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How to improve your skills as an illustrator

In this blog I share some advice, both from my own experience and from what I have been told, that will help you to improve your skills as an illustrator.

The age-old question: how do I improve as an illustrator? It’s so easy to look around at other artists and think “I could never compete”. But I assure you, you can - and you will.

Once you’ve taken the plunge, told all your friends and family that illustration is your calling, and committed to the lifestyle, you must figure out how to make your way among hundreds of thousands of illustrators fighting for the same dream.

It can be intimidating, but if you follow some practical advice, you will be on your way to the serious illustration skills you seek.

Practice: draw every day

Draw even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it. And I’m not talking about mindlessly doodling until your fingers hurt. Draw with intent. Pick something you’re uncomfortable drawing and push through those feelings until you can draw it.

If you practice with intention to improve, you will see improvement, even if it’s slow. Learning how to draw a variety of characters, settings, and items is so important to your success as a children’s book illustrator - especially if you’re looking to land jobs across a variety of themes.

An example of why practice is important: if you illustrate a book about a cow and the reader thinks the main character is a dog the entire way through, you might want to reconsider practicing drawing every day.

Nothing looks perfect the first time you draw it. That’s why practice is so essential. Once you master one children's book character or illustration technique, move on to the next one!

Watch illustration tutorials: learn from those who have gone before you

You will grow faster than those who try to improve on their own. It is good to do your own research, but there are loads of people out there that are not only willing, but excited to share their illustration experience and knowledge with you.

Most of them just want to help make your life easier, so that you will find the same success they did! As boring as it may seem, tutorials can really help boost your skill level and confidence in areas of children's book illustration which you were previously uncertain about. Let those YouTubers help you!

Repeat: draw the same subject matter more than once

When you find something you like in children's books, or something that brings you joy, pursue it. Repetition is part of practice. The more you repeat an image or idea, the more you learn about it. When you take on a subject that interests you, you become the master of that subject.

What I love about so many artists and illustrators is that they make themselves the master of their subjects. For example, when I think of water lilies, I think of Claude Monet. He truly mastered his subject because he continued to make one painting after the next.

Feedback: ask for it whenever you can

Eat a slice of humble pie if you must, and take the constructive criticism even when it hurts. It is so important to be able to show your work to someone who is not emotionally attached to you or your work - someone who will be honest about areas of improvement as well as areas you’re excelling in with your children's book illustration.

Having feedback from a variety of people will ensure you don’t have blind spots, and that your finished illustrations will be a combination of all the best ideas, even if they didn’t all come from you!

Challenges: make goals for yourself

It’s easy to assume something is “too hard” or “too advanced” for your skill set, and then give up before you’ve even started. But I encourage you to GO FOR IT!

Nobody you admire in the world of illustrated art gained success, mastery of skill, or recognition overnight. Everyone started somewhere, and you must as well. So, challenge yourself to get where you want to go!

If you stick with it and continue learning and practicing, you may well achieve your goal. It may not happen as quickly as you hope for, and it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it when you look back at all the hard work.

Read, read, read: look at what’s being published

Take note of the illustration quality, unique styles, popular colour schemes, and story themes. Visit your local library (when it is safe and you’re abiding by COVID-19 restrictions), and just sit down with a stack of illustrated children's books you find attractive.

Ask yourself why you like certain illustrations and why you don’t like others. Take notes of children's books you like and pick elements you could use in your own work.

It is so vital to know your audience, including what children's book publishers are looking for. It’s important to be original, but keep in mind the successful illustrators who have gone before you. There is a lot to learn from looking at other’s work.

Positivity: stop the negative self-talk

This one is probably one of the most challenging for me personally as an illustrator and artist. It is so easy to talk myself out of a project because it seems difficult.

It's easy start feeling down when I compare myself and my work to other “more talented” & “more successful” children's book illustrators. Not only is this attitude not helping anyone, but it is hurting me and making me doubt I will ever improve.

Be conscious of the negative things you tell yourself, and instead of using negativity to motivate your progress, start using positive reinforcement by being kind to yourself, seeing your talent, and believing in the improvements you are capable of!

Grace: be kind to yourself

To get the most of these tips it is best to use them simultaneously. As an illustrator, I know there are always new things to learn, creative paths to wander, books to read, information to research, ideas to realise, and negative thought patterns to correct.

It can seem so overwhelming - especially when you don’t feel like you’re where you want to be. But stress not! If you don’t have time for everything all the time, that’s completely okay.

Just do what you can, when you can, and expect that improvement takes time. Give yourself grace when you feel down. You won’t be down forever. You got this!

I hope these simple tips help you as you build your illustration career. If you’ve found another way to improve your skills, please do let me know. I love hearing back from readers and always look forward to communicating with other children's book illustrators!


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