Are you rich?… If I grow up to be an illustrator, will I make a lot of money?…

Children’s book illustrators do what they do because they love it so much. Sometimes people think that making lots of money is the only way to feel rich. I feel so happy with my job because I have a lot of freedom. I don’t have to show up to work at 8:00 in the morning. I sometimes take off in the middle of the day and go to a movie, or go to my kids’ games—even when most parents might be working. When you get old like me, you realize that money doesn’t always make you feel rich, and the lack of it doesn’t have to make you feel poor. If you enjoy your work so much that it feels like you’re playing, then it all balances out. Find what you love and be smart…the money will take care of itself.

What’s your favorite book that you’ve drawn…What’s your favorite color…What’s your favorite thing to draw?

I Love You, Stinky Face.

People think my favorite color is purple, but it’s not…I really don’t have a favorite..I use them all!

I like to draw anything that you don’t see around in the real world very often (swamp monsters, dragons, moons with worms, angels, and space aliens…stuff like that!)

When did you do your first book?

When I was in college, I worked at the television station after class. We had lots of kindergarten classes taking tours of the station. My boss asked me to make a book called, “What is a TV station?” which gave information on how a television show gets to your home. We published it and this was the first!

After I graduated, I illustrated some school text books, and then, I worked for Hyperion (Disney) for my first trade book, Tickle Day.

Do you have pets?

I almost always have pets! Not long ago, I counted the number of dogs that I’ve had in my lifetime…I think it was about 34. When I was a kid, I had lots of pets. The best ones we had were the goats!  I like to visit the guinea pigs and rabbits at the pet store, but since I don’t have time for any more pets, I always leave them there.

How do you make your art?

I use a little bit of everything! Opaque and transparent watercolors, Prismacolor pencils and other colored pencils, pastels, oil paint and sometimes even White-Out (makes great stars and snow!) I sketch on either marker paper, or just plain copier paper from the office supply store, and for my finished work, I paint on a heavy french watercolor paper most of the time.

The best thing for any artist to do is experiment. Buy samples of different materials, and just spend time playing with it all. See how everything works…how the paint works on different papers…how the pencils lay down on the surfaces. This way, you’ll find out what you like the most…what’s the most comfortable, interesting, or fun!

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Parents and Educators
My child is very talented. Should I get him art lessons? How can I encourage him?

Buy reams of copy paper…clean white sheets from the office supply store. Keep generous supplies of bright colored pencils (like Crayola or Prismacolor), markers, pre-mixed paper mache, clay, glitter, feathers, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, yarn, glue sticks, smooth pebbles (for rock people) and anything else that can be glued together to make a lot of fun. Buy those “how to draw” books at the art supply store. Paint the walls with chalkboard paint!!!

Kids are so much more creative than we can imagine. Let them try everything and encourage them always. Never, EVER, say things like, “who’s ever seen a purple tree?” or “the sky is supposed to be blue,” or even “maybe you should draw it this way.” They have plenty of time in their lives to grasp the reality part of life….let them have fun for a while.

You can try structured art classes if you want, but if the child doesn’t really enjoy the class after a few weeks, bring him back to the coffee table in the living room and cover up the rug with newspaper! Art classes can be very frustrating to some kids…even when they have loads of talent. Creative geniuses generally don’t fit into structured environments, so look for a teacher that really knows how to inspire her students.

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Authors and Illustrators
I’m writing a book. I already have an idea of what I want illustrated on each page. I can send you all of my art ideas.

I rarely work directly with an author on a project. Publishers hire me, and I work with the art director and editor to determine the look of the book. Artists need freedom to visualize their own idea of your story. Unless the story calls for the support of specific reference material, my advice to all authors is to give your illustrator the open space necessary to get those creative juices flowing. The book will be better for it!! 

(My sister, my cousin, my friend)…I have written a children’s book. Would you take a look at it and see if you want to illustrate it for me? How much do you charge?

I generally read manuscripts only from editors. When I get the story, the publisher has already agreed to the project and pays an advance to begin the job. Once the publisher has bought an author’s manuscript, the editor and the creative/art director chooses the perfect illustrator for the story. Authors can always recommend me or any other favorite illustrator in the cover letter, but sending your story without the illustrations is a much better idea.

I’ve written a story and I’m going to get my best friend to illustrate it for me before I send it to the publisher. She likes to draw, but she is not a professional illustrator. Is this a good idea? Will it help get my manuscript recognized?

Unless your friend is a professional illustrator, getting her to work up some sketches to go along with your manuscript is a poor choice. You will have a much better chance of getting the story read, if you send in your work professionally presented without illustrations.

I’m an illustrator. An author has asked me to illustrate a book that she has written. I’ve always wanted to illustrate a children’s book, so I am excited about the project. The author has never been published, but she thinks that this story will be a hit!

If you are an unpublished illustrator, working on a book which has not been contracted by a publisher is a risk. Most of them will never be published and working without pay only hurts you. I haven’t heard ANY success stories of artists who have worked for free. Maybe it happens, but in many years, I’ve never run across even one.

If a book is going to be published in the trade, the editor will offer the illustrator an advance against royalties. You will usually get paid either 1/3 upon signing the contract, 1/3 upon finishing the sketches, and 1/3 upon finishes, or 1/2 on signing and 1/2 on finishes.

My suggestion is to send a postcard sample of your art to the art directors. You can buy an ad in an art directory like Picturebook which is used by art buyers to find artists. Throughout the year, they will see your art again and again, as they look through the site. Create your own website, so that art directors can easily see more of your work.

I’m an unpublished illustrator/author. I have written a story, made a dummy book, and I have sent it many times to different publishers. One editor suggested that I let someone else draw the pictures, but I want to do it. I’m thinking of self publishing my book.

If you could only do one thing in your life, which would it be? Illustration or writing? Is it more important for you to get your book published as an author/illustrator, or could you be happy if another wonderful illustrator brought your story to life? If you are getting comments from editors suggesting that the story is good, but they would rather see other illustrations, listen! Editors and art directors know the market. They know what sells. Could there be a bigger creative vision than you currently imagine?

If you self-publish your book with your own illustrations, you are also agreeing to market that book. If you love to sell and enjoy promoting, then you will probably enjoy this part of your business. Consider how you want to spend your time.

How do I find the publishers addresses? How do I know what publishing house would be interested in my work?

Get a current copy of the Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Market. It’s available at any bookstore. Updated every year, it’s filled with helpful information, including the types of manuscripts each publisher buys. The Literary Market Place is another source, available in the reference section at the library. The internet has many lists of publishers. Try the Children’s Book Council list.

Other promotion ideas are on the Picturebook website.

Should illustrators have a website?

Websites are wonderful as a support tool. Don’t count on publishers and art buyers to surf and find your personal site. They are too busy to randomly look around the web. If you are producing an ad or a sample and you have a personal website, you should always include your web address. Art buyers will use the web to see more of your art if they have a direct path to your site.

Art directors are familiar with the group portfolio sites and sometimes visit often. Picturebook ( and the Ispot ( are examples of this type of site. Artists pay to be listed on the service. 

Do mailers really work? I once sent samples, but nobody ever called.

A one time mailing is not very effective, unless you are lucky. Schedule monthly or quarterly mailings for the best results. Include a good variety of subjects…animals, people, spot illustrations. Some artists have success with mailings, but you must remember that publishers get hundreds of samples per month from artists and the competition to be seen is intense.

Postcards are best, because they don’t have to be opened. Sometimes art directors pile up packages of art samples to open later on a day that they are not so busy. Sometimes, that day can be very far away.

If you want to send a package, it should be clean and professional (it can be fun and still be professional.) Get a mailer large enough to keep your samples flat. NEVER EVER EVER send original art or anything that you want returned. It’s totally unprofessional and you might lose your work. You want the buyer to file your work for future jobs, or better yet, put your postcard on their wall.

What else can I do to learn about this business?

Go to conferences and trade shows. The SCBWI has great workshops both locally and nationally. Editors come to the events and review portfolios. Their newsletter is filled with information for beginning illustrators and writers. The American Library Association and the American Book Expo are wonderful trade shows, usually held in larger cities like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. These are the shows for the book industry, and you will be overwhelmed by the sheer expanse of books and information. Go anyway. It will inspire you. Check out the speakers each day. You might get to see someone you admire.

I’ve sent samples, built a website, and I’m still not published. What am I missing?

As an illustrator, you must be objective about your work. Take a hard look at your samples. Is your work presented in a professional way? If you have to explain away a sample, take it out. (Do you make comments like this?: “The art director made me do it this way.” or “This was a school project and I don’t really like it, but it shows that I can do people…”) Go to the book store and look at the newest books. Is your style one that is fresh and creative? Are your characters exciting and well executed? Are your colors muddy and overworked, or are they clear and bright? Get objective opinions from other artists and art directors. Listen to the comments.

You should always be working on your style. If you are doing your art regularly, it will be constantly evolving, getting better and better. You will find your own niche…your flow. 

Is it hard to make a living being a full time children’s book illustrator?

Sometimes. You must be motivated each day. Being prolific helps. Some illustrators do 2-4 books per year, but most only do 1. Advances increase as you become published more often, but in the beginning, they are low and you can’t possibly live on them. You can create other ways of bringing in income. If you are able to speak to groups, hit the road! Create a great presentation for kids and promote your program to schools. The PTA. parent groups and grants pay for illustrators and authors to come to schools. Teach art classes after school or at your community house. You’ll get out in public and the kids and parents love it!

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