Children’s illustration: A Guide to the Serious Art of Whimsy

Whimsical rabbits donning periwinkle blue dungarees, grumpy snails licking lollipops atop a glistening castle, tiny children staring in wonderment at a miraculous magical kingdom – welcome to the world of children’s illustrations, the profession that could make you a serious success.

You might have thought of a great idea for a children’s story, but never known where to start. Yet, no great story springs from nowhere. Instead, the skill to develop and illustrate a perfect yarn takes years of graft.

More than this, storytelling for kids doesn’t follow the adult literary maxim, “Write for yourself”. In this field, you really do have to place your mind in the shoes of the age group you’re writing for.

As famed illustrator Quentin Blake said, “What you really do when you start to draw is you imagine that you are that person and you go into the reactions you think you would be having.”

Your head has to be filled with the wonder of a child, and key into their curiosity and playfulness like the flick of a switch. Yet, while whimsy might not be inherent in some people, there are numerous paths you can take to develop your skills.

The course where legends are born

Over the years, a number of child book illustrator courses have popped up in art colleges and universities across the UK. And, thanks to the prestige of British illustrators like Blake, they’re far from Mickey Mouse.

Instead, they run the gamut of artistic skills, coupling the foundations of saleable drawing with the effective development of a story. You’ll even find case studies on illustration heroes like Judith Kerr and Blake.

Legends are what these artists have become. Over the past century, books for kids were ghettoised and sneered at by toff-nosed critics, consigned to the category of “lesser literature”. But the children’s book has flown into the stratosphere, with Roald Dahl’s classics (The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, many more), The Tiger Who Came to Tea and hundreds of others making themselves vital for the development of kids.

However, it was the development of an engaging drawing style that brought Blake to the fore. After years of tutoring at an art school, it was only when the illustrator hit his early 40s that he really became big.

Every part of your life has to feed into your drawings, and has to be packaged in an accessible and enjoyable way to find the right flavour for kids.

It’s not an easy industry to break into – in fact, it’s highly competitive – but with a strong degree, a stronger folio and a headstrong attitude, the illustration game is your oyster.