Thursday, 19 April 2012

How to Learn About Book Illustration

Whether you’re a dabbler in drawing or already have a hefty portfolio, entering the illustration world can seem daunting. Like most art careers, you don’t just show up for a job interview hoping to land your life-long job; the best you can do is hope to get a foot in the door.Thankfully, though, book illustration is a vocation that can be enjoyed at any scale, from a hobby to a full-time career. Here are some steps you can take to learn more about the skills of illustration and the industry.

Take a Course (or Get a Degree)

Depending on your level of interest in illustration, pursuing a single course or a full illustration degree could be a good bet for you. If you already have a degree or just want to get your feet wet, art colleges and university extension programs often open up single courses to non-degree seeking students. Here you’ll have a chance to study the principles of illustration in-depth. Single courses may discuss topics like technique, visual perception, figure drawing, materials, human anatomy, and portfolio development. Bachelor’s and graduate degrees in illustration cover all this and more, through studio art and art theory classes. Guide to Online Schools has more information about art degree programs.

Read Books & Learn the Process

If you’re not ready for the commitment of going back to school, you can always work on your own illustration skills at home. Books like the Fundamentals of Illustration and The Illustrator’s Bible are great texts to read through and refer back to as you work on your illustrations. Those searching for their own unique style can refer to The Big Book of Illustration Ideas for inspiration. While the former books cover important techniques and materials, the latter book has examples of illustrations used in many types of publications.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Those that want to take illustrating from a hobby to a job will need to develop a strong portfolio of work. This portfolio should be unique but also demonstrate that you have mastered a number of techniques. Draw from real life, photos, and what you envision in your head. You should compile a traditional portfolio and consider putting your work online, where it is more easily viewed by a wider audience. Just make sure your website is professional looking and easy to navigate so it doesn't do your work a disservice.


Most illustrators are freelancers, and they work on a serial array of projects. You’ll have more luck finding work if you put your networking skills into action. Attend shows, conferences, and job fairs; these are typically held at art colleges. Art directors and others are more likely to take a chance on you if they meet you in person and shake your hand, and if they get a sense that you’ll be a pleasure to work with.

Join Professional Groups

Depending on the type of illustration you’re into, there may be a professional group out there supporting and catering to illustrators of your stripe. There’s the more general Society of Illustrators and the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators. Other illustration areas such as architecture and fashion illustration also have their own professional groups. These groups can make you aware of job opportunities and news in the industry; they also often give out prizes and awards.

Arty Shark
Bear Skin Rug


  1. Great post Barbara and something I've always been particularly interested it. I really should read up some more about some of the ideas you have included here and think about getting myself started. Thanks for providing the inspiration!

  2. What fantastic advice! I find drawing to be so theraputic. I love to draw out a scene or character before I write because it really helps to get my ideas flowing. I don't have the talent to illustrate a whole children's book- but I might enjoy taking a class to work on my technique. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very informative. I love that book 'The Big Book of Illustration Ideas' Sadly, I can't draw at all.

  4. barbaraannefisher20 April 2012 at 08:14

    Hello Sharon, I think you should! I’m always very envious when I visit your blog and see your lovely drawings. If this gives you the inspiration to take it further that can only be a good thing.

  5. barbaraannefisher20 April 2012 at 08:18

    Hello Jess, I’m glad you found it useful. I think the process you describe is fascinating – I’ve never thought of trying to ‘draw an idea’. I can’t draw for toffee – but I suppose even a rough sketch would help.

  6. barbaraannefisher20 April 2012 at 08:21

    I’m with you on that Donna, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do (like playing the piano) – if I had my life over again ……

  7. I can't paint well and I envy people who can. When I did research on writing for picture books, I looked through books on illustrating as well because I wanted to know how to work with an illustrator. I haven't read those you recommend here, Barbara. I'd love to check them out from my library! I love looking at Art. As with all creative work, if we want to write, we must write a lot. If we want to draw, we must draw a lot. A LOT.

  8. barbaraannefisher23 April 2012 at 15:51

    What sensible advice. I’ve always shrugged my shoulders and said I can’t paint – but actually, I’ve never really tried. Maybe now is the time to change that.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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