Should I even bother?
I am in my mid 40s. I have always been doing artistic or crafty things. I wanted to do something creative for a living, but got the “you can’t make money” stuff whenever I mentioned it. So I haven’t been officially trained in anything, I’ve just been gleaning information through on-line resources. Right now I am fine at my current job and make okay money. I’ve invested a lot of time in my current career. I still get feedback from my husband that starting from scratch would be hard. I go back and forth about wanting to pursue art as a career. I have always loved books as a child and even wrote some books for kids when I was a kid because I wanted to do that (I stopped when my parents said it wouldn’t be a viable thing to do as a grown up). So my question is, is my art even good enough in your opinion to try to get into children’s book illustration or should I just continue doing it for fun? I am really new to actually doing cartoony stuff, but there are some things on my instagram account @reelynncreates. If I have potential, what do I need to work on the most first to increase my abilities most significantly. I am fine with taking years to get anywhere. I think my biggest problem will be keeping myself motivated and not letting my inner voice say I can’t make it anyway so why try. I feel like I need a mentor, but don’t know how to get one who can help me through this new rough start time (if I even have potential).
Sorry this is such a long post. Thanks for any help and feedback you can give me. I am able to take feedback that may be hard to hear, so please don’t avoid saying something that I need to hear because you are afraid of hurting my feelings.
@reelynn hi! I looked at your Instagram and wow, you are talented! You definitely have the hand. Your paintings are so lovely and it’s clear you know your stuff.
If I were you I would look into creative composition. There’s a great lesson on svs about that.
Because creative composition for storytelling and picture book illustration is something sooo different from what you usually need to know and perform when creating a painting with a simple composition (a single animal for example). I would not fuss over the style or technique, and just focus first on getting the inner structure of a good illustration right. I would also try and copy as much of your favourite picture book illustrators as possible. It might help you to sort out what styles you actually like doing.
Asyas_illos last edited by
@reelynn your realistic paintings are beautiful! You don’t need to have a cartoony style to illustrate children’s books. Just make sure your content is geared towards kids. As far as doing it as a career it might be easier to just start small, try it on the side of what you already do. If it starts going well for you and you are getting work, then it’s never to late to make that transition in my opinion. I’m 34 and I only realized about three years ago that I really wanted to do this, so I’ve been studying and learning and creating as much as I can. Are you taking classes here at svs? I agree with @mag some composition and storytelling classes would benefit you, most of you artworks were characters, and work on building a good portfolio with consistent art.
Melissa_Bailey last edited by Melissa_Bailey
@reelynn hello! I also looked at your Instagram and agree with @mag -- your paintings show real talent. To be completely honest, (in my opinion) your cartoony style is less accomplished. It feels like you're still trying to figure out that style; also, storytelling and composition could be improved.
Is there a reason why you're switching styles for your children's illustrations? Is it because you feel that children's books should be in a specific style? If so, go to the library and spend time looking at a ton of picture books (or check out a bunch of picture books on Overdrive). Especially look at classics, best sellers, and award-winners.
You'll find that children's books are illustrated in all styles and media. To start you on your search, check out books illustrated these award-winning (and best selling) illustrators: Mo Willems, Jon Klassen, Ian Falconer, Dan Santat, Matthew Forsythe, Ryan T. Higgins, Claire Keane, Erin E. Stead, Philip Stead, Kadir Nelson, Eric Rohmann, David Wiesner, Floyd Cooper, the Fan brothers, David Roberts, Jerry Pinkney, Vashti Harrison ... I could keep going but I'll stop there!
(You might be especially interested in Kadir Nelson, Eric Rohmann, Floyd Cooper, and David Wiesner -- they're highly successful and award-winning illustrators with a more realistic style.)
Also ... don't quit your day job! Most illustrators need a secondary (or primary) income, and that's ok! It might take you longer to illustrate a book or to get started, but that's okay too. Give yourself time to learn the ins and outs of illustration and to experiment, get some bad illustrations out of your system, and to see if children's illustration is something you really want to do. SVS Learn and the Three Point Perspective podcast is a great resource to learn about illustration, as is joining an organization like SCBWI.
But to get started, learn about illustration and the picture book format. Read a ton of children's books and pay attention to the visual storytelling. And as Mag suggested, doing a few copy illustrations is a great way to learn structure. And a mentor is a great idea -- you may find a mentor or critique group through this forum or through your local SCBWI regional chapter.
Wow ... I got longwinded too! Hope you find some of these tips helpful. Like Dory says, "Just keep swimming!"
Thank you @mag and @Asyas_illos. I will take the classes you suggest. If I am copying someone’s art I assume I can’t post it, which is fine, I just have a limited time available right now to do art so I worry about whether that would be bad on the social media side of things to never post? I am not savvy on all that really.
@melissa_bailey I guess I changed my style because I’ve always wanted to do the cartoony style. I end up getting lost in the weeds and trying to add too much detail, but it’s something I want to get better at. I will check out the artists you suggested and take some more classes at SVSlearn. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to quit my day job, but it might be fun to earn some money doing creative things. There are so many interests in art that I have that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I want to do. Right now I am just having fun learning.
DoodleMick last edited by
Your Instagram looks like something I might see in a children's book. I am about to retire after putting in 32+ years in the Military and Law Enforcement, and I am ready to put all that behind me and work on something fun, imaginative, and maybe ever a little childish. If it makes me some money, then fine, but at this point in my life, I'm not doing it totally for the money. Just have fun and do what feels right.
My favorite books growing up that I had to buy for my son when he got older were: good night moon, where the wild things are, the giving tree, the little engine that could, where the sidewalk ends, Dr. Suess books, You're not my mother, madeline, The monster at the end of this book
As an adult, I loved reading and looking at : extra yarn, The very hungry caterpillar (and all Eric Carle's books), Crankenstein, I need my monster (I really loved the art in this, it was when I first thought that maybe this could be something I would enjoy doing - that was years ago and I never have started seriously learning about illustration).
@doodlemick Thanks, that's kind of where I am at. I think I always want to make money with my artistic stuff and I am also intimidated with the work it takes to make any money with it. I may only do all this for fun, and that's fine.
reelynn last edited by reelynn
@melissa_bailey oooh, I really LOVE the look of Jerry Pinkney's art. I also really love the art in Harry Potter books.
Melissa_Bailey last edited by Melissa_Bailey
@reelynn Jerry Pinkney is awesome! The Lion and the Mouse … ️️️
Do you mean the original artist? That’s Mary GrandPre — you’ll love her picture book illustrations! Check out Vincent Can’t Sleep.
@melissa_bailey I was reading The All I Ever Want Christmas Doll. It brings up memories of my own childhood - the art and the story. I will have to check out The Lion and The Mouse. I will also check out Vincent Can't Sleep. I love the images in the original AND the color books of Harry Potter. I have all the original books and they have been read multiple times over the years and a couple I took with me on long hikes and got ruined in the rain and such. I am reading the new illustrated books with my son because I need him to love those books as much as I do. I got into the books when I was a reading tutor in special education at an elementary school over 20 years ago. All the kids were trying to read that book even though they really should have been reading kindergarten level books and I became interested in the story and had to read them on my own. So when I read those books there are a lot of memories of my adult life associated with them. Looking up some of the books I used to love brings back so many memories and I am realizing that my very favorite books growing up had more of a realistic look to them, or at least quite semi realistic. Kind of sketchy. There are a few books that I remember the pictures and I LOVED the pictures, but I can't remember the story. Since the books were written before the 70s, I am not even sure when they were written or who published them. I have no way of finding the books so I can see those images again.
cianamacaroni last edited by
Hey Reelyn, I think you definitely have potential and should keep creating, even if it's just for you. Do you listen to the SVSLearn Podcast, "3 Point Perspective"? If not, there's an episode where someone asks a very similar question, and I think Lee, Jake and Will had some great advice. There are also episodes where they give advice about "going pro"/making art for a living, and how to tell if that's the right path for you. I'd give the podcast a listen if you haven't.
At this early stage in your art career, I would say you should just lean into what is fun. I think worrying too much about where you're going and whether you're good enough will kill your excitement and make it all feel impossible. I think you'll actually learn and improve organically if you just follow your interests and joy.
I hope that helps!
@cianamacaroni Yes, that helps a lot. I have a lot of things I enjoy doing and learning. Having to force myself into a mold feels confining right now. I love the idea of illustrating and want to do some illustrating someday of books about mental health for kids (I am a mental health therapist and behavior analyst), but that doesn't have to be all I do. And it doesn't even have to happen at all. I am comfortable with my current job, I enjoy what I am doing most of the time, and I make steady money, which is important for my family right now. I don't want to quit my job, just add to my enjoyment of life.
You have beautiful work! Yes, I think you should bother It would be a tragedy if your picture books never made it to the shelves.
With a clear strategy, it could take you less time than you think to start making income from this. What you need first is a portfolio website with at least 10-12 pieces in a consistent style targeting a specific market. If you create 1 piece per week, you can be done with this in as little as 3 months. Once you have your website, you're ready to start contacting publishers.
I have a free masterclass on YouTube that goes over a strategy to get started in freelance illustration and illustrate each step clearly. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/DsNL7mbn2HU
I think it would give you a good overview of your next steps!
@nessillustration Thank you!
jenn last edited by
@reelynn Your work is lovely (more about that below)! I would like to express solidarity and encouragement, even though I don't have enough experience to tell you all the answers. I am also coming to this later in life, with kids nearing college and a day job that I can't quit anytime soon. I also did not follow an artistic career path in order to ensure a more reliable income, and I don't know if my efforts to improve my craft will lead to publication and a dependable living from making art. I agree, it sure is difficult to keep motivated for something that requires so much creative energy, time and persistence without a clear promise that it will pay off in the economic sense.
To motivate myself, it sometimes helps to impose deadlines and designate a couple hours each weekend to focus on craft. At the same time it is easy to feel discouraged when I miss a deadline or I spend that precious time doing something else for whatever reason. So being self-forgiving and flexible are both very important, as are reflecting on and celebrating progress (especially if our well-meaning, non-artist friends or loved ones just don't get it). The critiques and advice from members in this forum have been insightful and can also help with motivation because they help me figure out real, doable next steps that truly strengthen my work.
And by the way, my opinion about your work is that I don't believe you would be starting from scratch at all!! The work that you posted on Instagram expresses creativity, beautiful watercolor and pastel technique, and attention to detail. Your work definitely has strengths that translate directly to kidlit art. Like others have mentioned, if your goal is kidlit publication, I think your next steps would be to build a consistent set of samples that show characters as part of narratives, with strong composition. Easier said than done, right?? But you have the productivity/creativity part down. Anyway I have gone on for too long, I hope this helps.
@jenn thanks so much! Nice to hear someone else in a similar boat. I appreciate the feedback as well. I love working with traditional materials, and I also recognize it’s not as easy to change things if it’s traditional so I am trying to figure out what I want to do regarding that. I also love the idea of doing digital work. There are just so many things I enjoy. Thanks again for your feedback.
Jeremy Ross last edited by
Hi @reelynn, YES!
Life’s too short!
@reelynn I relate with you a lot. My answer is 1. We’re all getting older anyway. If you want to spend some of that time working at your craft, do it! 2. I don’t consider myself “good enough” yet, but thats not my reason to quit. Its my reason to work at it. If you want to learn French you don’t start by saying, “Well, what do you guys think, I don’t actually know any French yet, should I even attempt it?” There are so many stories of people who weren’t “good enough” to even get into art school, who worked till they were, and are now professionals. You’re always going to have doubts and obstacles, but if thats what you want to do, you just need to find a way around them. I have had teachers tell me I “ wasn’t worth their time”. My spouse also doubted whether my art was going to “go anywhere”. Doesn’t matter. I don’t think he has a career in disc golf either, but I still encourage him to do it because he loves it. 3. You don’t have to go all in or not at all. You can grow your craft a little at a time and see where it goes.
Sorry for the long response.