How to illustrate picture books

Left: my illustration, right: my student’s illustration (Heidi).

Do you want to illustrate children’s or picture books? Here’s a step-by-step guide by me:

1. First and foremost, practice your drawings.
Get yourself a basic sketchbook, a pen and a mechanical pencil (with an eraser on one end). Draw whenever you can; while waiting for the bus, while waiting for a meeting, while cooking, while waiting for food to arrive while eating out, etc. Fill those pages with sketches: characters, be it kids, monsters, animals, buildings or scenery. You can even draw your food.

2. Read a lot of children’s books. Study the illustrations.
If your friends buy novels at the bookshop, don’t be shy to buy children’s books for yourself. It’s normal. Tell them Emila buys children’s books too for herself.

I can suggest those from Oyez!Books for local children’s books. For international ones, you can browse Kinokuniya shelves and look for Oliver Jeffers, Maurice Sendak, Isabella Arsenault, Beatrix Potter, Rebecca Dautremer, Eric Carle, Quentin Blake, etc. The international ones are expensive but what the heck, for the sake of learning, why not spend money on good books, right?

3. Copy! Copy! Copy!
I don’t mean copy all per se. You can copy Maurice Sendak’s monster’s eyes and put it on Oliver Jeffer’s boy but perhaps with real legs (not stick, hehe), and add a dreamy background like Satoe Tone’s with Mirdinara’s foliage. Soon, you will get ideas on how to create your own. This is only for your learning purpose, not for commercial purpose, ya.

4. Practice illustrating words.
You can begin with a word a day then gradually to one paragraph of a story and so on and so forth. You can also illustrate quotes, lyrics, your own retelling of folktales, etc.

5. Love what you do.
When you do what you love, it’ll show in your drawings/illustrations.

6. Don’t worry about being not perfect.
By doing more drawing practices, you will get better than most other people. You know, I don’t consider myself as a born artist. I have to work hard to make drawings/illustrations I like.

7. Upgrade your sketchbook, colour your illustrations.
Buy good sketchbook (with 200gsm paper). I can suggest Monologue Soft Sketchbook or Moleskine Folio or Sketchbook. Get yourself a watercolour, or colour pencils, acrylic, or others. Try those on your sketchbook. This way you will get hands-on experience using colours.

8. Find free online tutorials.
Check out Youtube! There are tonnes of free tutorials on how to draw, how to apply a technique, how to use your brush correctly, etc.

9. Share your drawings.
Share it with your family and friends. You can share it online as well. Get people to give you constructive comments.

10. Join a workshop!
If you think you are ready to illustrate children’s picture book, do join a picture book illustrations workshop, or perhaps join E&E Workshop (Emila and Evi)! We will guide you on the process of how to create children’s book.

Pitching your book manuscripts/illustrations to publishers is not included in our workshop but we can help list down those that accept submissions.

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