mark mitchell "We'll go through
each step."
Discover a right and easy way

illustrate  a children's book 

From your first thumbnails to

final art for publication
Award-winning author-illustrator Mark Mitchell will show you in an online 

course that will help you to develop
your artistic confidence

Dear Fellow Artist,

Have your ever dreamed of illustrating stories for children – creating art for publication?

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?

Then keep reading... You'll find this letter valuable.

Because you'll find a resource that will show you:

  • 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

But first, the heads-up...

"This Must Be the Cruelest Business in

the World..."

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.

The 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. 

It 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.

It almost did. The editor wrote me thoughtful "status reports" on my manuscript. She asked to see more proposals. (I only had the one.)

"Have you read a lot of picture books?" she asked me in a phone call 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. 

But the magazines wanted full color pictures. 

         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 ne sais quoi...that would make all the difference, if only you could figure out what it was.

This 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 of seeing piles of your watercolor illustrations published.

Still working as a journalist, I was tackling some assignments from American Artist Watercolor magazine

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 book-making.

         Kindred Spirits 

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 

  • waitresses 
  • architects
  • authors and editors
  • teachers of (or nearly every grade)
  • veterinarians
  • 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."
       A Personal Litmus Test...

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 I felt the 
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.

Oh. Remember 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. 

But 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.) 

Then I thought...

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

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 started? 

  • How do you know what to leave in and what to leave out in a picture? 

  • What captures a child's imagination? How can an illustration create a magical page that transmits the meaning of the story in a way that it sears itself into a young mind? 

  • How do you develop a personal style of illustration that will appeal to children?

  • How much detail is "too much?" in an illustration?

  • What should you include in your portfolio to catch a publisher's interest?

  • How do you lay out a book?

  • Do I need an agent?

  • What types of contracts and terms might an illustrator be faced with and what
    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?  

  • How do I take a character, or characters that will appear in many different perspectives in the book and make him look like the same person each time? How do I make a character visually consistent from page to page throughout a picture book?

  • How do you translate a story into a cohesive flow of words and pictures?

  • How do you gain confidence in illustrating a children's book?

  • 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 do the work and let your natural way of doing things be your "style?"

  • How do you balance the work of illustrating and marketing to find more work?

  • I 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 enter that world as both an artist and a business person?

  • How 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 dummy book?

  • Can I really make a living at this?

  • How does one get past the fear of doing one illustration or book?

  • What guidelines are there for submitting to a publisher?

  • Is my work good enough?

  • How do I get better? 

Be neat, huh?

Children's Book Illustration 101  on your computer screen.
Power Color

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..


Enroll now

By the time you've completed the 20 sessions, you'll know:   

1.) H
ow to compose your picture thumbnail in 30 seconds (without ‘forcing it.’)
   (Sessions 1-3)

        2.) How to give your characters life from that first scribble.
(Sessions 1-3)

     3.) An easy procedure that will help you plan your overall book design and each of your scenes 
And  you can use to diagnose your story's weak points. 
(Session 3)   

              4.)  The mindset that lets you lay out your large final drawing as swiftly and easily as you did your
thumbnail sketch. (Session 16)

        5.) How to confidently structure the flow of your picture book so that an editor
who’s never met you will feel confident in you.
(Session 4)

        6.) How to make a book dummy that will make an editor smile.
(Session 8)

             7.)  Why the publishers need you, and you may not need them sp much. 
             (Session 24)

               8.) How to paint so that the color in your picture works every time.                
               (Sessions 5-7.)  

          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 scene.)

               10.)   How to draw and paint so that others feel confident in your vision.

                        11.)    How to create the value patterns that make your scene an instant ‘read.’

                 12.)   How to prepare your final art and package for mailing to a publishing house.        

    The right education is the answer.     

But sometmes it's
alternative education

Ready to begin?

Enroll Now add to cart button

Young Ben Franklin image from "Appleseeds" magazine

You may not have seen 'art instruction'

like this before... 

My approach is a little ...relaxed...


There aren't that many things to learn. You just have to know what they are.  
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 you.

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.

Coueur de Bois illustration

Then there's the advanced stuff. You'll see:

What needs to be in your book covers..

One ingredient your illustrations must have for your viewers to suspend their disbelief.

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 with viewers.

The “' Lynne and Tessa' factor" and how you can use this to animate your illustrations (and portfolio.)  

How to diagnose your painting problems 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.)
(Sessions 6-7)

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

  How to put up your illustrator’s blog or online portfolio.
(Session 24)

How to professionally submit your picture book story proposal or illustration samples to a publisher.
(Session 24.)

 How to find the right visual  reference fast and use it without violating copyright law --
or making your pictures too formal or stiff. 
(Session 9)

How to draw interiors so a viewer feels like she's in them.  
(Sessions 11-13)

How to tap into networks of children's book artists, writers and editors. 
(Session 20)

How to effectively handle multiple figuresin your scenes,  and figures in action.
(Session 16)

Easy ways to draw children and animals.
(Session 17)

Two kinds of drawing you should know how to do (and why both are critical to your  picture.)
(Sessions 1,2,8)

How to engage, even fascinate the eye with your picture design. 
(Sessions 14)

How to handle watercolor with bravura
And why you have to. (It's not as hard as you think.)
(Session 20) 

The under the cover secrets of the children's picture book
(Sessions 2-4)

 How to draw the way a child sees. 
(Session 16)

How to draw and paint like you know what you're doing (because you will.) 
(Sessions 1-20)

How to promote yourself -- and avoid having your work treated as a commodity in the "bunny eat bunny" world of children's publishing
(Session 24)

Transforming the “fear factor” into the “fun factor” throughout the process

(Session 1-24)

Young Thomas Edison from "Appleseeds"
Stop practicing in the wrong ways --

And use these online sessions to help you bring your illustrated book
into the world.

Heads up, again:  

It's not a get rich quick course. There are better synonyms for business opportunity than
children's book illustratio
n. (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:  
  • Know know to proceed with a book, magazine or media illustration assignment. 
  • Be able to prepare dynamic thumbnail sketches, find the best references to help you draw with authority, and create solid, final drawings for your book 'dummy.' 
  • Get the "right maneuvers", professional tips on visual design, perspective, artistic anatomy and watercolor technique.
  •  Be able to easily transfer your pencil sketches to a painting surface -- and create satisfying full color illustrations for your portfolio, book proposal or assignment!
  • You'll understand better how to promote  yourself and work well with editors and art directors at a publishing house.
  • You'll have built up your artistic confidence to a degree that you may never have thought possible.
Yes, fine arts colleges and art schools proffer illustration programs

        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."
         Her work might keep her too busy to teach you from scratch or to mother you.

        You can sign up for community 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. 

  The right education is the answer.

 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.
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. 

Enroll today...

      And I'll throw in the "official" guidelines from the editorial offices of 23 U.S.. publishers.
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.
Thesae could save you days or even weeks of hunting and poking around online -- and maybe even help kickstart an assignment or gig.

Publishers submission guidelines

    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.     

Enroll now

Within minutes you can be looking over your publishers' guidelines,
supply list and exciting first sessions.

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.  

My reputation as a teacher is based on your complete satisfaction.
I want the risk to be all mine.

Guarantee label


"I'm still in touch with some of those students and we look back at how far we've come since then."

    "When I took Mark's class, I was at best a doodler with a desire to draw well but without the background or drive to work really hard towards my goal. The class 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 improve."
   "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."

Erik Kuntz, writer, iillustrator, teacher designer and comics artist, Austin, TX

"My first introduction to children's book illustration and it's still the most helpful resource I've ever tried."

   "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 matter!"

“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.

Laura Logan, Illustrator, Austin, Texas

"...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."

Linda Seder, Artist, Austin, Texas

"A huge sigh of relief.."

   "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

Imagekind Gallery

"I really enjoyed Mark's approach. It was inspirational!"

Lisa Stora, Austin, Texas

"...A Wealth of Practical Information!"

   "Mark Mitchell is a delightful teacher. Each 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!"

Diane Carr, counselor and life coach, Austin, Texas

"...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.

Thanks again,
Linda Bray

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel 

"Art school in a teacup!"
-- The Mad Hatter, Wonderland

 "What's the worst that can happen if I step out on this journey?" You might be asking.

I  wondered about that, too. So I tried to brainstorm a list of 'worst things.' 

         1.) Something deeply creative and authentic could spark. 

         2.) Some vital ideas about art-making will get spread around...

         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,


Order or add to cart button

module one of course    module 2 of course module three of coursemodule four of course
Draw and Paint for Children's Books
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