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ILLUSTRATION NOTES: Advice for Illustrators
Anna Grossnickle Hines

The following is not a talk or a published piece but a collection of tidbits that I have gathered to share when asked to critique portfolios or talk about illustration.


  • Take classes if you can find them.
  • Network and form critique groups.
  • Draw from life.
  • Draw children, especially of the age you'd like to do.
  • Study the books that are being published.  Look at as many as possible.
  • Check out these references:
    • Drawing with Pictures, Uri Schulevitz
    • The Ultimate Portfolio Book
    • The Illustrators Guide  Watson Guptill
    • Books: From Writer to Reader,  Howard Greenfield

PREPARING A PORTFOLIO: I did not go this route myself, starting out by submitting dummied original stories.  These suggestions come from asking art directors and editors what they like to see in a portfolio.


  • at least one dummy with a couple of sample illustrations
    • If you don't have an original manuscript use a story from the public domain or a traditional tale.
  • one shot concept things such as a poem, a jump rope rhyme, a folk tale
  • a sketchbook or some developmental sketches...for the life, fluid line and spirit
  • dust jackets
  • line work
  • full color work
  • 10-20 pieces- too many is off-putting


You should include your best work in terms of style, content, and medium--the kind you are most comfortable doing rather than a bit of this and bit of that.

Your portfolio should show your ability and your you think and approach a project.

One art director told me she looks for concepts, good drawing and interaction between characters.

You should develop and refine your art before you start showing your portfolio.

"No medium can cover poor drawing."

"Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece."

But don't be afraid to show it when it's ready.


To illustrate a book you have to be flexible and ready to go through a developmental process.  Don't get too tight, or too attached too soon.  You have to consider the needs of the publishing company, the opinions of the editor and art director.

Story content is more important than pretty pictures. The illustrations must express what is in the story.  This is developed in the rough sketches, before you get to the color work. Ideally, content is reflected in the whole design of a book.

Characterization is important.
Your characters, whether animals or people, have to be consistent, look the same from one page to another,  and one position to another. 
They have to show emotions with expression and gesture. 
They should show a variety of action.  They should have hands and feet and faces.

Emotions are important and easier to show in drawings than photographs, because in reality they are subtle and when exaggerated enough to show in photos become grotesque.

Show interaction between characters.

Just like the writer must know more than is told, the illustrator has to know the characters well.  What kind of house do they live in?  Favorite colors?  Pets?

Overall design of the book is important.  The palette should relate to the content. All of the  pictures are part of the whole and should feel that way.  The illustrations should tie together visually, build to a peak and come down.  Changes in scale should have a reason.

Strive to balance variety and continuity in the illustrations.  You don't want the same scene over and over, but by the same token you want things to carry through.  One of my art directors once said to me,  "Nothing should appear just once."  If red is on one page, you should put a little red on every page...unless there's a reason not to do that.  Even if it is a tiny reddish shadow.

Work on flexible paper because it has to wrap around a drum for the separations to be made.  Exceptions are made for intricate cut paper illustrations or for people like Barbara Cooney who has worked on illustration board for years, but that increases the cost of making separations so unless it's essential to the type of flexible.


You can get a listing of publishers and who to contact by writing to: The Children's Book Council, 67 Irving Place, New York, NY, 10003.  Information is also in Literary Market Place, available in most Libraries.  Contact publishers to find out their portfolio viewing policy.  Often they have a viewing day, or might make an appointment if you are from out of town.

In sending work through the mail some art directors prefer to see a few color Xeroxes as an introduction, others may prefer slides.  Find out.
          Do not send original art unless it is requested.
          Do send an SASE to get a response.   

If a company shows interest follow up with a new sample from time to time. One artist has a new postcard printed each season which she sends to art directors to remind them of her work.

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