Build a children book portfolio. Child book 101.

Bonjour !

We are soon going to talk about the vast and mysterious subject of finding clients as a children book illustrator. Before even searching for client you have to show them who you are. What you can do ? What is your artistic personality ?

I explain here how to build a children book portfolio and what to have to attract possible clients.

Show how you illustrate stories.

When you are an illustrator, the style is what is going to define who you are, and is why the client will be choosing you. Finding a style is not an easy thing. It often comes along the way for you to realize it was here all along! This also might need a post of its own. You might even find your style while building your children book portfolio. To help you find a style, find what you like which might also mean go to book shops and browse existing book to see what is being done in the children book industry. It’s always a good inspiration and a good way to know where you stand.

Build a children book portfolio.

Build a children book portfolio.

If you don’t have a good body of recent work that fit the children’s literature profile, you will have to create pieces that show the kind of art you want to create. You can have a look at mine for exemple, I have a section dedicated to children book (Click here). I present a variety of illustrations showing characters and landscapes. Some of these illustrations were made especially to fit my portfolio before I had any actual children book clients. Other are actual client projects. Once you start having a few clients, your portfolio will be able to grow with these naturally.

Have a good variety of artwork and illustrations to show :

  • Character designs : Create a variety of characters, young, old, animals, robots, humans of all shapes and forms that will be in your style and that will show that you can take on any type of characters.
  • Illustrations of character interacting : you need to show that not only you know how to do characters but you also know how to make them move and give them life.
  • Illustrations of characters in a landscape : a little bit of landscape is always welcome to show the settings of a story an showing that you know how to draw them is always very good!
  • Illustrations that tells a story : try to give a little story to each and every illustration you do, for exemple in the following illustration the story is: “it’s morning and the dad and his daughter are getting ready for the day“. Adding a bit of background to your illustration always gives more interest to it.
Children illustration Isabelle arne
Soda pop drop

Show you can manage a book project by doing one yourself !

Aside from the above listed elements it is good to show that you can illustrate a full book. To show you can bring a project to completion. It can be daunting at first. But it is also fully part of being a children book illustrator : taking on a project from beginning to end. I have planned a full article about that in the future. It’s not so scary when you split it into bite size tasks. Future clients needs to know they can trust their projects to come to completion with you. But since you don’t have a client yet you will have to find a story to illustrate your children book.

Build a children book portfolio plan your illustrations
Plan and think about what to present in your portfolio

Illustrate a royalty free story

The best way to illustrate a story when you have no project yet is to create your own project. Picking a story from the classical and making it your own is a good idea. It can be motivating to work on a story you like with a total creative freedom. You will have only to answer to yourself which can be a blessing or a curse for some of us!

Collaborate with an author or friend to illustrate their story

Maybe you could take on the project with someone else. You can easily find authors that wish to have their story illustrated on writing Facebook groups for exemple. You will have to answer to them just like a client and it can be a real life training.

I need to add a little disclaimer on this option. Because as you might have guessed we are here talking about working for free with an author. Working for free is not something I would promote. But in this case, you are trying to build your portfolio.

This could also be an opportunity to go further and send the project to an editor. This is why I talk about collaboration. It needs to be clear from the start on both sides. The best way would be to establish some sort of contract with the author. The contract would establish your ownership over the illustration and the limitation of their use for non commercial purpose without your written agreement. This would allow your work to remain yours. The author would not be able to publish the book without you and vice versa.

I did collaborate with a student a few years ago to create a Blue Beard re-writing. I needed a project added to my portfolio. Here is how the project ended up, it was a good opportunity for both of us :

Children illustration Isabelle arne
Barbe Bleue

Illustrate your own story

This third option is also good if you are something of an author yourself. Writing your story is perfectly valid. It also mean that you will be responsible for yourself as well from the beginning to the end. It can be quite challenging but I’m sure that if you’ve picked this option that you are up to it.

The plus of this option is building your own story will build your children book portfolio in an even more personal and unique way. Creating a story you wrote will help develop your universe and show your personality with even more strength.

I like writing my own stories as you might have noticed with Radiant and my other comics. I did an exercise mixing classical stories and my own stories. The hare and the frogs is the result of that. It started as a portfolio piece, and is now a book that you can actually buy ! Yay !

I’ll need to do an article about that, I’m quite exited to show it to you.

the hare and the frog, a children book story can help you Build a children book portfolio.
The hare and the frog is available in English and French!

I hope you enjoyed this article, and that it will help you build your children book portfolio. Comment if you have a question, are you planning on being a children book illustrator yourself ?

I am making a series on children book illustration, check out all the articles at the end of this one : link here.

And if you are a new illustrator or artist, here’s another excellent resource on the illustrator portfolio website to read.

Thank you for reading and see you next week!

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