How To Illustrate A Children’s Book: A Comprehensive Guide To Traditional Illustrations

Beautiful illustrations are a key component of many beloved children’s books, and can help bring stories to life and capture young imaginations. Creating high-quality illustrations for a children’s book can be a challenging but rewarding process. In this guide, we will explore how to develop your illustration style, create concept sketches, choose the right medium and tools, and understand color theory, perspective, and layout design.

This post is made for aspiring and illustrators with a focus on children’s books. If you simply can’t draw and need help with illustrations, head on over for my detailed guide on illustrating with the help of AI technology.

Understanding the Children’s Book Market

Before you begin creating illustrations for a children’s book, it’s important to understand the children’s book market. Researching different genres and age groups of children’s books can help you identify popular styles and trends, as well as unique selling points for your illustrations. 

Here is a general guide for age groups and types of book.

Age GroupWord CountDescription
0-250-100Board books or picture books with simple, repetitive text and illustrations.
2-5500-800Picture books with more complex storylines and illustrations.
6-81,000-1,500Early readers with simple, easy-to-read text and illustrations.
9-1210,000-25,000Chapter books with more complex storylines and fewer illustrations.

Get inspiration from the best genres for children’s books.

Designing the Layout

Choosing the right book size and format is important in designing the layout of your children’s book illustrations. Creating a visually appealing layout that showcases the illustrations can help draw young readers into the story. This will help set up the space for your illustrations.

Book Sizes

The most common book sizes and formats for children’s book illustrations can vary depending on the target age group and the type of book. Here are some general guidelines:

Board Books: For very young children (ages 0-2), board books are typically 5×5 inches, 6×6 inches, or 7×7 inches. They have thick, durable pages that are easy for small hands to handle.

Picture Books: For children aged 2-5, picture books often come in sizes such as 8×8 inches, 8×10 inches, or 8.5×11 inches. These sizes allow for larger illustrations and accommodate the more complex storylines found in picture books.

Early Readers and Chapter Books: For children aged 6-8 and 9-12, book sizes may range from 5×8 inches to 6×9 inches. These books usually have more text and fewer illustrations compared to picture books.

Book TypeCommon Book Sizes
Board Books5×5″, 6×6″, 7×7″
Picture Books8×8″, 8×10″, 8.5×11″
Early Readers5×8″, 6×9″
Chapter Books5×8″, 6×9″

Pages vs. Spread

When it comes to illustration, it’s important to understand the difference between spreads and pages:

Spreads: A spread refers to the two facing pages of an open book. In children’s book illustrations, spreads are often used for more expansive scenes or to showcase a key moment in the story. Illustrations that span across two facing pages can create a more immersive experience for the reader and provide a larger canvas for the illustrator to work with.

Pages: A page refers to a single side of a leaf in a book. In children’s book illustrations, pages can feature standalone illustrations, text, or a combination of both. Single-page illustrations are typically used for less expansive scenes or when the focus is on a single character or element.

Trim and Bleed

When creating illustrations for a children’s book, it’s important to consider the trim and bleed of the book. The trim refers to the final size of the book after it has been printed and cut, while the bleed refers to the extra space around the artwork that extends beyond the trim to ensure no white edges show after the book is trimmed.

To ensure your illustrations are properly aligned and do not get cut off during the printing process, it’s essential to calculate the trim and bleed accurately when creating your spreads. A general rule of thumb is to include a bleed of at least 0.125 inches on all sides of the spread. This means that if you’re creating a spread that’s 8.5 x 11 inches, you’ll need to add an extra 0.125 inches to each side of the spread, resulting in a final size of 8.75 x 11.25 inches.

Keep in mind that different printers and publishers may have specific requirements for trim and bleed, so it’s important to consult with them and confirm their specifications before creating your illustrations. By taking the time to properly calculate the trim and bleed, you can ensure your illustrations are printed correctly and look their best in the final book.

Developing Your Illustration Style

One of the most important steps in creating beautiful children’s book illustrations is developing your own illustration style. Experimenting with different styles and techniques can help you find a style that fits the book’s tone and message. Some illustrators prefer a more realistic style, while others may prefer a more whimsical or cartoonish style. Collect references as needed.

Homework: Prepare color samples, find references, hire a book writer.

Learn more about best illustration styles for children’s books

robot painting on canvas

Creating Concept Sketches

Developing concept sketches is an essential step in illustrating a children’s book. This process helps you visualize your ideas, ensuring that your illustrations effectively convey the story’s message and resonate with readers. Collaborating with the author and publisher will ensure that your illustrations align with their vision for the book. 

Create your characters

Developing memorable, relatable characters is crucial for capturing the readers’ attention and connecting them with the story. As you work on your character sketches, consider the following steps:

  1. Study the book’s text to identify key traits and features. Consider the characters’ personalities, backgrounds, and roles in the story.
  2. Create Thumbnail Sketches: Develop a series of small, rough sketches to explore various character designs. Experiment with different facial expressions, body language, and clothing to find the perfect look for each character.
  3. Refine Your Characters: Once you have a strong sense of each character’s design, refine your sketches by adding details, textures, and color. Ensure that the characters are visually appealing and appropriate for the target audience.

Set the Scene: Who, What, Where, When, Why

Creating captivating scenes that immerse readers in the story requires a strong understanding of the narrative’s elements. As you work on your concept sketches for each scene, consider the following questions:

  • Who: Which characters are present in the scene? Consider their relationships, emotions, and interactions with each other.
  • What: What actions or events are taking place in the scene? Think about how these events contribute to the overall story and how they can be visually represented.
  • Where: Where is the scene taking place? Establish the setting by considering the location’s details, such as architecture, landscape, and weather.
  • When: When does the scene occur within the story’s timeline? Consider how the time of day, season, or historical period may influence the scene’s appearance.
  • Why: Why is this scene important to the story? Understanding the scene’s purpose will help you create illustrations that effectively convey the narrative’s message.

Mapping the Story: Beginning, Middle, End

Creating a coherent storyline is essential for producing a captivating children’s book. One way to achieve this is by mapping the story, which involves outlining the narrative’s beginning, middle, and end. This process helps you visualize the story’s flow, ensuring that your illustrations effectively support and enhance the text. Here are some steps to guide you through mapping the story:

Create Thumbnails

Thumbnails are small, rough sketches that allow you to experiment with different ideas and compositions for your illustrations. They allow you to quickly experiment with various layouts, perspectives, and visual hierarchies without investing too much time or effort in any single concept. As you create thumbnails for each scene, consider the following:

  • Layout: Explore various layouts for your illustrations, such as full-page spreads, single-page images, or spot illustrations.
  • Perspective: Experiment with different angles and viewpoints to find the most engaging and visually appealing perspective for each scene.
  • Visual Hierarchy: Establish a clear visual hierarchy by emphasizing key characters or actions within each illustration.


Storyboarding is the process of organizing your thumbnails (or similar rough sketches) in a sequence to create a visual representation of the entire story. This technique allows you to see the complete progression and “visual rhythm” of the book. By arranging your thumbnails in the order they will appear in the final book, you can evaluate the story’s pacing, transitions, and overall narrative flow. Storyboarding is a tool for planning and organizing the final illustrations.  As you create your storyboard, consider the following:

  • Sequence: Ensure that the story’s events are organized logically, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Pacing: Establish a balanced pace for the story by varying the intensity of action, emotion, and visual detail throughout the book.
  • Transitions: Create smooth transitions between scenes by using visual cues, such as color or composition, to guide the reader’s eye from one page to the next.

Use Composition Wisely

The composition of your illustrations plays a crucial role in conveying the story’s mood, tone, and message. As you create your thumbnails and storyboard, consider the following compositional elements:

  • Focus: Draw the reader’s attention to key characters or actions by using techniques such as contrast, scale, or perspective.
  • Balance: Establish visual harmony within your illustrations by balancing elements such as color, shape, and negative space.
  • Movement: Guide the reader’s eye through the illustration using elements such as lines, patterns, or repetition.

Make Roughs

Roughs are more detailed and refined versions of your thumbnail sketches. They serve as a bridge between your initial ideas and the final illustrations. As you create roughs for each scene, consider the following:

  • Detail: Add more detail to your sketches, such as facial expressions, clothing, and textures, to make your illustrations more engaging and visually appealing.
  • Color: Experiment with different color schemes and palettes to create a cohesive visual style for your book.
  • Consistency: Ensure that your illustrations are consistent in terms of style, character design, and setting, to create a unified visual experience for the reader.

By following these steps and focusing on creating a coherent storyline, you can develop engaging, visually appealing illustrations that effectively support and enhance the text of your children’s book.

Be active with communication, Work with a writer or editor.

Creating Final Illustrations

After refining your concept sketches and completing the roughs, the next step is to create the final illustrations. This stage involves placing text, polishing the artwork, ensuring consistency, and focusing on details to bring the story to life.

Using software and tools to create digital illustrations can help you create high-quality illustrations that are easy to revise and edit. 

Balancing Text and Illustrations

Illustrations in a children’s book should complement the text and help tell the story in a visual way. Incorporate text into illustrations in a way that enhances the story and creates a cohesive and visually appealing book. 

Tip: Select a font style and color that complements your illustrations and enhances the overall aesthetic of the book. Opt for a legible font that is easy for children to read, and consider using different font sizes or colors to emphasize specific words or phrases.

Choosing the Right Medium and Tools

Choosing the right medium for your illustrations is important in creating beautiful children’s book illustrations. The medium you choose will depend on the book’s target audience and style. Common mediums for children’s book illustrations include watercolor, acrylic paint, colored pencils, and digital illustration. 

Consider whether you want to create traditional or digital illustrations. Digital illustration software and tools, such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or Procreate, can help you create high-quality illustrations that are easy to revise and edit. 

Exploring different tools and techniques for creating illustrations can help you find the right medium for your book.

Understanding Color Theory

Understanding the basics of color theory and how it applies to illustration is important in creating engaging and visually appealing illustrations for a children’s book. Choosing color schemes that enhance the mood and message of the book can help communicate the story in a powerful way. Using color to create depth and interest in illustrations can also help make them more engaging for young readers.

Creating Depth and Perspective in Illustrations

Creating depth and dimension in illustrations can help bring them to life and make them more interesting for young readers. Techniques such as shading, lighting, and texture can help create depth and dimension in illustrations. Understanding perspective and creating depth in landscapes and settings can also help create a more immersive reading experience for young readers.

Check for Continuity

Ensure that your illustrations maintain consistency in style, color, and quality throughout the book. Consistency helps create a cohesive visual narrative that supports and enhances the story.

Paying attention to details such as lighting, shading, and texture can help you create illustrations that are engaging and visually appealing.

Designing the Cover

It’s generally a good idea to start working on the cover design after you’ve completed the final illustrations for the book. By this point, you will have a clear understanding of the story, characters, and illustration style, which will inform your decisions about the cover design. Additionally, having the final illustrations completed ensures that the cover design remains consistent with the artwork inside the book.

An eye-catching and well-designed cover is essential for capturing the attention of potential readers and setting the tone for your children’s book. The cover should not only be visually appealing but also effectively convey the essence of the story. Here are some steps to guide you through designing the perfect cover for your children’s book:

Establish the Theme and Tone

Consider the story’s central theme and tone, as well as the target age group. Use these factors to guide the overall design, color scheme, and typography of the cover. Your cover should accurately represent the story’s content while appealing to your intended audience.

Choose the Right Illustration Style

Select an illustration style for the cover that is consistent with the illustrations inside the book. This consistency helps create a cohesive visual experience for the reader. Make sure the cover illustration is engaging and draws the reader’s attention.

Create a Strong Focal Point

Design a cover with a strong focal point, such as the main character or a key scene from the story. The focal point should be visually striking and instantly convey the essence of the story, enticing potential readers to pick up the book and discover more.

Select the Right Typography

Choose a font style and color that complements the cover illustration and is easy to read. The title and author’s name should be prominent and stand out against the background. Consider using contrasting colors or adding effects like drop shadows to enhance legibility.

Balance Visual Elements

Arrange the cover’s visual elements, such as the illustration, title, and author’s name, in a harmonious and balanced composition. Use techniques like alignment, hierarchy, and spacing to create a visually pleasing and professional-looking cover.

Test and Refine

Once you have designed the cover, gather feedback from the author, publisher, or target audience. Be open to suggestions and revisions that can help you create a more effective and engaging cover design. Don’t be afraid to iterate and refine the design until it perfectly represents the story and captures the essence of the book.

By following these steps and focusing on creating a visually appealing and representative cover, you can design a cover that captures the attention of potential readers and sets the stage for the story inside.

The Editing Process

In the next sections of this guide, we will explore how to revise and edit your illustrations, collaborate with the author and publisher, and understand the publishing process and deadlines.

Collaborating with the Author and Publisher

Working with the author to bring their vision to life and collaborating with the publisher to create illustrations that align with the book’s message is crucial in creating a successful children’s book. Communicating effectively with the author and publisher is important in ensuring that everyone is on the same page throughout the process. Understanding the publishing process and deadlines can also help ensure that the book is published on time and meets the publisher’s standards.

Revising and Editing

Getting feedback from beta readers and the author is important in revising and editing your illustrations. Making revisions to the illustrations and layout based on this feedback can help ensure that the story and illustrations flow smoothly. Paying attention to details such as font choice and layout can also help create a more professional and polished final product.

Creating beautiful children’s book illustrations is a challenging but rewarding process. Developing your illustration style, creating concept sketches, choosing the right medium and tools, understanding color theory and perspective, and designing the layout are all important steps in creating successful illustrations for a children’s book. Collaborating effectively with the author and publisher, revising and editing your illustrations, and understanding the publishing process and deadlines can also help ensure that your illustrations are successful. With these skills and techniques, you can create engaging and visually appealing illustrations that capture young imaginations and bring stories to life.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking to learn more about illustrating children’s books, there are many resources available to help you hone your skills and connect with others in the industry. Here are a few to check out:

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: The SCBWI is an organization that offers resources and networking opportunities for children’s book writers and illustrators. is an online directory of professional illustrators for children’s books.

The Art of Children’s Picture Books: A course offered by Udemy that covers the basics of creating illustrations for children’s books.

Picture-Book Study Group: A Facebook group for aspiring and established children’s book illustrators to share their work, ask for feedback, and connect with others in the industry.

By continuing to learn and grow as an illustrator, you can create beautiful and engaging illustrations that capture the imaginations of young readers for years to come.

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