Illustrating for Children and Loving It!

*Excerpt from 1999 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market!

2015 Artist's & Graphic Designer's MarketThose among us who can honestly say, “I love my job” are indeed lucky. And while good fortune does play a part in the careers we end up with, hard work, education and research are involved, too. Illustrator Joy Allen learned this as she mustered up the courage to dive into a midlife career change. After working 15 years as an art director and graphic designer, Allen decided to switch paths and do what she always wanted – illustrate books for children.

Working in graphic design, Allen says, gave her special knowledge which helps her in illustrating for children’s books and magazines. “Customers would come in and bring me a screw and say, ‘We make these screws. We need a beautiful, exciting brochure about our screws.’ We’d have to make something for these clients that didn’t have any text, only their product. Soon you learn how to get into the psyche of each customer, understand each person’s needs.” When she started illustrating books, this empathy was valuable. “I can relate to a book and understand what the author is (hopefully) trying to convey and expand on it.”

As her career shifted from graphic design to children’s publishing, promoting her artwork to prospective publishers became a big part of Allen’s job. But before she contacted publishers, Allen decided to learn as much as she could about how things worked, something she can’t recommend highly enough to those shifting careers or just delving into children’s publishing.

“The first thing I did was take a class with illustrator Marla Frazee [Seven Silly Eaters], who taught children’s illustration at on of the best colleges in my area. She really filled me in on what I needed. She helped me to link up with SCBWI [Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators] and put together an appropriate portfolio.”

illustratingAttending conferences sponsored by SCBWI was also a great help to Allen, and something she encourages other illustrators entering the field to do. “When SCBWI had an ‘Illustrator’s Day’ and allowed you to show your work, I was there and made sure I had photocopies of my work and by business cards to hand out.”

An important step for newcomers, says Allen, is researching the publishing market – going to libraries and bookstores to browse and get an idea of which publishers might appreciate your style. “You need to study and learn the market. You have to see what else is out there, what you’re competing against.”

The next important step is networking. Through classes, memberships and conference contacts, Allen was able to amass a small network of illustrators throughout the country via the Internet. “I feel we all help each other. I love the kinship. People in the children’s industry are so different than in the commercial end where everybody is biting at each other. If there’s something I can do for someone, I want to help. There’s not a feeling of competition.”

After learning all she could and developing a support base, Allen began putting together promotional material. She started by sending photocopies of 10 or 12 pieces to publishers. Eventually she bought an ad in California Images (a sourcebook), creating a piece called “Tender Morsels” made up of unpublished art she created as samples. Later, after she began landing assignments, Allen created a jacket for the promo piece featuring samples of her published images. “Sourcebooks are definitely worth the expense if you’ve already studied what’s out there. It’s important to know what you’re competing against first.” Allen has also advertised in Directory of Illustration.

illustratingAllen got her first assignment from Guideposts for Kids magazine, and her illustrations appeared in all but one edition of Guideposts in 1997. In just her first year, in addition to Guideposts, she had illustrations published in Highlights for Children, Your Big Backyard, Clubhouse and U*S*Kids. She illustrated A Dollar for Penny, and early reader for Random House, and seven picture books for Harcourt Brace, Stech-Vaughn and Creative Teaching Press (all educational publishers). She has a contract with Price, Stern, Sloan, and has done several covers for Meadowbrook Press for books in their successful Girls to the Rescue and Newfangled Fairy Tales series. Allen landed a rep at an SCBWI conference and she’s had Giclee prints of her work (digital prints on watercolor stock) displayed in several galleries in the U.S.

Though her research paid off with much success, there’s still one area of children’s publishing Allen has yet to penetrate. “I haven’t gotten that trade book [a picture book you’d find in a bookstore] yet,” she says, “I feel really fortunate with what I’ve accomplished, but I’d like to illustrate a trade book.” Rejection, however, does not phase Allen. “That’s part of the game. Not every art director can love your work – you only need to fond one who does.”

Editor’s Note: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a national organization with more than 11,000 members. A bimonthly newsletter, a number of informational publications, a roster of members, and national and regional conferences are some of the services they provide. Contact them for more information:

345 N. Maple Dr.
Suite 296
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 859-9887


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