Step by Step Guide on How to Illustrate a Children’s Book

Step-By-Step Guide on How to Illustrate A Children’s Book

So many self-publishing authors ask us how to illustrate a children’s book, especially when they are writing about diverse topics – that’s because it’s the illustrations that will cast a spell on these little minds who will enjoy the look and feel of the book and won’t really question the logic you put into it!

As a team of book illustrators, we understand the pressure to make your children’s book a hit, which is why we have come up with a guide on how to illustrate a children’s book.

We have further divided the guide into 3 parts:

Part 1: For authors who are self-illustrating, the guide covers:
  1. The 8 steps of illustrating a children’s book
  2. Factors to consider when designing illustrations for a children’s book
Part 2: For authors who are looking for professional book illustration services, the guide covers:
  1. Things to consider when hiring a children’s book illustrator
  2. Cost of illustrating a children’s book

Part One: Illustrating a Children’s Book in 8 Simple Steps

A good picture book must hold the power to grab the eye of an adult and also keep the children attentive and keen to see more. In this guide, we shall tell you everything there is to learn about children’s book illustration, from character design to finalizing and illustration. So, you can also recreate a fun story that your grandma used to tell you when you were a child and share it with the world. Without further ado, let’s begin with our 8 steps on how to illustrate a children’s book.

1. Research for inspiration

Look for inspiration in the work of other children’s authors.
If you are new to the world of illustrations, or writing for children, and have no idea how to illustrate a children’s book, then you can look at Roald Dahl, Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson, and others.
While researching, check for factors like:
  • Number of illustrations: 1 per page, placement, and position, etc.
  • The style of illustration: realistic, cartoon animated, watercolor, stylized, or pencil sketches
  • Setting: imagery, environment, scenes, and movement transitions
  • Choice and theme of colors: bold and bright, neutral and subtle, organic, etc.

Your research should not be limited to books. Study paintings, films, and even textiles for inspirational ideas.

2. Design the character

Think of a book from your childhood that you used to hold and love dearly. The first thing that will come to your mind will be your favorite character from the book, right? Now, take a moment and wonder what was so special about that character.
  • Why was the character so interesting to you?
  • What made you love the character?
For example, think of Winnie the Pooh. Why was he so loved by kids all over the world? Some would say it was because of his calm and helping personality, some would comment on his love for honey, while others loved him for his friendships and words. But the main reason was the attractive design and depiction of his character. A yellow-colored bear, wearing a small red shirt to his chest and having fun with his friends. It was the magic that made Winnie the Pooh a kid’s favorite.
  • Story’s protagonist is a child
  • Protagonist is a person with a free spirit
  • Protagonist has a prominent visual appearance – think of a superhero with a cape


All in all, the characters should have a fun personality and loveable attire animated in bright colors.

Secondly, make your character as interesting as possible. You can do that in various ways. You can give them a funny appearance, curly hair, bulgy eyes, or just a weird habit that makes them different from the rest of the characters in the book.

Now that you have the idea for your character, grab a pencil and paper and start drawing them in different poses. If it is a story about a bear that likes to dance, then draw it doing different dance steps and wearing various clothes. Bonus tip: show diversity in your characters through different skin colors, hairstyles, or maybe physical skills. It definitely helps with attracting a bigger and more mindful audience. Finalize your character sketches because all other illustrations with depend on them.

Designing a character?

Let professional character illustrators at Hancock Ghostwriters help you!

3. Set the scene

Now you have a fun and interesting character ready. What’s next? Now, you need a world to place them. Meaning that the character must have a world with life, friends, and a setting where they can have their everyday adventures. But you need to make sure that the setting fits the character’s style and the plot. For example, if you have a character with simple features, and a minimal design, then you should probably not set them in a setting with extreme details, strong strokes, and shading.

Similarly, if your character is filled with bright colors and charm, it is unlikely for them to look fit in a world that is all black and gray. It could be the case if your story can justify the reasons. Otherwise, we would suggest that you stick to similar tones.

Also, one thing that will take the most of your time will be the research to determine which period you would like to show in your book because the whole scene, building, and the clothes of your characters must belong to that time to suit the story.

4. Create a storyboard

The main drawing process starts in the storyboarding. You are going to draw thumbnails to determine what will happen in each illustration. It helps you plan everything in the beginning so you are not clueless while digitizing the illustration. Storyboarding also helps you in lining up the story like a movie, and you will be its director. While storyboarding, you make creative decisions such as cinematic views, cropping, and angles. You will make the call on how far the land should be visible and whether you want to show the scene from the front or the top to add drama to your illustrations. Need help with getting ideas for the storyboard?
You can: Talking to a professional or looking at high-quality work with help you understand why each frame is important and how many ways there are to draw a simple scene. For example, you can crop the whole scene and show a close-up of your character’s face to create more tension within the scene. A good illustrator leads the viewers to what they must look at, and they also put in some surprising details within the illustration if it is a full-view picture.

5. Sketch the storyboard

Once you have the storyboard ready, it is time to sketch it out on sketch paper, with complete details such as:
  • facial expressions
  • gestures and body language
  • postures
  • shading
  • moods
  • dialogues
For example, if your protagonist is in a gloomy situation and then their story leads them to a happy conclusion, you must show that through your sketches.

6. Add details to the drawing

Every illustration in your children’s book will take at least one page of the book, which is why it is necessary that you draw with matching dimensions so that it does not become a problem for you later. You can do so by drawing a grid on your sketch paper and then beginning the sketching process. It will save you time, and you will have a clear idea of how much space you are going to have in the book.
For example, if your illustration goes up to 2 pages, we suggest that you mark the area that will come under the binding and make sure that you do not illustrate any important detail within that area. You also must look into where on the page the author wants to print the text and try to space accordingly, ensuring the illustrations don’t overlap, cover or hide the text.

7. Sketch the final designs

You have the page dimensions. You have the sketches. Now you have to finalize the design before you color it. In this step, you will draw everything you plan to show on the page, from your character to their surroundings. Also, this is the step where you can also add text to the design and decide where you would like to place it.
Use your illustrations to foreshadow the upcoming events in your designs. It makes the audience curious and eager to read more and they wish to complete the story quickly. Quick tip: ensure that the same characters look similar on different illustrations – while slight differences can work, significant changes in the body parts or colors can be confusing to the readers.
Abstract illustration style challenges the standards of illustrations and provides the readers with a platform to explore the boundaries of interpretation. This style is used in books where the writers want to engage readers in an emotional state.

8. Color the final design

So your design is now in its final stages before completion. In this step, you decide between coloring the design and then digitizing, or coloring in an app/software. For digital coloring, you need digital illustration software or tablet app like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Procreate, Affinity, ArtRage, Krita, MediBang Paint, etc.

After downloading/purchasing the software, scan your designs, fill in colors, add shades and texture, and prepare it for print.

The best part about digital coloring is that you can conveniently experiment with your designs. If you do not like the color or texture, you can easily remove that layer and redo it.

But, if you plan on coloring the designs yourself, then you first have to pick which style you would like to go with. You can use pencil colors, watercolors, markers, crayons, or just use a pencil if your book is in grayscale.

Quick tip: before filling in all the designs, consider making copies of at least 2 illustrations, fill them with different types of colors. Color all the illustrations later after you are satisfied with the copies.

So, the steps on illustrating a children’s book yourself conclude here.

If you do not have a strong background in drawing and illustrations, you can consider hiring a book illustration expert.

Skip the hassle!

And work with a professional children’s book designer to bring your vivid imagination to reality!

5 Things to Consider When Making Your Own Illustrations

The most important reason why authors choose to self-illustrate the children’s book is the marketing USP – you can take credit and launch the book telling how you hand-crafted all the illustrations. Here are 5 basic factors you need to check before you start illustrating the book:

1. Art skills

So you can illustrate your children’s book through either of these methods:
  1. Hand-drawing the illustrations
  2. Using an app like Procreate, Affinity or Adobe Illustrator
Your choice will typically depend on your art skills, drawing background, and expertise with using the color. If you have experience with either of the above, getting hands-on with the other isn’t challenging.

2. Time and commitment

Even the most skilled illustrators out there need their time to create wonderful art pieces. So, you must look at your schedules and publishing goals and decide whether you would be able to commit to such a task as you have to write the book, work with editors and publishers and market the book.

3. Budget

The only budget you need to allocate when you are self-illustrating is for buying necessary stationery like crayons and paints, canvas stand, lead pencils, sketch pads, and the drawing app/software program.  

4. Style and vision

There are 10 popular styles of illustrations that you can choose from. Pick one depending on the overall storyline, moral and messaging, and the character traits in the book. We will discuss the 10 popular illustration styles later in this article.

5. Professional appeal

Ensure that the illustrations are similar, and to some extent identical in their look and feel. Plus, the illustrations should be well-sketched and created in high resolution.

Part Two: 7 Factors to Consider While Hiring a Professional Illustrator for Children’s Books

Study these factors before signing a deal for book illustration services:

1. Portfolio

Take a look at the work the illustrator has done in the past. Study how their work has evolved over time, and if there is any improvement.

2. Social proof

Check the social handles and LinkedIn accounts of the illustrator to see how others rate his/her design work. The same goes if you are hiring illustration services from a ghostwriting agency.

3. Art styles

Every artist has an area of expertise. Some are good with digital painting, while others like to color with their hands. Check if their style of illustration matches your book requirements.

4. Communication

Ask how the illustrator or agency would like to communicate with you. Red flags if you are only connected by email. It would be ideal if you could connect on calls scheduled weekly.

5. Budget

Illustrations can be expensive, considering that the illustrator might need some special tool for your illustrations. So, it would be best if you take a look at your finances in the beginning and then hire the illustrator that falls within your budget. We will discuss the estimated book illustration cost in the next section.

6. Non-Disclosure Agreement

Check if the illustration agency is ready to sign an NDA, binding that they keep the ideas and artwork confidential.

7. Legal use and copyrights

It is extremely common for illustrators to use one artwork for multiple clients. So, if you do not wish your work to be in someone else’s books and keep it exclusive to yours, we suggest that you buy all the legal rights to the artwork. You can sign an agreement with the illustration artist, which will clearly state that they will have no right to the final artwork and that they cannot claim it in the future.

Cost of Illustrating A Children’s Book

  • Basic book illustrations start at $900.
  • Children’s book illustrations start from $500 and average cost per illustration is $1500.

Factors Affecting the Cost of Book Illustration

Every book writer wants to save as much money as they can, but books with illustrations always cost more than a normal novel with no pictures, and a book with colors and detailed illustrations will cost you more than a plain illustration in gray shades, and there are multiple reasons behind it, such as:
  • Quantity of illustration
  • Complexity of design
  • Style and technique
  • Number of revisions
  • The royalty of the designs
  • Size and format
  • Delayed deadlines
  • Experience
  • Budget
While this is a quick rundown, here is an article about book illustration cost covering the factors in detail.

Part Three: 10 Illustration Styles for Books

If you want to illustrate a children’s book, you need to learn about all the illustration styles that authors and illustrators around the globe are using. There are a number of illustration styles, and each style is used to express something unique.

1. Cartoon Illustrations

The color scheme is mostly filled with different bright colors and cartoonish backgrounds.

2. Realistic Illustrations

Illustrators take inspiration from their real-life pictures and try to make the picture look close to the subject.

3. Wonderous Illustrations

Wonderous style illustrations are the ones that represent magic, imagination, and fantasy in the form of art.

4. Line-Drawing Illustrations

These illustrations do not require any color. The designer outlines a picture and lets the children decide.

5. Sketch Illustrations

Similar to line drawing style, sketch style illustrations are more rough and loose designs, using just pencil.

6. Abstract Illustrations

Abstract style is more inclined towards a more exaggerated and stylized approach in the artwork.

7. Stylized Illustrations

This style is used when the creator wants to exaggerate real-life things into something massive.

8. Vintage Illustrations

It is more subdued, and the artist uses pencils and colors to form kid-friendly art.

9. Bold Illustrations

These illustration styles aim to bridge colors, big adventures, strong characters, and large stories.

10. Muted Illustrations

The muted style uses muted colors and subdued designs to create a low mood within the book.

Read this article about popular illustration styles.

Wrapping Up - Step By Step Guide On How To Illustrate A Children's Book

With that, we have covered every angle there is to learn about designing a children’s book and so, the guide on how to illustrate a children’s book concludes here. Remember that creating a children’s book is a delicate trade. You have to be extremely careful with your words, and with the kind of art that you display in your book and on the cover. Your book must leave a good impression on the beautiful souls, aka children aka your readers aka your audience, and they should love every bit of it.

Need expert assistance in creating a children’s book?

Hancock Ghostwriters can help! During our tenure in the industry, we have ghostwritten and edited 200+ children’s books and created book covers and illustrations for 400+ books. And yours could be the next!

Pitch Your Book Idea