Books about Illustrating

From the Resource Guide in The CIG to Publishing Children's Books, 3rd Edition

Appendix B: Compiled by Harold Underdown

C.I. Guide Resource Guide Index

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Resources from Guide to Publishing Children's Books


* : Essential resources--the basic books you are most likely to need

N: New items--added since the book was published

R: Revised items--new editions or significant changes to my comments

Bookmaking: Editing, Design, Production, Third Edition, Marshall Lee (W.W. Norton, 2004). I took a course in book design when I was still wet behind the ears, and the second edition of this book was the textbook. I learned a lot about the process of putting together a book and then printing it, and got some hands-on knowledge of book design. The emphasis is on unillustrated or minimally illustrated books, making it a useful companion to Uri Shulevitz's book, reviewed below. This edition is updated to cover the use of the computer in design and book production.

Children's Book Illustration: Step by Step Techniques: A Unique Guide from the Masters, Jill Bossert (Watson Guptill, 1998). This guide looks over the shoulder of a number of established picture book illustrators as they plan and execute a project. Illustrators include Jerry Pinkney and Emily Arnold McCully, and a variety of approaches are shown. A very useful introduction to the nitty-gritty of illustration. [This book went out of print since I did the research for this list, and seems to be hard to find from used book dealers. If I find a source, I'll post it here.]

The Encyclopedia of Illustration Techniques, Catharine Slade (Running Press, 1997). This fairly slim (under 200 pages), but heavily illustrated, reference book looks at 24 different techniques from acrylic to wood engraving. Some are more likely to be used in children's books than others, but if you're considering trying a new medium or just looking for ideas, this is a useful book. Also includes a brief guides to contracts, portfolios, and the like.

R The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines (Graphic Artists Guild, 2013). This is the latest (14th) edition. Created by the GAG, an organization that brings together illustrators and designers from many fields, this is a useful reference for illustrators, particularly if you work in more than one field. Nothing this comprehensive exists for writers, so far as I know.

Illustrating Children's Books: A Guide to Drawing, Printing, and Publishing, Nancy S. Hand (Prentice Hall, 1986). A useful overview that looks at how some top-notch illustrators actually work, and may help you focus your style.

N Illustrating Children's Books: Creating Pictures for Publication (link goes to a detailed review), Martin Salisbury (Barron's, 2004). I've been looking for a book to supplement and update Writing with Pictures, which remains an essential book in spite of its age, and this may be it. Aimed primarily at illustration students, this is also a wide-ranging, if shallow, introduction to the field of children's book illustration today. It includes a history of children's book illustration, drawing and composition basics, a look at different media, character development, picture book illustration, other kinds of illustration, and design and typography. As it is under 150 pages, copiously illustrated, and dotted with interesting case studies, it does not go into much depth. If this is a survey course, Illustration 101, then Shulevitz's work is the in-depth theory class at the 300 level. You'll have to decide if either or both are what you need. Note too that this was originated in the U.K. (Salisbury is a well-known British illustrator and teaches illustration at Anglia University)--the publishers have done some work to adapt it to the American market, but many of the illustrations and all of the case studies are derived from British books. They work fine to illustrate points made in the text, but may not be familiar or even available in the U.S.

N The Illustrator's Bible: The Complete Sourcebook of Tips, Tricks, and Time-Saving Techniques in Oil, Alkalyd, Acrylic, Gouache, Casein, Watercolor, Dyes, etc., Rob Howard, (Watson-Guptill, 1993). Not a book for beginners, but for the working illustrator, this heavily illustrated book provides detailed advice for working with many forms of traditional media.

Picture This! How Pictures Work, Molly Bang (Seastar, 2000). A noted illustrator takes the reader step by step through the illustration of Little Red Riding Hood and in doing so demonstrates how visual elements such as shapes and colors actually work in pictures, and how a sequence of pictures tells a story. A fascinating visual guide to the way that picture books, at their best, work, and very handy for giving to friends who don't understand what you do.

*Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books (link goes to a detailed review), Uri Shulevitz (Watson-Guptill, 1985). I can't overstate how useful I think this book is to the beginning or practicing children's book illustrator. It covers how to tell a story in pictures, planning and roughing out a book, composition of individual illustrations, technique, style, and the use of visual references. Throughout, there are copious illustrations showing such things as the evolution of a picture in step-by-step detail. Shulevitz has been working in the field since the 1960's and his Snow was a Caldecott Honor book in 1999. He knows what he's talking about. The only problem is that this hasn't been revised since 1985 and so concentrates on black-and-white and pre-separated color art, which in picture books have largely been replaced by scanned color art. However, the principles and techniques he teaches remain essential--there's no other book like this available.

Feel free to contact me with suggestions or comments.

This list is based on the Resource Guide in the Appendix of the third edition of my Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. It has more material than the print version and has been enhanced with hyperlinks direct to web sites and book pages on (for purchase or just for information--if you prefer to buy elsewhere, I have created a page of suggested bookstores).

C.I. Guide Resource Guide Index

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