Did you have any favourite books as a child? Or do your children have any favourites now that they absolutely love? Hungry Caterpillar? The BFG? The Gruffalo?
These are all fantastic books and the authors are immensely talented, but there is something else about these books that makes them loved so much – their illustrations.
Roald Dahl’s books have become synonymous with Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations, and the same goes for Julia Donaldson and her main illustrator Axel Scheffler. If you’re a dab hand with a pencil or paintbrush and fancy providing the pictures to go with a children;s books, here’s some advice from children’s illustrator and storyteller Becka Moor:
How did you get started in the world of children’s illustration?
I was taking a BTEC in graphic design at college and found I wasn’t really enjoying it. I would sit and doodle characters instead of designing logos and obsessing over kerning, so when it came to picking a university course, one of my tutors suggested I look into illustration. I originally wanted to do architecture as I had done some technical drawing during high school, (back when I was doing an engineering course of all things!) and loved the idea of creating a solid idea just with a pencil and paper. So I looked into it and found a course specifically for children’s illustration for publishing. I felt so much more at home and discovered a real passion for characters and story telling. Then, during my final year, I got in touch with an agency, signed up and haven’t looked back since!
Is there anyone you are or were inspired by?
I find inspiration in so many things around me, but I’ve always connected with artists like Tim Burton and John Lasseter. Burton for his unique perspective on the world and the way he channels humour and character through his artwork. Of course, he’s a fantastic director and story teller as well, and I love the set designs and costumes etc. that are used to bring both his animated and live action films to life. Lasseter for his work ethic, passion and overall commitment to the creative arts. And also for proving that you can build something from nothing with just one great idea.
How important are illustrations for children’s books?
Obviously, I’m a bit biased, but I think they’re very important. Pictures help to enhance the story, and to give ground to the characters and situations that children are reading about. As a child I always enjoyed looking at all the extra details that the story may not tell us, but the pictures do.
Are there any key ingredients that make good illustrations for children’s books?
It all depends on the tone of the book. As an illustrator, there are a whole bunch of things to consider when illustrating a book, and each is unique to the story. For example, if you’re illustrating a picture book with a humorous text, the direction you get will reflect that. I think the main ingredient is to really get to know the text you’re working with and respect the character briefs that you’re given. Children pick up on the smallest of details, so exercise a keen eye!
Could you describe the process of illustrating a children’s book?
It really varies! In an ideal world, it tends to be that you’re given the manuscript to read through (and read through, and read through…) and once you’ve gotten to grips with the story, you start to work on character ideas. Once they have been approved, you move on to roughing out spread by spread. They’re then looked over by the publisher and author, who give feedback, which is when you make any amends needed before starting final artwork.
The experiences I’ve had with picture books have been a lot more organic. The lines between the steps can get a little bit blurred sometimes as there are always a lot of people’s opinions to consider. I’ve worked on things where the text has changed last minute or the initial rough is no longer working. You just have to be prepared!
Do you do any other kinds of illustrating? If so, how does it differ?
I doodle and work on personal projects in my own time but it’s always connected to children’s illustration, or with a story idea in mind. I work in both the picture book and the young fiction market so it’s always fun to work across different age ranges.
Do you have any top tips for anyone wanting get into children’s book illustrating?
- Stay passionate. It can be a tough job just like any other and you just have to stay focused on your personal goals.
- Be pro-active. Not all opportunities will come to you, you have to seek them out as well.
- Doodle, draw, sketch, improve! Always think of ways to better yourself and your work.
- Network. Twitter is great for meeting other artists and also for showcasing your work. You never know who might see it!
- Immerse yourself in your work, really enjoy the process.
If you like the look of Becka’s illustrations above then you can see some of the book series she’s worked on over at her website. Also, keep your eyes peeled for her first authored book, Foxtrot, which is out in September. If you have any questions about being a children’s illustrator then drop them below.