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



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