Illustrations for children's books


The illustrations in the book have a strong emotional, aesthetic and semantic influence. Illustrations contribute to a better perception of texts of any level of complexity, helping to choose favor of a particular edition. 

Illustrations are divided into two main types, book, and commercial. The first can be conditionally divided into children's, adult, scientific and educational, comics. The second for the magazine, advertising, packaging, for computer games. Children's includes several age groups for toddlers, preschoolers, junior or middle school children, and youth.

All illustrations for the children’s book are made in a single drawing technique; a single style is maintained, agreed with the author. The attractiveness of the cover of the publication, the aesthetic and memorable appearance, and the thematically correctly selected illustrations guarantee the book's future success.

The size, format, and location of each book illustration have their purpose. You need to become familiar with how illustrations are usually placed and the techniques for drawing them. If you want to look at contemporary artists and look for inspiration, you can find their portfolios on portfoliobox. You can also make your online portfolio website where you can collect your best works.

History of illustrating children's books

History of illustrating children_s books

Illustrating children's books as a separate design genre emerged in Great Britain in the 1870s. Before that, until the end of the 17th-century children listened to or read the same books as adults. The first children's book was called Orbis Sensualium Pictus; it was a textbook in Latin, illustrated with engravings. It was published in 1658 by the Czech priest and teacher J. A. Komensky.

  • For another century, the circle of children's reading was mainly limited to the Bible. But in the 18th century. Children are finally able to read adapted books for adults. 
  • These are two famous novels by Robinson Crusoe D. Defoe (1719) and Gulliver J. Swift's Travels (1726). Nevertheless, even then, editions of folk tales, ballads, and legends that came from the oral tradition were available for children and adults. 
  • The beginning of the 19th century brought the appearance of German folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm.

The beginning of the golden age of children's literature dates back to the middle of the 19th century. By this time, it had already become clear that children needed their books in addition to textbooks and religious essays. The impetus for popularizing children’s books was the movement for universal compulsory primary education was introduced in Great Britain in 1870 for children from 5 to 12 years old. By the way, with the appearance of children's books, the literacy level among children, including those belonging to the lower classes, began to rise steadily.

Famous artists for children's books

If you don't fully trust your taste, look to the work of renowned artists. There are a lot of illustration gurus, and each person has their list of favorites. They all influenced children's illustrations, and many even stood at their origins.

  • Miroslav Shashek is a children's writer and illustrator from the Czech Republic, known for his colorful travel guides. The series of striking editions includes guides This is New York; This is Paris, This is London and many others.

Miroslav Shashek

    • Zdenek Miler is another Czech artist who has worked with animation more often. He is known as the author of cartoons about Mole, which many enjoyed watching in childhood.
    • Beatrice Potter is an English artist and author of children's books. She mainly painted animals and plants.
    • Robert Ingpen is an Australian-born illustrator. Among his works are drawings for such children’s books as Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, and Wendy, Kipling's tales, and many other classics. To some, Robert Ingpen's illustrations seem too adult, serious, and even gloomy, while others are delighted.

Robert Ingpen

    • Eric Karl is an illustrator with a long career in advertising for the prestigious New York Times. Once the logo drawn by the artist was so liked by a children's writer that Eric Karl was offered to create an illustration for the book. Soon the artist himself began to write children’s books for young readers.
    • Rebecca Dormer is a French illustrator and author of her own children's books. Works in children's print media and creates posters with illustrations.
    • Ernest Shepard is an English artist and illustrator who has worked as a cartoonist for the satirical magazine Punch. Known for his illustrations for the tales of Winnie the Pooh.

Ernest Shepard

    • Quentin Blake is an English illustrator. His drawings adorn over 300 books by renowned classics: Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, and many others.
    • Walter Crane. The first famous children's illustrator. He was the largest English illustrator who gained fame, developing designs for wallpaper, tiles, ceramics, and, of course, children’s books. Walter worked in the color woodcut technique. In total, Crane has produced over 50 richly illustrated children's books. The artist tried to understand what attracts children in illustrations and art in general. He believed that children preferred to see precise lines marked shapes and figures and bright saturated colors.

Walter Crane

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all way for creating Illustrations. In the case of children's books and illustrations, the situation is even more complicated. With a huge variety of styles, techniques, and trends, the choice of a good children's book remains a matter of taste for the buyer.

Types of illustrating children's books

Although there is no single classification of children's illustrations, of course, we will try to structure them. More often than not, creating Illustrations for children's books is very individual and completely corresponds to the author's style.

Some illustrators immediately draw the final and create a final copy from their heads, while others make many sketches and select references for the children’s book.

  • The main thing that should not be forgotten is that the main thing in illustrating a children’s book is one unifying principle for the entire series of pictures. Most often, this is the direct plot of the book. It is broken down into chapters or key scenes by an artist creating Illustrations.
  • There is a separate type of children's book in which there is no plot as such, or it is not clearly traced. For example, when creating children's books, some artists combine a series of pictures according to the principle of a place of action, illustrations of scenes from village life. Many educational books for examination, training attention, and memory, are designed according to this principle. These are large-format editions, in which each spread is a detailed picture that children can look at endlessly. 
  • Wimmelbuch is ideal for younger readers; children learn by playing and reading.
  • Pictures are sometimes combined according to the stylistic principle. The illustrator draws familiar images, adapting them to his unique style. For example, he redraws the characters of a book, a series of books, and a series of films or cartoons to reflect the artist's vision while remaining recognizable characters.
  • The peculiarity of the technique for illustrating a children’s book can also be a unifying principle. For example, if the author uses only geometric shapes. Such illustrations perfectly train children's imaginative thinking and teach them to perceive simplified forms.

One can think of a great many such unifying principles. There are no restrictions; everything depends only on the artist himself and the possibilities of his imagination.

Nowadays, living techniques and materials such as watercolors, gouache, colored pencils, collages are very popular.

Vector illustrations are also popular, but most often, the artist's handwriting is much more difficult to recognize.

Variety of materials used in illustrating children's books

Variety of materials used in illustrating children_s books

Children's artists use all the richness of pictorial means and methods

  • pencils;
  • paints;
  • watercolor;
  • graphics;
  • collages;
  • applique.

There are also extraordinary ways of illustrating children's publications and books.

  • knitting;
  • weaving from wire and vine;
  • wood carving;
  • plasticine; 
  • clay;
  • or plastic sculpture.

Features of illustrations for children's books

The main feature of children’s book is vivid characters and striking appearance. Thus, the central characters must be liked by children to get their attention and win their love. Let's look at the heroes through the eyes of children.


Children's illustrations should be clear and understandable. Otherwise, it is difficult for the child to focus. His ability to concentrate is not yet very developed. Children perceive colors and shape better, and these factors are significant for creating Illustrations for children's books.


Clarity and thoughtfulness. The gaze and attention should be concentrated within the picture. It is best that the child's concentration does not go beyond the bounds of the page or spread and remains in its center.


Readers should recognize themselves in the characters. It is good, for example, if the characters correspond to the age of the children, the proportions of the body. The depiction of characters for young readers should be flat, linear, like in a coloring book. Older children can perceive more complex images.


The color palette doesn't have to be complicated. The colors should be chosen bright, joyful, as contrasting as possible, but harmoniously combined. Color illustrations are much preferable to black and white illustrations.

Character’s worldview

The characters' worldview should not be too complicated in a children’s book. If he is evil, then he is portrayed as evil; if he is good, then he is portrayed as characteristically good. So facial expressions of characters should be pronounced. You need to try to read their emotions easily.


Stereotypes should be avoided for all of the above in children's illustrations. Standard characters are uninteresting, sluggish. They are boring and lacking in luster. Therefore, you need to create bright, memorable characters.


The plot of the book is revealed through dialogue and action. They also show the character of the characters. For the correct display of movements and actions, you need to use actions familiar to the child, taking into account child psychology.

Which illustration to choose for a children's book?

Provide the ideas of Illustrations for the illustrator. Hiring an illustrator to work is not the cheapest method but the best quality and accurate transmission of the author's intention.

  • Pick up ready-made illustrations for an existing plot from the artist's portfolio. This method works well for poems or stories where all illustrations are unrelated to a common theme.
    On the Internet, you can find many ready-made images on the topic of the work. But you need to use them to design your book only with the permission of the artist or photographer since, in this case, there is copyright for the image. Failure to comply with this requirement can lead to unpredictable consequences of litigation, monetary fines.
    Therefore, it is better to turn to the services of photobank sites, where all photographs, reproductions, drawings are provided for a small fee and sometimes free. A wide selection, high-quality performance of images allows you to design a literary work without violating other people's copyrights.
  • Find an artist among your relatives or friends. If you take an interest, you will be surprised how many people you know can draw. Let it be not very professional, but very nice and sincere. These people will be delighted to be able to illustrate your children’s book for free, for a small fee, or in return. Let them draw on paper. And then in the publishing house, the illustrations will be professionally scanned and inserted into the layout of the book.

Which illustration book to choose for a child?

Of course, you need to instill good taste in children from early childhood. Nobody argues with this. But how do you know what's best for your child?

We all try to limit children in the consumption of sweets and instill a love for vegetables. You should try to do approximately the same with book illustrations.

  • Try to avoid outdated gaudy children’s books with too bright colors. Choose those books in which you like illustrations. Harmonious and calm, but eye-catching and imaginative. You need to acquaint your child with the world of beauty gradually, step by step.
  • Do not forget that it is more difficult to keep a child's attention than an adult's. There is a simple trick for checking the contrast of an image. If a photograph of a picture in black and white mode merges into a gray spot, it will be difficult for a child to perceive it in color. An image with clear boundaries, shapes, and composition will be much better for a child to read. 
  • The realism of the images of animals and people is another important point. Many adults, especially the older generation of grandparents, are convinced that animals should be drawn as realistically as possible in children's books. Otherwise, the child will have a misconception about what, for example, a cat looks like. However, in practice, babies respond better to a more symbolic image of an animal. Despite the fears and concerns of the elders, children immediately recognize the depicted animal. The stylistic and symbolic images also develop children's imagination. There is no need to be afraid of simplified forms when illustrating a children’s book. But the realistic illustrations will appeal to older children.

There is one simple life hack for choosing quality children's books. When there are a lot of books on the shelves, look for small and young publishers. Pay attention to books by unknown publishers. They are the ones who are more careful about the quality of illustrations, to the selection of interesting young writers and non-standard, really worthwhile children's illustrators. 


How to create a character for a children’s book?

The character begins with a sketch. It is essential to grasp the hero's character and clearly notice habits, gestures, and the most frequent emotions. If an artist is working on someone else's work, it is essential to ask the author to attach comments to the manuscript on how he represents the appearance of the characters.

What are the different types of illustrations for children's books?

In general, illustrations are divided into two main types, book, and commercial. The first can be conditionally divided into children's, adult, scientific and educational, comics. The second for the magazine, advertising, packaging, for computer games. Children's includes several age groups for toddlers, preschoolers, junior or middle school children, and youth.

Where to start illustrating a children's book?

The work begins with reading the entire text and drawing up a plan. The text is divided into semantic pieces, for which the plot of the picture is thought out. It is advisable to sketch each schematically, showing the future drawing. The result is a crisp visualization of the artwork, like a storyboard for a movie. Then you can start drawing each episode separately.

What does an illustrator need to know?

Depending on the location of the pictures, there is a strip illustration and a spread. The stripe takes up space on one sheet and is framed by text. Ideally, both types should be combined in one edition.

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