Is my style too unsuitable for kids/commercial?

  • Been wondering about this for some time; I alternate between a couple main art styles but I don't feel like what I produce is very suitable for kids' book work. This is generally what my main style looks like
    she is smol.png birthday boy.png
    but sometimes I feel like it's not appealing enough to young children.

    So on the other hand I have a second more cartoony style, like this style test.png
    but I feel like this one could easily come off as being way too commercial.

    I really want to avoid having a commercial art style, and ideally I'd like to be illustrating books for kids ages 5 and up. I've thought about maybe trying illustrations for higher-up age groups, like chapter books for preteens and teens? I really don't know though and I'm not sure at all where my art currently hits in terms of skill and appropriateness. Thoughts would be appreciated 🙂

  • For me, your art looks like it would fit better with a slightly older audience (maybe 11 - 14?). It isn't as much the style for me as it is the subject matter. Your stuff is really well executed but the characters you show here are all too old for a 5-7 year old to relate to easily. The way the text is incorporated in bubbles and the panels make me think more of graphic novels for older kids than picture books. If you want to work in the 5-7 age range i'd suggest trying to develop some pieces with younger characters or less mature looking animal characters.

  • Moderator

    I agree 100% with @StudioLooong . I'm in the same boat--I will probably never do a Picture Book.

    It looks like you're work could work really really well for Middle Grade students (8-12yo), and that opens up types of publications that aren't workable for younger children. Graphic Novels, readers, perhaps even chapter books (6-9yo)--all that is open for opportunity with this particular style.

    All that means is that Picture Books for non-reading young kids may not be your bag, that's all. I heartily suggest investigating those other types of books and Middle Grade genres and perhaps lean into those. That particular market has a lot of opportunity both in the public and educational fields.

  • Pro

    @jwing I've never been sure what "commercial" style art is, even though I've been guilty of using that term too haha... I've been told before that my art looks commercial too, and I've been told it's not well suited for picture books. But I could see it working for children's books, even if publishers and agents couldn't. Sometimes, art directors have the least amount of imagination ever. Unless you show them exactly what they need in exactly the right context, they can't see it. I was eventually able to find a local small publisher give me a picture book gig, and even though it paid like crap it was so worth it. Because after I put that in my portfolio, lo behold suddenly agents and art directors could see my style working for picture books after all. Like others have said, I think your biggest obstacle is that the subject matter of the illustrations you've shared here are too old to suit children. You have to decide whether you want to draw these subject matters and revise your target audience, or if you want to create portfolio pieces with concepts and characters suited for young children. No matter what you decide, remember to create portfolio pieces that put your work firmly into the same context that you want to work. Doing a few fake picture book spreads for instance, with text and all, can really contextualize your work for publishers.

  • Pro SVS OG

    You can stir things whichever way you want, of course, but at the moment this looks way more suitable for midgrade books than for picture books. If you’re interested in that area (which I personally like just as much as picture books), you can think of setting up your portfolio with black and white samples (practically all midgrade interior illustrations are black and white) as well as a couple of covers. A stroll through the midgrade section of your nearest bookstore or a browse on google (with “recent midgrade books” or something like that) and Amazon could give you a good idea of what that type of work looks like.
    Another option could be graphic novel for midgrade. This area is exploding in children publishing right now and my agent has mentioned that practically all editors are looking for illustrators for midgrade GN.

  • SVS OG

    @jwing you may consider an older audience like middle grade or young adult

  • @StudioLooong @Coreyartus That makes sense, I do draw mostly older kids now that I think of it. I'll have to look more into those age group books!

    @NessIllustration Yeah haha, for me I guess "commercial" mainly means art that focuses on using an unoriginal cliche style for appeal and to get its message across, instead of using the artist's personal expression and creativity.
    That all sounds like great advice, thank you so much! 😃

    @smceccarelli @Nyrryl-Cadiz Thank you! I'll have to look into those!

  • Pro

    @jwing It sounds to me, from the self-depreciating language you're using, that you may not like your own style all that much. If that's the case, you can definitely work on it, and experiment to find something you're more comfortable with. You don't have to be stuck with it just because it's "your style". It will continue to evolve and change all throughout your life.

    I went through that exact thing in college. I started out drawing manga in high school and polished my skills with a lot of hard work. When I first started college, I was a strong advocate of the manga style and whenever a professor suggested that I should focus on realism or experiment with other styles, I became very defensive. But as the years went on, I started becoming increasingly uncomfortable with my own style, especially as I looked at all the other animation students who had such unique, personal styles. I spent a solid year just hating my style, but not knowing how to change it, where to start, or if it was even possible. Then I started a character design class with a wonderful teacher, and the assignments were to pick animated shows or movies of different styles and analyze the style, identify its main features and then try to copy it as closely as possible as we created a fan character for this show/movie. Not only was this really fun to do, it allowed me to try different things. I had a lot of fun with the dynamic shapes and fluid lines of Kim Possible. I felt a bit restrained and uncomfortable in the realistic style of The Mysterious Cities of Gold. And finally I was surprised when I had the most fun with the style furthest away from my own, the very flat, graphic design-y style of The Secret of Kells. It's a style that prioritizes design over realism, and allows you to bend any rules to get a good character design. I was shocked this was what I responded the best to! Over the next couple years as I finished my diploma, I experimented more with that kind of style. It took me a while to find something that truly feels like me, that I can feel proud of comfortable with. Of course, it's still evolving even today. But it's miles away from the manga style I started with.

    If the only thing you can find to say about your own style is that it's an "unoriginal cliche style for appeal and to get its message across rather than a true representation of my personal expression and creativity" then maybe it's time for you to try something new 🙂 Good luck hun!

  • SVS OG

    @jwing I think I’m echoing what other people have said, but 1. There is a place for your style. There are lots of people who publish illustrated novels for older kids. Look at Tony Diterlizzy, Armand Baltazar... There’s also the whole graphic novel scene too. If you like the style you have, you are definitely not limited to trying to find work in the children’s picture book arena. 2. If you don’t like your style, or are even just unsure about it, I highly recommend the “How to discover your style” class by @Lee-White
    He has an approach to style that actually makes sense. And there is an action plan with steps to develop your specific style. It’s not the idea that if you just draw a lot, your style will emerge. I found it really helpful.

  • @NessIllustration Thank you so much! 🙂

Log in to reply