I love the quote by M. Thomas Inge in his introduction to My Life With Charlie Brown, (2010), where he says:
“Any piece of art that endures, no matter the form or medium, draws on the cumulative traditions that have preceded it, and in turn reshapes and invigorates those traditions with new life and relevance for the future. Schulz did exactly that in Peanuts.”
Trying to develop one’s unique voice, whether as a writer or an artist of any kind, can sometimes feel like a daunting task, particularly when observing the brilliance of those creators who have gone before us.
In Steal Like an Artist, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, (2012), Austin Kleon provides some relief when he considers the notion that no idea is truly original, and all creating is influenced by that which has preceded. He encourages us to collect many good ideas to be influenced by, and to see ourselves as “part of a creative lineage” in order to feel less alone as we begin our own creating.
Thus we are given permission to draw upon and embrace all the beautiful influences we are passionate about, and to combine them from our own personal perspective, in order to create something ‘new’ which is uniquely our own.
I find this particularly inspiring and freeing, as I pursue my own quest for authentic voice and style.
Creating a portfolio which will grab an editor’s attention is perhaps one of the most important tasks of the would-be children’s book illustrator. This important subject is addressed in countless articles on the web, as well as in popular books on getting published.
Given that an editor or art director will probably only spend a few brief moments observing your portfolio, whether presented in a paper form, or in an online digital form, it is a good idea to revisit the contents often, to ensure that it is an up-to-the-minute representation of your style and best work. Demonstration of progress and growth is also valued by clients who may check back to see what you are up to at a later date.
This is a list of key recommendations for portfolios of children’s book illustrators:
Include 10-12 pieces of your best work (online portfolios are more flexible) and use good quality prints or photocopies, but never include originals, which may be lost or damaged. Ensure that each page is labelled with your contact details.
Rather than demonstrating how versatile you are, it is better to let your unique style shine. ‘Style’ is a whole other topic for discussion, but focusing on your preferred technique, medium, palette and way of rendering characters and scenes will help you to develop that certain ‘something’ that is unique to you and hopefully appealing to your audience. Given that there is a plethora of technically competent artists, your job is to show your unique way of seeing the world, and to make the editor feel excited by what only YOU may be able to create for them.
The technique and medium chosen must be well executed.
Ability to present a character within different scenes, poses, and with various expressions should be demonstrated, ideally by illustrating 2-3 sequential scenes.
Ability to create individual pieces of art is not enough; illustrators must convincingly show that they can tell stories visually, demonstrating narrative ability using sequential scenes.
You need to show your ability to render children and animals – which are key subjects in children’s books – in a way that is fun and interesting for children.
Passion, vision and creativity should be evident in your work, and I suggest that studing the work of illustrators of the children’s books that you most admire will go a long way in helping you to understand what this looks like in practice.
Have fun and good luck!
What a wonderful challenge to see the good in everything and everyone, even when it seems so hard to find. The thing is, when we do this, we find that the day isn’t so blue after all.