Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Started As A Children's Book Illustrator

I've had a lot of artists email me over the years and ask me how to get started as a children's book illustrator. Today I answered an email to someone who said she had graduated from school quite a while ago, but started a family and didn't ever get started in the industry. Now her kids are a little older, and she is interested in starting a career in children's book illustrating. She wondered where to get started, and also asked about how to get some training on craft etc. Another reader asked me about pricing. So I'm going to copy my answers here. It's a lot of information, but hopefully it can answer some questions for those of you who might be wondering some of the same things.

If you are wanting to get into the children's illustrator scene, I would highly recommend joining the SCBWI. IT is a world-wide organization. When you are a member, you can apply for grants and scholarships which can help you start your career. There are also really great resources such as a yearly publication they put out with a list of all the children's publishers and agents etc. As a member, you also get a bi-monthly magazine full of great tips about the industry. If you are near a local chapter, they also offer activities in which you can learn more about craft, the industry, and network. In the U.S. there are two annual conferences a year- one in NY and one in LA. And there are International conferences as well. As an illustrator, you also get to display your work on an online portfolio in the SCBWI website.

To get started,the best thing to do first, is to establish a good portfolio. Make sure it is consistent and has illustration that could easily fit into a children's book. Look at lots of children's books, and then go make your own images that could fit into the genre. Make sure you portfolio includes illustrations of children.

Then you will need to get an online portfolio. You can start out with a blog- Blogger or Wordpress. In blogger, you can make static pages in your blog to make it sort of like a website. Some other great places to display your portfolio for free are Behance or Coroflot. I like behance the best, and from your portfolio, you can also build your own website on their Prosite. You can also build your own free website with not too much difficulty on Wix.

Then, start sending postcards to publishers. You can find the publishers from SCBWI's The Book, yearly publication that you will get when you join. Another good resource is The Children's Writers and Illustrators Market book. Some publishers prefer receiving post cards, and others prefer emails. These books will tell you how to send your artwork. If you send a post card, a great place to get them printed is Got Print. They have great prices and the quality is very good. Whether you send an email, or a post card make sure to include both your contact info and website. You can also send out your artwork to agents (info on agents also can be found in those books). But it is easier to get an agent after you have published something, so I would recommend trying publishers first. Then it is important keep sending your artwork to the publishers on a regular basis. Some artists send every month, some send quarterly. Just as long as you are consistent. Sometimes it takes a long time to get noticed, but don't give up.

If you are interested in writing and illustrating your own books, I would recommend reading Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrated Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz. Some helpful websites for writing children's books are The Purple Crayon, and author Rick Walton's site.

Pricing is a harder issue. This market is so subjective. There is The Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guildlines. I would also recommend reading this blog post by Will Terry

If you are looking to improve your craft, I would recommend taking an online class. There are some really great ones being offered for illustrators. Schoolism offers a lot of classes on craft. Chris Oatley-through his Oatley Academy is offering awesome classes on composition, and soon some on character design etc. He also offers some great tutorials in his site. You can buy some great instructional videos from The Gnomon Workshop and Folio Academy. Going to conferences about children's book writing and illustrating is also a very important part of improving your craft.

I hope that you find these resources useful. I know it is a lot of information, but the main thing to start out is to get a good portfolio, and then get it in front of people. Besides getting a website and sending out postcards, it is important to blog and get on twitter and connect with other illustrators and art directors so your work can be seen. Social networking is very important in this industry, and a great resource to learn more about social networking in the children's industry is Katie Davis' blog and podcast. It is a process that will take some time, but if you keep working and working and improving your art and letting it be seen, you will start getting work as an illustrator. Key to success as a professional illustrator- keep drawing and don't give up!


Tracy Campbell said...

Hi Shawna,
Thank you so much for writing this post. I've written it down and I will definitely be referring to this post again.
I'll also be adding your blog to my blog side bar as soon as I finish typing this note.
You inspire me.

Shawna Tenney said...

Tracy, thank you so much for your encouragement. I really really appreciate it!

Tracy Campbell said...

We all need encouragement. Glad to help. :-)
Your link is up now. :-)
Have you thought about removing the thingy that asks if I'm a robot? Just a thought.

Shawna Tenney said...

Tracy, where does it say I'm a robot? I don't see that on my end!

Tracy Campbell said...

When someone leaves a comment like I'm doing now. There are hard to read letters and numbers that one has to insert in a box before the comment will come through. I'm not sure how you can remove it, but it happens somewhere behind the scene in your blog. Hope that helps.