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Questions to Consider When You’re Looking for an Illustrator

making the selectionWhen looking for an illustrator, you’ll need to think a bit like a visual artist. This doesn’t always come naturally to folks who create their art with words.

Here are the types of questions and concepts to consider and discuss with a potential illustrator.

  • Which children’s illustrators do you like? — There’s a vast difference between Dr. Seuss, Chris Van Allsburg, Clement Hurd, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham — the styles, like the list, are endless. Tell the artist whose style you like. They’re not going to copy anyone’s style; that’s not what artists do. But if they compare themselves to the illustrator of The Wreck of the Zephyr and you’re looking for something like I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew there’s a disconnect.
  • Black and white or color? — Most artists have a preference. In my experience, getting someone who truly understands black and white art is tricky.
  • Realistic or cartoonish? — Both have their place in children’s books. Know which you want, and seek someone who’s good at it.
  • Detailed or abstract? — Not all children’s books have visual images of characters and scenery. Know, before you even start looking, whether you want a picture of a dog by a tree, or of fear enveloping a memory.
  • Will they be working digitally, or old school, on paper or canvas? — Revisions with digital are simpler. In some cases, digital art doesn’t convey the rich detail and tone of something painted on canvas or sketched on paper. Also affects the technical aspects we’ll discuss tomorrow.
  • Will they do some sample sketches for a reasonable fee? — If you ask about sample sketches, don’t assume they’ll be free. They might be. But don’t assume.
  • Is their existing work a good fit? — If they’ve never done work before like what you need, be very careful about getting sample sketches. Trust your gut, because you can’t trust your eyes if they don’t have extensive samples in the style you need.
  • How does their process work? — Your input, revisions, final acceptance. Ask them to describe what it will be like working with them. Don’t assume they think like you do, that the process is what you imagine. Ask.

Remember, you’re not just looking for an artist. You’re looking for someone who’s a good fit as a collaborator in bringing your book’s characters to life. This is not a simple process, but getting it right is most gratifying.

Tomorrow: technical issues to ponder when working with an illustrator.

Friday: a special post showing the path from initial idea to final illustration for my first Ginger story.

7 thoughts on “Questions to Consider When You’re Looking for an Illustrator

  1. Joel, these points you brought up are so key to choosing the right illustrator!

    COMMUNICATION is so very key. I can’t describe how many times I would forget to correctly communicate during my first few books. The author would have one thing in mind, I would have another, and it wasn’t until the end result, did I realize my vision was completely different from theirs. It’s perfectly fine to be as descriptive as you can with us. You won’t be taking away from our artistic license by any means. In fact, it gives us an idea of what you are envisioning in your mind.

    If the initial illustrator you chose or are looking to hire is NOT a good fit, it’s okay to let them go. You want to choose the right kind of art that will compliment your book. Also, it’s important to remember the rapport you build in the early stages of working together, will set the stage for the rest of your business dealings.

  2. Somewhere, in some helpful instructions for writers, I read, “Don’t tell your illustrator what to draw. Just give them the manuscript and let them go to it.”

    BIG mistake! I wish I’d read this article before I dumped my manuscript on my illustrator. So many things we should have discussed!

    1. Your illustrator, if they’re a good match, will know how much exposure they want to the text. Davina wanted to get to know Ginger a bit before drawing him, and she read about Sidney, the Uncommon Squirrel before bringing him to life.

      That’s not to say the illustrator must read the book, or that the author should surrender control. Collaboration is what it’s all about.

      1. Joel is right on for collaborating.

        As the author, you do not need to share the manuscript, but I will admit it is useful. There was one particular book I illustrated that I hadn’t read the manuscript until it was already in print. In the end, it worked out, but I noted I could have been more accurate in my illustrations if I knew exactly what the text would have said.

        But at the end of the day, it’s best to use whatever method works best for both the author and illustrator. :)

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