Here’s a word from Sari, our senior illustrator…
As a children’s book illustrator, I work with authors to help them form the “look” of their book. We approach the project together as a team, talking often and working through what each scene or image will look like, page by page. We discuss what will be most important and what should stand out, including the “Five W’s” and “One H” (who, what, when, where, why, how). In lots of kids’ books, the first “W” is sometimes the most important: Who is the character, or characters?
Coming up with a character design involves a number of considerations. Here are some basics:
- Does the character have a gender?
- Is the character tall or short? Thinner or heavier?
- Do they have a certain cultural or ethnic background?
- How old are they?
- What kind of hairstyle and clothing do they typically wear?
- What specific activities do they do in the book that could impact they way they look in the story?
It’s also important that the character design matches the text. It’s a good idea to read through the story and mark down what events will shape the character. For example, if the book says “Robbie sighed and rolled up his sleeves”, then it means Robbie should be shown in the illustrations wearing sleeves long enough to be rolled up. Additionally, the illustrator can take ideas from how the character is described in the text – if “Sloane is a joyful little girl who loves rainbows and jumping in puddles”, then perhaps Sloane could be wearing many different colours, a sturdy set of rain boots and have a big smile in the drawings.
Everyone we encounter in the real world is unique, and so is every character in the books we read. The text can tell us so much about a character, what they’re doing in the story, and what they think and say. The illustrations help the reader fill in more information visually. When I design a character, the author and I discuss what makes them special. It doesn’t need to be something that really obviously stands out, like having an extra arm, or futuristic glasses that shoot laser beams — it could be something as simple as having a few freckles on their nose, showing lots of teeth when they smile, or wearing T-shirts that reflect their mood. What is it that would make your character truly who they are? What is it that makes them special?