Tuesday Tips – More About Picture Books

Im a Dirty DinosaurThis week I continue the picture book tips theme with some great tips from Ann James and Jane Tanner for illustrating and creating picture books.


Ann James at work

I attended a workshop they were taking at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and they were both so generous with their time – talking and answering questions for nearly double their scheduled one hour.

As Ann pointed out, illustrators are different from many other kinds of artists in that they are narrative artists – they must love story – and they must be in love with the story they are illustrating.


According to Ann, a picture book illustrator needs the following:

  1. Must be an interpreter – Often an illustrator is required to interpret someone else’s text or story concept. Visual language is different from textual language and an illustrator must bring the two together.
  2. Ability to collaborate – An illustrator may be required to collaborate with an author, editor and sales and marketing staff. They need to be able to work closely and harmoniously with others.
  3. Art skills – Illustrators come from many backgrounds including teaching, fine art, architecture and literature. What they have in common are their skills as an artist and their love for story.
  4. Patience and Drive – Picture books can take one to two years to illustrate. For this reason, illustrators need to choose books where the story really connects with them – the story has to drive you to keep going during the long period of the illustration process.
  5. Child centred – As an illustrator you need to find the inner child in you.
  6. Start broad – Don’t narrow your options.

An illustrator needs to love working with story, children and art.

A book is like a stage. People come in and go out – and they are there to act out the story.


Authors need to give the illustrator space.

According to Jane Tanner, “Sometimes authors have pictures in their head, but they have to give the illustrator space. The text has to be the start of the process not the finish.”

Of the relationship between an author and illustrator, Ann says, “A picture book is a dance between two people.”


One of the difficulties I find with illustration is creating characters that are visually consistent on every page.

Ride With MeJane’s tip – “Channel the character – so you feel you are the character.”


Jane Tanner talks a young fan through the illustration process

Ann’s tip – “Draw the character over and over again.”  Ann says she keeps drawing her character in all sorts of situations and poses until they feel right.

Get into your character like an actor would – using expression and body language and movement.

We all see the world differently – some artists look for tone and shade in the subject they are drawing, others are drawn to shape and some to contours. Ann says that’s how she works – she sees the edges of things.

Both Jane and Ann agreed that one of the most important things for an illustrator is to be true to yourself.

You can find out more about Ann at the Books Illustrated website.IMAG3280  IMAG3283

Details of Jane’s books can be found at her website.

Next Tuesday at DeeScribe Writing, Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie will be here with more great tips on writing and illustrating picture books – and there are prizes to win on their blog tour to celebrate the release of their new picture book, The Littlest Bushranger.

Till then, happy writing and illustrating:)