Back in the mid eighties I had put together a portfolio of art suited for children’s books. I did not have stories of my own, but I depicted scenes from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little red Riding Hood and other well known tales. My work showed a lot of variety- from painstakingly cross-hatched pen and ink renderings à la Maurice Sendak to rich, detailed watercolors à la Trina Schart Hyman, along with some gouache, colored pencil and collage attempts.
I matted each of my pieces- many of which were quite large- and I stuffed them into a huge portfolio case. Then I put on my Sunday best, hopped on a bus to New York City and dreamed of life as a children’s book illustrator.
Heading to a major publishing house, I strutted with pride and purpose. The weight of my oversized portfolio could not wear me down. I was absolutely buoyant.
Back then, the protocol was to drop off a portfolio early on in the day and pick it up in the late afternoon. I would spend the day in art museums, getting even more inspired.
At the end of the day, I would rush back to the publishing house, pick up my portfolio, peek inside to find a small, standard rejection slip, indicating that my work was not suited for their lists.
And I would walk out of the large office feeling very small indeed.
Rejection hurts. Rejection demoralizes. But rejection is part of the process. It doesn’t necessarily mean the work is inferior. Many famous illustrators and writers have been rejected. If Dr. Seuss, after 29 rejections, had not run into a friend/editor who believed in him, who knows if he would have had the confidence to pursue his publishing career? And what a waste that would have been!
I think my biggest problem was that my art samples were all over the place. In my attempt to show that I could work in a variety of media, I came off as inconsistent. I had many different images, but no series showing the same characters in different scenes and poses.
My best advice to illustrators starting out is to showcase what you do best. Pick the media and style that is your strongest. Then draw/paint/make collage/whatever you do…and show a series of illustrations, i.e. pages in a book. Publishers want to see consistency- that you can make the character and setting look the same from page to page, and that you bring the scenes to life with variety and interest.
It took me about five years to get published , during which time I also began writing my own stories. In those five years I continued to study children’s books, to draw and paint, to take art classes and to attend writers and illustrators workshops.
I also looked for any free-lance illustration job I could find- from a newspaper ad sketch of a pizza man for a local Italian restaurant to nature scenes on brochures for a local resort. They were not the children’s book illustrations I so dreamed of doing, but they did help to build personality in my work, and eventually led to my publication.
The point is I put myself out there.
And so should you! Good luck!
If you have any questions about illustrating (or writing) children’s books, please don’t hesitate to ask