Unlocking Success in Children's Picture Book Illustration: Key Skills and Qualifications

Becoming a children's picture book illustrator is an incredible journey that demands dedication, perseverance, and a steadfast focus on the end goal. While formal education is not mandatory, it can provide valuable training, guidance, and opportunities to develop your skills. However, the real secret to success lies in crafting a strong portfolio and continuously refining your craft through self-study, workshops, and dedicated practice. 

To help you shine in the publishing industry as a children's picture book illustrator, here is a compilation of essential skills and qualifications that will propel you forward.

  • Proficient artistic skills: A strong foundation in drawing, painting, and illustration techniques is crucial. You should have a good understanding of anatomy, perspective, composition, colour theory, and visual storytelling.
  • Understanding of child development: Familiarity with child development and psychology can help in creating age-appropriate illustrations. Knowing the cognitive and emotional understanding of different age groups is a skill that can help you create relatable and engaging characters.
  • Strong character design: Developing appealing and relatable characters is a crucial skill in picture book illustration. The ability to create age-appropriate, unique and memorable characters that the reader can connect with is highly valued. As an illustrator, you have the ability to breathe life into your characters, giving them traits and emotions that mirror the experiences and struggles, hopes and dreams, fears, and triumphs that children encounter in their own lives. 
  • Visual communication skills: By harnessing the art of visual storytelling, pacing, and composition, illustrators need to be able to create captivating narratives that resonate with young readers and leave a lasting impact. Visual storytelling is the backbone of children's picture book illustration. Through a sequence of well-crafted images, illustrators can build suspense, curiosity, and excitement, keeping the young audience eagerly turning the pages to see what happens next.
  • Collaboration and communication: Children's book illustrators often work closely with authors, editors, and publishers. Strong communication and collaboration skills are necessary to understand and incorporate feedback, meet deadlines, and effectively communicate your artistic vision.
  • Knowledge of the industry: Being in the know about the children's picture book scene is a valuable skill for illustrators. Keeping up with what's trending in the industry, knowing what publishers love, and understanding what young readers want gives you a real edge. You can position your work thoughtfully and create illustrations that meet current demands and expectations.
  • Professionalism and business skills: Building a successful career as a children's book illustrator requires professionalism, self-promotion, and a head for business. Networking, self-marketing, negotiating contracts, and managing client relationships will help you to excel in the industry.

A shout-out to Nichole Wade

In June 2023, Nichole had her very first picture book published! Ella and Star is a testament to Nichole's immense talent and dedication to her picture book dream. 

Ella and Star by Michelle Wanasundera, illustrated by Nichole Wade, published by Little Pink Dog Books). 

I met Nichole during the pilot for my very first Picture Book Illustration e-Course (PBIC). With her passion for storytelling and determination to rediscover her artistic talents, Nichole joined the 8-week program with little illustration experience.

Following PBIC, she dedicated herself to honing her skills and building her portfolio. Her hard work paid off when she showcased her portfolio at the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in New York, leading to her securing her very first picture book contract with an Australian publisher, Little Pink Dog Books. 

“Ella & Star” is a book with a big heart and a few lessons to share, but it’s not overly earnest. It’s playful, relatable, and very colourful with plenty of little treasures to find in the illustrations. Star, for example, might well be a real star – but it might also represent Bonny’s unusual way of seeing the world. The hints are all throughout the book – on fabric patterns, a cereal box, and a dog collar. Stars everywhere! And why wouldn’t they be? We all know they make wishes come true.” – Dr. Lara Cain Gray (click here for the full book review)


Join the waiting list for Nina’s highly anticipated 8-week children's picture book illustration program, commencing on February 2, 2024. Click Here to join the PBIC 2024 waitlist. This course offers a comprehensive workbook, pre-recorded video lessons, live streaming sessions, engaging Q&A sessions, an engaged community of like-minded creatives, and invaluable live feedback on coursework. By the end of the 8-weeks, you will emerge with a well-rounded skillset, a supportive community, and the confidence to pursue a thriving career as a children's picture book illustrator.


Join my free mini-course

As my gift to you, here is my character design mini-course. All I need to know is where to send it. Valued at $20, it is 100% free. No credit card is required. You will also receive Nina news – I love to share, but not too often, not too much, and always in support of your creative journey. And you can unsubscribe at any time.