Finding Your Illustration Style

This is a horse:

horse rough

This style would be suited for a setting like this one:


Which is fine for a story, as long as the style is consistent throughout.

Of course, this is also a horse:

Marwari_lighter copyBut this horse would look out of place in a story illustrated in the style above. Both are my work, but the styles are very different.

Sometimes the text of a story defines the physical appearance of a character, (e.g. she was a big woman with smiling eyes…) but it rarely indicates the style in which the illustrations should be executed. Finding a style that suits your skills and helps tell the story is a learning process that can take years or decades. It often feels like I’m still looking for mine.

Most author/illustrators focus on perfecting a single style of illustration. This makes their books easily recognizable at first glance. Patricia Polacco‘s books, for example, all have the same style of illustration. So do all the books by Jan Brett or Tomie dePaola.

Sometimes, especially in cases of an illustrator working for multiple authors, an artist may work in multiple styles, using different approaches and mediums (e.g. watercolors as opposed to digital media) to create a different look and feel according to the tone of text they are illustrating.

For the book Jungle Kings by Nancy Murphy and Mary Jo Sterling, I chose a digital medium, Adobe Photoshop. Stylistically, I used bold, black lines and bright colors for the characters, on a vibrant background without strong outlines. This style seemed to suit the exuberant characters. It was also a conscious choice to appeal to younger readers by using bright colors to add interest and bold lines to highlight facial expressions. JKpage09

So, how do you find your style? The short answer is: make a LOT of art.

But here are a few other strategies:

  • Look at lots of art, note which styles you like and try to identify what you like about them.
  • Experiment with new mediums. Never tried oil pastels? Give them a try. Maybe you’ll hit on the medium you love.
  • Think outside the box. Artists work with all kinds of crazy materials. Cloth and irons, nails and string, strong coffee and a paint brush…
  • Explore drawing the same animal or character in as many different styles as you can.
  • Read more children’s books. Make note of the illustrations that are emotionally engaging. What makes them stand out for you?
  • Remember that as long as your style is consistent, it doesn’t really matter what style you use.

What’s your style of illustration? Share a comment below with your style or an illustration style that you admire.

Books illustrated by Cora Hays:

Awesome Kindness Cover_sm

Jungle Kings Layout



Inspiration and Reference Material


Finding reference material can often feel challenge while respecting copyright laws and intellectual property rights.  So I spend lots of time behind my camera collecting reference material for my illustrations.

These are some of the animal species we saw on our last trip up north!

  • Snowshoe hare
  • Red squirrel
  • White-tailed deer
  • Least chipmunk
  • Blue jay
  • Gray jay
  • Turkey vulture
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Mallard duck
  • Broadwing hawk
  • Downey woodpecker
  • Piliated woodpecker
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Purple finch
  • Goldfinch
  • White-throated sparrow
  • White crowned sparrow
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Harris sparrow (my first sighting of this species!!!)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • American robin
  • Rose-breasted grossbeak
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruffed grouse
  • Wild turkey
  • Ruby-throated hummingbird

What animals do you commonly see around your home?

6 + Tips for Getting Book Reviews

book reviews.pngSo you wrote and published a book? Next step: Get some reviews! (Hopefully positive ones!)

Without at least 10 reviews on Amazon, most folks won’t be interested in buying the product. That said, soliciting book reviews for a newly published book is a delicate process. I’m on the upward swing of the learning curve as we speak, but I’ve had some pretty fantastic feedback so far. Here’s some of the tricks I’ve picked up.

  1. Use your network – ask your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, dog-walkers…
  2. Offer free copies of the book to reviewers!
  3. Make it easy: In your emails/messages include the link to the pages where you need reviews posted
  4. Follow up review requests and gifted books in a couple weeks with a tactful reminder (e.g. what did you think of the book?)
  5. Although it’s definitely not ethical to ask for a good review, asking people to leave a review if they liked the book is perfectly reasonable
  6. Work the social media groups – Facebook offers some fantastic groups of writers, business entrepreneurs, work-from-home parents, illustrators, etc.

Through groups like the above mentioned I’ve found professional reviewers as well as willing individuals to write reviews in exchange for free books.

Here are some of the wonderful reviewers who have helped me out so far with my children’s books Jungle Kings and Awesome Kindness: A Story of Friendship

Most of all, while you are seeking reviews, keep writing and drawing! That next book is just waiting for you to put it out there.

It’s Pencil Day! 5 Art Materials You Don’t Remember You Have

I am a danger to my bank account whenever I go into a craft supply or art store. Online shopping for art materials is nearly as dangerous…

I decided to stop and remind myself of the art materials I have ready access to. We moved last year and have yet to discard the vast majority of boxes from the unpacking process, so you may notice a recurring theme… Ready to get inspired?

  • Cardboard
    • Build a castle – toilet paper tube turrets, egg carton draw bridge, the whole nine yards
    • Design a family crest, make a shield, a helmet, a full set of plate box armor… to go with the castle of course.
    • Big box? Climb inside and color!
Child sitting in box, drawing with crayons.
Climb on in and get creative!
  • Beans/rice/pasta (the dry ones that have been in the cupboard for longer than you want to think about…)
    • Attach to cardboard with a little Elmer’s glue for mosaics. For an example: WeeFolkArt
  • Coffee
    • Believe it or not there’s some pretty AMAZING coffee painting out there! Use it on heavier paper (or cardboard!) with a brush, just like ink or watercolors! For an example: BoredPanda
  • Old clothes/rags/sheets
    • Braided rugs – this one requires some extra equipment (i.e. a sewing machine or needle, thread and patience). I want to try it though. For an example: LittleHouseLiving
    • Simple stuffed animals (I love making horses out of out-worn jersey gloves)
    • Sock puppets (use cardboard here again to great effect!)
  • Plastic containers

Some of these are more DIY projects than arts, but perhaps there’s something here for everyone: Artist to parent to recycling enthusiast.

Self-reflection on this post: Many of these ideas seem very upper middle class, upon closer inspection. Most assume access to basic materials such as glue, scissors, crayons/markers, needle and thread, but more importantly, they require time. The poverty experienced by many families is most crushing in its limitation of the most invaluable resource: time. Time to reflect. Time to imagine. Time to create.

Even poetry requires more than a pencil and paper. It requires time.