone the switchboard to find the art buyer's or designer's name. Include a SAE if you want work returned but it's sensible to let them keep it. (Never send originals.)
What's a portfolio?
It's a collection of samples of your work, usually A4 or A3, well mounted in an art folio with clear sleeves. Some people use A5 as well but the larger pictures may give art directors a better feel for your work. You can also put digital versions of the same samples on a CD or on a website. Include a good selection of different styles and always include black and white as well as colour. The art folio 'book' is the best choice if you're actually visiting a publisher - about 12 pieces is enough as they get bored looking. Try to leave them a sample with your contact details on it (A4 or A5 is fine for this).
Should I send sample artwork by post or email?
People distrust unsolicited attachments so send work by post unless you are specifically asked to send it by email. If you want to make contact by email, provide a link to somewhere they can see online examples.
Is it a good idea to have a website?
Yes. It allows editors to check out your portfolio before they contact you and can save you a fortune in photocopying samples to post. It also gets round the attachment problem - when you contact people by email, you can include the URL of your website instead.
Will doing other work (greetings cards, art for websites etc) help
break into book illustration?
Probably not, but it's good experience, earns you money and provides samples for your portfolio.
Is it a good idea for an illustrator and an author to develop an idea
together before showing it to a publisher?
Not if you want to take the traditional route to publication, especially if you are both new to the business. Editors often prefer to make their own decisions on the style of illustration for a particular story and will often team a new illustrator with an established writer. But partnerships do work if you're self-publishing.
Will I be paid royalties or flat fees?
It depends on the individual contract. A great deal of illustration work is flat fee, but some children's books sold through bookshops pay royalties, especially picture books. Flat fee makes sense in self-publishing where you may lose contact with the author over the years.
How should I pack original artwork when I send it?
Very securely, flat and waterproof. Use a secure delivery system that tracks its progress and guarantees against loss. One of the advantages of working digitally is there is no original to get lost.
How can I contact other illustrators?
Try joining the illustratorsUK mailing list. You can find out how to join on their webpage. Or you could try the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (who don't mind if you haven't been published) or The Association of Illustrators.
Can you recommend a good book about illustration?
Yes. Illustrating Children's Books by Martin Salisbury (A & C Black)
This is a wonderful book for any aspiring artist. Starting with a brief history of children's book illustration, it moves on to look at drawing skills, ways to use different media and how to develop characters. It then explores different types of book in detail including picture books, books for older children and non-fiction, considering how to decide which sections of the book to illustrate and how to use viewpoint and other aspects of the picture to vary the mood or add drama and pace. The final section deal with the tricky subject of getting published, with advice on preparing a portfolio, approaching commissioning editors, finding an agent and getting paid. Interspersed throughout the book are ten fascinating case studies, each of which follow the development of a particular piece of work.
I have been asked to include disabled children in the book I am illustrating. Where can I go to get support and information about this?
Get in touch with the In the Picture project. They will be delighted to help.
I want to practise illustrating a picture book, but I can't find a story to work on.
I've made five of my picture book stories available in Stories for Illustration to help aspiring illustrators practise their skills. (If you're outside the UK, just change the .co.uk in the link to .com.)
(With many thanks to the illustrators who have helped me with this page by putting up with me pestering them with questions.)