Illustration Options for Children’s Books

LowResdestiny-mer-kdpPart of the joy of reading Children’s Books to my children and the children at my various churches or libraries has been the beautiful illustrations that many books have. Art is something that just about everyone appreciates, sometimes without even realizing it.

Not everyone is an artist in the sense of drawing or painting. While I have some crude drawing skills, I don’t actually have that level of expertise unless I’m drawing on the computer? However, I’m not totally unartistic, because if it’s made out of fabric or paper, in some instances, I’m good.

So where do my let’s-say-passable artistic abilities allow me to do? Quilts are a beautiful way to illustrate. They don’t have to be big enough to cover your bed or even your lap, because many quilts are decorative and intended to be wall hangings. It is these smaller decorative quilts that are quite doable. They are small enough that in a few days, you can complete one. Naturally, if you are illustrating an entire book, you’ll probably be making many more than that. The number of quilts will depend on the number of pages, which might also be dependent on the minimum number of pages for a printed book. Also, double page illustrations add to the nature of a book.

Quilts can be done several ways. One make them the size of the page that you want them to fit on. For double pages, double the size. Don’t forget to leave a lot of blank space around the edges for cropping and bleeding, if you want them to go to the edge of the page. Otherwise, choose whether you will want them to go horizontally or vertically on the pages. This could even change for every page. It is best to be completely finished with the writing part and then, you can begin creating your page breaks and making notes for each illustration.

Don’t be afraid to create a scene with each picture. Remember this, too: There is a lot of leeway for children’s book illustrations. It depends on the flavor or tone of the book, of course, some books just lend themselves to more child-like drawings with stick people and big sun’s in the corner of the pages.

I usually combine those elements, which makes planning the graphics more fun. Whimsical art tends to be easier to do. It means that things don’t have to be precise. Felt pictures can also be fun ways to master creating your art. This is especially nice if there is a basic scene.

An easy way to do felt pictures is to create a flannel board, which is somewhat of a misnomer: it’s simply made from felt. Felt is inexpensive and often comes in 72-inch wide fabric. Cover a foam board or corrugated cardboard in a large enough size that will accommodate your scene. Most things can be scaled to fit. However, I’ve found that a bit larger flannel board allows for more creativity in the individual pictures. The downside to this is that you need to shoot the photos after you’ve created the scene.

I’ve gotten around this by creating an illustration list with descriptions of what should go on each picture, as I format the book. I make page breaks in the text files at logical breaks in the text. (NOTE: This varies with the type of book you are writing.) And in a separate file, I make a note about which characters are in the scene and what action and background should be included. In this way, I can group making my photos using the same background scene. I also make all of my characters with moveable arms and legs, which means that I cut them out separately and connect them with a single thick thread, which makes them flexible. Clothes are made similar to paper doll clothes in that they are one-sided. Embellish the characters, clothes and all items in the background with embroidery thread, which gives the pictures some texture. If there is too much thread on the back of any piece, I simply cut another identical piece and sew with regular sewing thread around the outside edges. This gives a nice solid backing that will stay up on your flannel board.

Create your scene with the appropriate background and characters posed appropriately and wearing the appropriate clothes. Then, take your photo.

To take a good photo, you need the best lighting. One way to get great photos is to do all the work in creating the scenes and characters is to practice putting the scenes together, making sure you take good notes on what items go on which photo. Then, go to a professional photographer’s studio and have your photographer set up all the appropriate lighting and shoot the photos. This will give you the best photos possible. You will need to make sure that you have the right to use these photos in your book. This should be negotiated ahead of time.

I pay my photographer. He usually gives me a good rate. I also give him illustration credit, as well.

You can do the same thing with puppets and dioramas or backdrops.

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