Some more learnings from the children’s book illustration course


Looking back on Tuesday night, I’m amazed at how many insights were packed in to the 2.5 hours – AND there was still time for tea and Tunnock’s cakes.

Here are some more points the tutor made that really gave me food for thought.

1. What age group is your book for?

This isn’t just a nebulous question that you can answer lightly.

It’s not just about the vocabulary you use in the text, and whether kids of a certain age would understand certain words or concepts*.

It’s not just about how it would be marketed, and what age-group publishers are selling most to at the moment**.

The thing is that kids go through certain stages of development at certain ages, and you can key right into that. If you write a book about a kid that only says ‘NO’, it’s ideal for children who have just discovered wilfulness – they’ll see themselves and their own concerns in that character.

The reason so many picture books start with the protagonist losing both their parents is that – bam – you’ve tapped right into the deepest fears of the under-fives. They’ll be riveted to see how that character resolves the situation. They’ll empathise with them too.

2. The best children’s books (and the best art in any form) speak a truth. Not a blithe motivational truth that you read on Pinterest. One that is your truth, and yours alone. Your view of the world. You explaining that in pictures and words that a kid can understand.

3. Relatedly, we talked about style, something that has continued to confound me through my whole adult life. What *is* style? Can we change it?

The tutor said this: the pictures you are drawing today will have something in common with the first picture you ever drew, when you were a kid, and every picture since. That might be the subject matter, the colours, or the line.

If you draw in a way that is true to yourself, your work will cohere, and will always be recognisable as your own, even as you develop and change.

I’ll have to think about this, but here’s the bit I know that I do totally agree with: you find your style and your subject matter by concentrating really hard on who you are, what catches your eye, what interests you. Heighten those thoughts that are constantly playing at the back of your mind. Deliberately notice colour combinations, pleasing arrangements of objects, and make a sketch of them. But these will be the things YOU appreciate, not the things you have been told you should.

4. Would a child want to read this book?

Throwaway question directed at me when I was talking through a few ideas I have for a book. My god, what a fundamental question. You may be surprised to know that it knocked me for six.

Time to put myself in the very small shoes of my potential reader.

*And actually, thinking about this point, as a mum I know that in a really good book, you will often come across a word or a concept that you know your child won’t understand. And then you explain it. And there you are, the book has taught them something.

**Although, you might find it harder to pitch a picture book for 15 year olds. Sadly. Because actually, wouldn’t that be great?

Published by Myfanwy Tristram

I am an illustrator, situated in Brighton on the south coast of England, and with a special interest in comics and graphic memoir. I also work for a non-profit which encourages people to be active in democracy and to exercise rights such as the right to information through FOIA.

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