In general, there are several books for children which help adult readers understand how a picture book comes about. Eileen Christelow's What Do Illustrators Do? and What Do Authors Do? are clear and straightforward. Janet Stevens's From Pictures to Words shows the process of creating a picture book as well as an example of a book dummy.
Some helpful how-to, nuts-and-bolts books for adults about writing, illustrating, and publishing a children's picture book, informational book, or novel are Jim Giblin's Writing Books for Young People; Barbara Seuling's How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published; Judith Appelbaum's How to Get Happily Published; and many others. Check at your local library.
To understand how illustrators view their art, it may be helpful to read books by the experts. In Uri Shulevitz's Writing with Pictures, the award-winning illustrator details how picture book illustrations work and what to consider when designing. Perry Nodelman is not an illustrator but his Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Picture Books is informative and thought-provoking. Pat Cummings has edited a three-volume set of Talking with Artists in which well-known illustrators answer questions about their craft. The July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine always reprints the speeches of the current Caldecott Medal winner (best illustrated book) for that year.
Art leagues, colleges, and adult education courses sometimes provide an opportunity to hone your skills in developing illustrations. Conferences on children's literature and children's bookstores often feature illustrators speaking about the creation of their books, a good source of insight as well as, perhaps, personal advice.
- Study illustrations you particularly admire in children's books to see how each book's layout varies from page to page and helps the story progress logically. Note in general the variety of media used today in children's picture book art, including all kinds of paint; photography; pastels; computer-generated art; collage in a variety of materials besides paper; clay; organic materials; needlecraft; and so on. Also be aware of the size of art on each page layout, the incorporation of copy, and the use of variety so that all pages don't look alike.
- Look for ways artists use action and create visual movement in their work. The characters shouldn't just stand there. Note how artists use page format, avoid important visuals falling into the gutter, and make the eye turn toward the right to the page turn.
- Use different vantage points (close-ups, aerial views, views from below, etc.).
- Expressions on faces and in posture are absolutely vital. It is also essential that a character appear to be the same person from page to page, not a younger and older, taller and shorter version.
- Pay attention to the descriptions the text offers. Readers (and later reviewers) will compare what the author describes with what you have depicted.
- Illustrations should do more than look pretty. They must also logically connect to the story and should advance the plot as well as enhance it. The definition of a picture storybook includes the words and pictures combining to make meaning with both important to the whole.
- Do a little research at libraries and bookstores to find out what kind of books the various houses publish and what kind of artwork they tend to use. Not all publishers do picture books, and some publish only a very small number of them each year. Some publishers do not accept "unsolicited manuscripts." Make a list of publishers who are appropriate for you and include the ones that have picture books on their lists each year. You can find the names and addresses of children's book publishers along with the names of their art directors and editors, their phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and the types of books they use, in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market or Literary Marketplace. These books can be found in most libraries and some bookstores. They come out yearly. Be sure to use the most current edition because editors' and art directors' jobs change all the time. You can also find current publishers' information in the "members" section of the Children's Book Council website, too, at www.cbcbooks.org/html/mlist1.html
- Then select which publishers you want to see and contact them with a short precise cover letter and, if possible, a printed (not an original) sample of your absolute best artwork suitable for children's books. Preferably but not necessarily, it can be one that has been used by a real client. Ask to set up an interview. If you are so minded, you can also send a manuscript with one finished sample spread and a pencil dummy (a small booklet of 32, or multiples of 4, pages showing your rough layouts and the intended size of the entire book). If you're not a writer, either use a classic tale you would like to illustrate or don't do this at all.
- Show only your very best work, even if you show only five pieces. Make sure it is work that can be used in children's books. Note the multiracial makeup of most children's classrooms and neighborhoods today. Don't ever be corny, sweet, or cute. If you do, the publisher won't have anything to do with you forever. "Fine art" is truly fine as long as it is applicable to the story. Use other good books as a general guideline for appropriate and varied art styles, materials (anything goes here), and typical page sizes. Avoid oversized books which are difficult for libraries to put on the shelf.
- Remember that most books have 32 pages including title page or pages, copyright pages, and, sometimes, printed endpapers. Nonfiction may also include an index, glossary, related resources, or teaching ideas. Endpapers should not carry important information for understanding the story because libraries may paste card pockets there or jacket flap may obscure your art. In the body of the book, leave room for type. For layout's sake you can use 18pt or 24pt type font to get an idea of size of text but individual book designers will decide what font and what size the final text will be.
- Most art directors prefer to reduce rather than enlarge artwork, says one Guild illustrator, because enlarging often turns up flaws. Therefore, he always works about 10% larger than the actual size of the finished book. If you plan to submit a finished book, work in a standard size. Once again, see a collection of recent children's books to determine what your size options might be.