| "We'll go through |
Discover a right and easy way
to illustrate a children's book
From your first thumbnails to
final art for publication
course that will help you to develop your artistic confidence
Dear Fellow Artist,
illustrating stories for children – creating art for
Or turning your idea, plot, folk tale, poem, song or make believe characters into an illustrated book proposal that gets a favorable look from a children's publisher?
Are you interested in improving your drawing and painting skills, while keeping your personal style?
find this letter valuable.
- How to confidently draw anything you see
- What to
do when you land that freelance assignment to illustrate
a story or an article
- How to navigate your way as an artist through the children's publishing marketplace
Must Be the Cruelest Business in
Those aren’t my words. They were spoken by the husband of a friend of mine. He loved her very much, and he was expressing what he thought of the profession she was determined to succeed in.
She was good. She had a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and was meticulous, a perfectionist in the best sense. And she loved what she did.
But over the years she’d run into setbacks and disappointments on her path that had been hard. And it broke his heart to watch her persist in the face of all this hardship in return for so little reward. And on one particularly upsetting day, he made his comment that you see above.
She was a children's book illustrator.
My own story isn't so pretty either, but one day in my mid twenties I got lucky. An illustrated children's story that had mailed out was plucked up from a publisher's slush pile.
editor of a company known then as Harper & Row
Publishers wrote me that my pictures and story had charmed her. But, she continued,
there were problems that needed to be worked out with both, she said. She asked to see my original art. So I sent her my drawings, which were rather rather large and ungainly.
I was a long way from New York, working as a reporter for a newspaper in West Texas. I had always liked to draw. But my college art studies had left me a little rudderless and after languishing in one particular painting composition class, I'd changed majors -- and schools.
was an era when representational drawing and painting was upstaged
by art that made statements about society -- years before the computer
game, anime and graphic novel explosions.
This was the era when art that made statements about society
Journalism would become my new path. But I continued with drawing and art history classes when I could squeeze them in because I knew I had the gene in me.
And so now years later, my picture book had been discovered in a slush pile. But I was pretty clueless about the world of children's publishing. Some how I'd hoped that the life and personality of my work would push my proposal past all of the expectations and conventions of an industry I did not really know at all.
almost did. The editor wrote me thoughtful "status reports" on my
manuscript. She asked to see more proposals. (I only had the one.)
you read a lot of picture books?" she asked me in a phone
she made to me during those months.
I knew at that moment that I was really not prepared for this.
Sure, I loved Maurice Sendak's illustrations in Nutshell Library and Where the Wild Things Are and how they reminded me of little stage sets. And yes, I was crazy about the drawings E.H.Shepard did for the original Winnie the Pooh, and the magical washes and line styles of Edward Ardizonne, Quentin Blake and James Stevenson.
But I was basically uninformed.
Harper & Row sat on the fence with my book for a year before they finally declined it. The editor wrote me a long, even a bit apologetic letter. She explained that my book, had they taken it on, would have required extensive revision and work and since they'd discovered it, the economic and publishing climates had changed...
In the end, I believe that it was my naivite' about the craft and 'the biz' that sank the deal.
So I stepped up my learning. I read more books and took more classes and found some great art teachers. I even secured some moonlighting illustration work. (I say moonlighting because I was still working in the daytime -- and many night times -- as a reporter.)
it led to assignments from children's magazines. These paid better than the black and white illustrations I was doing for a regional book regional publisher.
magazines wanted full
A New Way to Learn
I was used to deadlines
as a reporter -- but not as a painter.
With art it was so different. Like, what if you only had a few hours remaining to FAX your sketch and the sketch felt all wrong?
Or you knew your painting wasn't 'working'?
It was missing something -- some little ..je ne sais quoi...that would make all the difference, if only you could figure out what it was.
meant teaching myself -- going back to all of the basics, of course.
I had to really learn what little technical things I'd been shakey on. Making things work, still tapping into that joy of creating art -- but slam-dunking those assignments on time.
A huge part of the learning was the shock
seeing piles of your watercolor illustrations published.
It meant interviewing some of the country's top representational painters. One day the magazine asked me to write series of articles exploring the processes of children's book illustrators who worked in water-based mediums.
For the next two and a half years I interviewed many of top stars of U.S. children's book illustration -- Patricia
Polacco, Jerry Pinkney, Ted and Betsy
Lewin, Edward Everett Fisher, Emily Arnold McCully and the late Barbara
Cooney, to mention a few.
I listened intently to everything they said, of course. And not just because I was reporting on them. I was trying what they told in my own illustration work -- for publishers and the kids' magazines, such as Cobblestone and Appleseeds, Cricket, Pockets and Faces.
The Art School of the
Austin Museum of Art
invited me to teach
a workshop-class on children's book illustration, for adults. it's an
exceptional art school with a faculty of working fine artists who share
their proficiencies in drawing and painting, print-making and
photography, sculpture, computer animation, ceramics and
My new students were of all backgrounds, ages, nationnalities and skill levels. There were game artists and animators, graphic designers and painters -- and even some of the art school faculty.
But there were also college and some high school students, and
- authors and editors
- teachers of (or nearly every grade)
- a builder/real estate developer who was working on a bed-time story for his kids
- an eye surgeon
- a children's songwriter and performer
- the curator of one of the largest university museum and research collections in the world
Some of these students had never taken a drawing class before.
Yet they brought in sketchbooks filled with scribbles of original story characters -- or notions for a picture story.
I was struck by how they reminded me of myself ten years before -- yearning to tell a tale with imagery -- but not sure where to start, or how to get going under full sail.
So my objective was clear:
- To teach empowering
attitudes and core skills in drawing and painting.
- To help these talented students avoid the common mistakes and disappointments.
- To expand their appreciation of the children's book field and build foundations for their future art-making.
- And try to prepare a little those who were inclined to confront "the cruelest business in the world."
My own career as an author-illustrator was percolating.
But when the children's literature magazine Cricket asked me if I would illustrate a story by the popular British fantasy novelist, Lloyd Alexander, I got a little nervous.
Cricket's art director approved my initial sketch. But
stagefright when I saw my watercolor final was not turning out well.
With just a day or two left on the deadline, it was time for the average mortal to panic. And I did (a little.)
But I caught myself, took a deep breath, and fell back on what I'd taught myself and was now teaching to students.
I diagnosed my painting's problems. I felt the confusion lifting as I
I followed my own fix checklist -- added color layers, deepened colors, pushed the darks beyond what someone would deem safe or wise...
The picture came around. It even still looked fresh. I mailed it in on time and everyone was pleased.
The moral, I guess, is, keep your illustrator's cool.
And make sure you have the right maneuvers.
And keep your faith in them.
It's been a great journey of what I'd have to describe as self-education.
I think the trip would have been shorter had I found a course like the one I'm teaching now. I would have become more competent sooner.
And I might have started off on a better foot with some art directors and publishers.
that illustrator friend of mine, whose husband was concerned for her?
She was tapped by one of the country's top children's authors to create the pictures for a new book. the book went on to win awards and glowing reviews that celebrated the artwork as well as the writing.
No, she was never a student of mine. She made her own luck.
it shows you that magic is out there if you give it
a chance and some time. (That's our job as illustrators
and creators, as it turns out.)
What if students could access this specialized knowledge online?
In a structured, but informal course that covered the art, craft and some of the business of children's book illustration
A curriculum that was already classroom-tested, taught by an illustrator ...
And answered the questions:
- How and where do you
find work as an illustrator?
- Is there enough work
even for the best?
- How do you get
- How do you know what
to leave in and what to leave out in a picture?
captures a child's imagination? How
can an illustration create a magical page that transmits
meaning of the story in a way that it sears itself into a
- How do you develop a
personal style of illustration that will appeal to
- How much
"too much?" in an
- What should you
include in your portfolio to catch a
- How do you lay out a book?
I need an
- What types of
contracts and terms might an illustrator be faced with and
pitfalls should he be aware of?
- In what form do you
submit your illustrations for a book proposal?
- What is the process
from illustration to publication?
do I take a
character, or characters that will appear in many
perspectives in the book and make him look like the same
each time? How do I make a
character visually consistent from page to page throughout
you translate a story into a cohesive flow of words and
do you gain
- I've heard over and
over that it's a long shot. What do you think?
- Do you need formal
training to illustrate a children's book?
- How do I get as many
published "clips" as fast as I can?
- Is it better to try
to develop a "style" for children's illustrations or just
the work and let your natural way of doing things be your
- How do you balance
the work of illustrating and
marketing to find more work?
have both my BFA
and MFA, but how do you "get your work out there" to the
children's book industry? What steps must you take to
world as both an artist and a business person?
do I bring out
that 'something extra' in my pictures and words that will
make my book stand out?
- What basic knowledge
do you need to illustrate a children's book?
- How do I make a
- Can I really make a
living at this?
- How does one get
the fear of doing one illustration or book?
guidelines are there for submitting to a publisher?
- Is my work good
Be neat, huh?
Children's Book Illustration 101 on your computer screen.
How would it work for you?
The lessons would come to you in illustrated PDFs that you can save to your hard drive and print out..
There are 20 in all -- each in "easy read" e-book format
(Video downloads versions of the lessons are also being recorded.).
They're not so much lessons, as they are illustrated conversations.
With good training hidden, lurking in them...that I think will save you tons of time.
The course also features live interaction -- monthly group "webcalls" where we look at your pieces, troubleshoot and answer questions. There's also an online community and resource sharing site..
By the time you've completed the 20 sessions, you'll know:
1.) How to compose your picture thumbnail in 30 seconds (without ‘forcing it.’)
2.) How to give your
characters life from that first scribbl e.
3.) An easy procedure that will
help you plan your overall book design and each of your
And you can use to diagnose your story's weak points.
mindset that lets
you lay out your large final drawing as swiftly and easily
as you did your
thumbnail sketch. (Session 16)
to confidently structure the flow of your picture book so that an
who’s never met you will feel confident in you.
6.) How to make a book
dummy that will make
an editor smile.
8.) How to paint so that the color in your picture works every time.
9.) How to set up the visual perspective in your
scenes so that it practically draws itself. (To free
you up for the crucial stuff --
your characters, the action and the mood and emotion of your
11.) How to create the value patterns that make your scene an instant ‘read.’
The right education is the answer.
But sometmes it's alternative education.
Ready to begin?
You may not have seen
like this before...
Because I DON'T THINK IT'S THAT COMPLICATED.
many things to learn. You just have to know what they
That's the surprising thing about the visual arts. It's like cooking, in a way.
A handful of principles -- and different ways of combining them.
Your best pictures
will come from the unconditioned
But you'll trust the 'you' part better after you've got some of these recipes down.
But you don't have to study at a music conservatory for four years to learn how to play the guitar.
Then there's the advanced stuff. You'll see:
What needs to be in your book covers..
your illustrations must
have for your viewers to suspend
Five tricks to placing your characters (and other picture elements) inside your picture
space so that viewers accept them.
The “Howard Pyle
theorem” -- and how it will help your pictures to connect emotionally
The “' Lynne and Tessa' factor" and how you can use this to animate your illustrations (and portfolio.)
How to diagnose your
and fix them quickly.
What the Renaissance painters knew about composition that will almost effortlessly
improve your picture designs.
What the Renaissance
painters knew about
color that can turn your scenes
into full-spectrum eye-feasts!
(Remember, editors and art directors want to see examples of your color work.)
Ten ways to make your pictures fun.
How to make your watercolor brush behave.
The right direction to take in furthering your
education as a children’s book artist
put up your illustrator’s blog or online portfolio.
How to professionally submit your picture book story proposal or illustration samples to a publisher.
How to find the right visual reference fast and use it without violating copyright law --
or making your pictures too formal or stiff.
How to tap into networks of
artists, writers and editors.
Easy ways to draw children and animals.
engage, even fascinate the eye with your picture design.
How to handle watercolor with bravura
And why you have to. (It's not as hard as you think.)
to draw the way a child sees.
How to draw and paint like you know what
you're doing (because you will.)
the “fear factor” into the
“fun factor” throughout the process
a get rich quick course. There are
better synonyms for business opportunity than
children's book illustration. (This is the arts.)
But one assignment from one small publisher can pay for your investment in this course.The next one can pay for a year's worth of your art supplies. We'll talk about how to get these jobs.
This course can't paint the pictures or submit your portfolio for you. You'll be urged to tackle some kind of "project." (It doesn't have to be large.)
You'll be asked to do some drawing and
painting, and to practice. We know it's the practice
that makes the skill
real and the doing
that makes learning any craft exciting. Fun is nature's reward for learning.
Take the sessions to heart, and you'll:
There's so much to cover. They want you to be able to eat when you get out of school (to their credit.)
So their academic programs embrace commercial illustration -- advertising, technical, medical, industrial, fashion and the digital arts applications that employ so many now, such as web and game design, animation, film and video. They don't tarry too long in the rarefied air of children's book illustration.
You can spend $700 to $800 per credit hour at some of these schools.
And it might be worth every penny to you. And a great career decision.
But what if you just wanted to illustrate a children's story?
Or you can't right now return to college for that studio art degree you always wanted.
Or you've been to art school but need a refresher --
And want to hear those tips on illustrating children's books that you never got in your classes.
You might have a relative or friend who's "in the biz."
You can sign up
college classes --
And hope that one of your instructors is a published illustrator (or knows something about this.)
You can figure it out on your own --
From your observations, trial and error and reading books.
And it can take you the better part of your life.
But how do you find it or even know where to look?
You might know it if you saw it:
A simple course of action that you could take
From the comfort and convenience of your home
So you don't have to pack your car with art supplies and drive to evening classes.
OK! All right!
How much is this web course?
You might be asking.
It's not $700 per credit hour.It's more like the price of community ed classes -- like group Rueda Salsa dance lessons at the neighborhood rec center, except you don't have to drive anywhere for these.
It's $54 per month -- for five months, if you choose to pay month to month.
Or, If you elect to pay for the full course up front, your tuition is a one-time payment of $249.
That's $10.50 per session -- or the price of a medium-sized take-out pizza.
Both plans give you a full year's membership in the online learning community
and monthly online group critiques.
These are the "artist submission guidelines" where they spell out in their own prose what they're about, what they want to see from us and precisely how they want to receive those art samples, portfolios and illustrated proposals of ours.
I don't want to dissuade you from doing your own market sleuthing, because I think that's important.
But these "artists' marching orders" from 23 U.S. publishers are a good place to begin your research.
Within minutes you can be looking over your publishers' guidelines,
supply list and exciting first sessions.
But don't just order, tuck the PDFs away on your computer
and forget about the weath of instruction that’s in them.
Use the course. Go into these unconventional sessions and discover what makes illustrating stories for children one of the most creative endeavors on the planet.
If you're disappointed, or
anything less than really pleased with the instruction,
e-mail me within 30 days of receiving the course or session.
I'll refund you with no questions asked and no hassles.
I want the risk to be all mine.
"I'm still in touch with some of those students and we look back at how far we've come since then."
I took Mark's class, I was at best a doodler with a desire to draw well
without the background or drive to work really hard towards my goal.
environment was very supportive, with students taking their cues from
Mark's way of
finding the good in your work and his gentle way of helping you see
where you could
"I'm still in touch with some of those students, and we look back at how far we've come since then. But I remember that class as my first real step towards taking my art seriously. More than that, with Mark's help I created a piece that is still in my portfolio and which still draws great reactions from people who see it."
"I'm contacted from time to time by illustrators who are starting out or need a jumpstart and want to know where to begin. If they are remotely local, I always highly recommend your AMOA class. I took it over 8 years ago (WOW) as my first introduction to children's book illustration and it's still the most helpful resource I've ever tried. I learned SO much."
“Now that you may be offering it online, the "local" bit won't
“I have always felt like you taught me how to do a jigsaw puzzle--taking the mystery out of the pieces of the process and giving me the technical know-how so I could put it all together and focus on the creating.
"...It was fantastic."
"If there is anything you want
to learn about
illustrating children's books, Mark Mitchell is the teacher for you. I
took his course at Laguna Gloria Art School in Austin and it was
fantastic. He taught us everything: laying out the book, making the
drawings, creating and using a color wheel based on a four-color
process, using water color techniques, getting published, and marketing
your book. Mark appears to be very laid back, but he has a real knack
for organizing and presenting information, and he gives excellent
feedback to help his students build their skills. I am so looking
forward to his online class."
"In all of my research (on-line and in books) in the last several years, I have never come across a clearer, more work-able approach to color that can be applied practically to a painting...and I have looked far and wide for this information, recognizing that it was of major importance.... The need for a sustainable, predictably successful approach to color, for illustration as well as fine art, became crystal clear to me when I switched from oil painting to watercolors...the old 'keep messing with it until it's right' approach just was NOT working with watercolor... (Is this the 'shadow' side of watercolor's wonderfulness...unforgiving??)
"As you predicted, the results are immediately recognizable. I heave a huge sigh of relief!
"In HUGE appreciation,
Susan Sorrell Hill, artist and illustrator, Northern California
"I really enjoyed
Mark's approach. It was inspirational!"
"Mark Mitchell is a delightful
class brings a wealth of practical information yet coupled with plenty
of time for releasing your creativity to produce viable images. His
sense of humor makes the time fly by and you quickly forget how bad
your back hurts from sitting on those bar stools!"
"...A sense of freedom I've
never known before."
"Your course has given me a new burst of energy and
excitement. I feel like a child again playing with the
paint and my own imagination, but with a much firmer
foundation. I can now actually understand why a
painting I gave up on didn't work. It's amazing.
It's a sense of freedom I've never known before.
Illustration by Sir John Tenniel
"Art school in a teacup!"
P.S. "What's the worst that can happen if I step out on this journey?" You might be asking.
about that, too. So I tried to brainstorm a list of 'worst
1.) Something deeply creative and authentic could spark.
3.) Some skills will improve.
4.) You'll be part of a tribe that nourishes
growing minds and imaginations, even if it's only by
the story pictures we create.
5.) We'll think harder about how we can communicate with children in ways that are worthy of them.
That's all I came up with... What about you?
To your continued learning and amazing art success,
Make Your Splashes - Make Your Marks!”
A self-paced online course on creating effective illustrations for children's books magazines and other media for kids.
Content © Copyright 2010 by Mark G. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved