Children's Book Illustrator Career Info

Most children's book illustrators work on a freelance, contract basis for book publishing companies, which can include traditional print publishing, as well as new media publishing.

Basic Tasks

To get started in this field, you need a portfolio of your work that demonstrates your ability as an illustrator for the children's book publishing market. This means your illustrations should be suitable for children and can capture narration or explain ideas with visual imagery. Your portfolio should be representative of your best work, but you should also include some work that can be copied if you are asked to send portions of your portfolio by mail to an interested publisher.

Once you have assembled a portfolio for this market, you will need to meet with art directors at publishing houses. You can usually do this by attending publishing conferences that arrange editor/writer/illustrator get-togethers to pitch ideas. This is probably the easiest method since it involves no cold calling and because the representatives of the publishing houses are looking for new talent.

Contrary to the myth that you can find and author, partner up, submit your book and be published, many publishing houses prefer to match illustrator to author. The one exception is if you are the writer and illustrator of your book. However, it is also possible that you may submit your own story and illustrations, but the publisher may ask if you are willing to work with a writer to perfect the story.

After you have been selected by a publisher, you will receive the text to illustrate. You will probably read it many times, while conducting research, such as investigating period costumes, or refining your abilities to create certain architectural features or animals that need to be represented in the text. You may also research or devise appropriate symbols, motifs or color palettes to use in your work. You will prepare preliminary sketches and first drafts. Once the preliminary work is completed, your initial sketches will probably be reviewed before you can proceed.

Illustrators also work with computers, scanners and editing software when creating their finished illustrations. You may also work on more than one illustration or design project at the same time.

Hours and Work Schedule

There are some illustrators who work at illustration and graphic design full-time, though they will have to spend some time on marketing and self-promotion. There are others who work a different day job, as graphic designers, as technical illustrators, some as teachers, and who work on their illustration work on evenings and weekends. Your hours and schedule will depend on how many contracts you have and your personal lifestyle.

Different Types of Children's Book Illustrator Jobs

As a traditional illustrator, you would try to capture the spirit of the text in images. You could do this for picture books, for fiction, by creating cover art or by adding illustrations to textbooks, websites and educational software. You may work in a different industry, such as in the education industry versus the book publishing industry, but this career option is usually called "illustrator". According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of illustrators is $41,000 per year

Publishing companies will also hire art directors to work on the layout of their illustrations, to supervise and assign projects to other illustrators and to work with editors in the design of materials. You would need a good background in layout and design, as well as some experience as an editor, usually working with images, to apply for an art director position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of art directors is $62,000 per year.