How To Find a Book Illustrator

How To Find a Book Illustrator

You’re probably familiar with the old phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This saying is especially relevant when talking about book illustrations.

Book illustrations play an important role in evoking emotions in the reader. By helping readers envision the story’s characters, environment, and mood, they enrich the reading experience and make it more enjoyable.

While fully illustrated children’s books are considered a norm, illustrations are just as valuable for adults. Apart from adding to the aesthetic value of the book, graphics can allow you to reduce the amount of text on a page while still getting the message across. They’re also great at conveying concepts that are difficult to explain in words. Rather than spending two pages describing what an alien in a sci-fi novel looks like, you can write a short description and supplement it with a detailed illustration.

Creating illustrations is a nuanced process; apart from being visually appealing, they must match the tone and genre of the book. Unless you’re an experienced artist, you should outsource the illustration process to a professional designer who can bring your vision to life.

This article outlines steps for finding the right book illustrator as a self-publishing author.

  1. Sketch your vision
  2. Choose an illustration style
  3. Consider the dimensions of your book
  4. Set a budget
  5. Write a concrete plan
  6. Find an illustrator with the perfect touch

1. Sketch your vision

As the author, no one understands the book better than you. You should finish the book manuscript and have a clear vision of the kind of artwork you’re looking for before searching for a book illustrator.

Without worrying about having the perfect technique, use paper or a computer to make a rough sketch of what you’re imagining. This could be a specific design element that appears through the book or what you envision your main character to look like.

You can also take this time to shortlist the colors you would like highlighted in your book. Blue and green are usually linked with nature, indicating the book will be a calming and peaceful read. Red signifies either a love story or a dangerous and aggressive plotline.

Visit a local library or bookstore for ideas if you’re unsure about the kind of illustrations you want in your book. When looking for inspiration, you don’t have to stick to books from your genre or writing niche. Childhood pictures from an artist’s biography might help you define what your protagonist's school should look like, while a striking painting from an interior design book can provide your book’s color palette.

You can find ideas online too. Amazon is a good source for published books and often has previews of the inside pages. Pinterest has thousands of artworks; search different design keywords to see what appeals to you. You can also browse design websites, social media platforms, photography collections, or art catalogs until you find the right aesthetic for your book.

Creating a mood board of visual inspiration will help your book illustrator understand your design choices and the output you expect from them. Create a clear brief, so the illustrator will have a strong foundation.

2. Choose an illustration style

It’s essential to think about the illustrations from the readers' perspective; they must be specific to the theme and capture your target audience’s attention.

An illustration is a versatile art form; choose from various styles for your printed book, such as block, scientific, realistic, comic book, or spot illustration.

If your book has a single clear theme and subtle plotlines, you can opt for minimalist illustrations. Minimalist illustrations are neat, clear, and consist of uncomplicated graphics. They supplement the written text without taking the attention away from it.

These types of illustrations also work well for scientific or educational books.

Choose an illustration style 1

Choose an illustration style 2

If your book has a complicated and dense plotline you’d like to reflect in the artwork, opt for bold and eye-catching illustrations. You may choose bright colors, overpowering design elements, and a distorted arrangement of visual patterns. Books like these draw in readers who prefer a complex storyline and drive them to make the purchase.

Choose an illustration style 3

Choose an illustration style 4

Fantasy illustrations are inspired by mythological and supernatural characters. They are often intricate, moody, and enchanting and are well-suited for science fiction, legends, and fables. This kind of illustration seeks to help readers visualize an imaginary world, requiring immense attention to detail.

Choose an illustration style 5

Choose an illustration style 6

If your book reminisces the past or has a plotline that dates back to a particular era, you can opt for retro or classic illustrations. This genre’s aesthetic will depend on which period you refer to and should include appropriate motifs and colors to transport your readers to a bygone era.

Choose an illustration style 7

Choose an illustration style 8

Slotting children’s books into particular genres isn’t always possible, but you can look for an illustration style that matches the story's tone. An adventure storybook for younger children can opt for a bold, vibrant style with large graphics. On the other hand, a children’s book illustrator may choose soft watercolor motifs for a contemplative tale about feelings.

Choose an illustration style 9

Choose an illustration style 10

If you’re looking for a cover design from a specific genre (sci-fi, crime, etc.), look for a professional illustrator with experience in that area. They should be able to balance what your readers expect and the unique art style that will make your book stand out.

3. Consider the dimensions of your book

The size of your book depends on your target audience and genre. It also influences many technical factors, like how the manuscript goes for typesetting or how many illustrations it requires.

Books of different sizes provide differing reading experiences. Consider the target audience for your book before finalizing a size. For instance, an illustrated book for ages 0 to 3 should be larger to appeal to the intended readers.

Cost is an essential factor, but so is the presentation of your book. If you have more pages, the spine will be bulkier. In such a scenario, you should have a design plan for the book spine. The margins also impact the size of the book and the number of words you can fit onto a page; typically, wider margins are considered aesthetically pleasing and make the book more inviting to readers.

Here are some standard book sizes categorized by genre.

  • Fiction. Fiction books come in various sizes, such as 4.25 inches by 6.87 inches, 5 inches by 8 inches, 5.25 inches by 8 inches, 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches, and 6 inches by 9 inches. The latter is a popular choice for romance, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery books.
  • Novella. Novellas are mini-novels with a word count of under 40,000 words. A suitable size for these books is 5 inches by 8 inches.
  • Children's books. Typically, children’s books come in one of three sizes: 7.5 inches by 7.5 inches, 7 inches by 10 inches, and 10 inches by 8 inches. The large format makes them easier for children to handle and highlights the illustrations in picture books.
  • Textbooks. Textbooks come in three standard sizes: 6 inches by 9 inches, 7 inches by 10 inches, and 8.5 inches by 11 inches. These sizes are chosen because they are durable and long-lasting.
  • Nonfiction. Nonfiction books, such as historical writings and memoirs, are usually found in 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches, 6 inches by 9 inches, or 7 inches by 10 inches.
  • Photography. These books tend to be quite big since they aren’t generally placed on a shelf. They’re used to display full-page illustrations, classic artwork, or photos and can be 8.5 inches by 11 inches or larger.

4. Set a budget

Once you have a vision and illustration style in place, it’s time to consider the cost. Illustration is a critical aspect of book publishing, and you need to allocate a suitable budget for it. Shabby artwork, unclear design elements, and unappealing colors can dissuade readers from buying a book, even if they find the premise promising.

Your illustration budget can vary depending on factors like:

  • The number of illustrations you need
  • The illustration detail
  • The illustrator’s years of experience
  • Your project timeline

If you’re unsure where to find an illustrator, you can start with Upwork’s Project Catalog™. It features hundreds of talented independent illustrators spanning a variety of styles.

Project Catalog allows you to refine your search based on your requirements. You can browse projects by price, with options for single illustrations ranging from under $15, $15 to $50, and over $50.

You can narrow your search through your required delivery time, how experienced the talent is, and their level of English proficiency. Moreover, you can shortlist candidates based on specific illustration designs or skills (e.g., if you need illustrations for a children’s picture book).

Reading a professional’s reviews on their profile is a great way to identify if they’re the right match for you. The feedback from other clients tells you a lot about the illustrator's work, professionalism, punctuality, and creativity. Don’t forget to go through their online portfolios before making a decision.

5. Write a concrete plan

It’s important to provide a clear brief when approaching a book illustrator. Write down your expectations and ideas for the book design and share them with the illustrator to ensure you’re on the same page. This prevents any miscommunication at a later stage and reduces delays.

Here are a few points you should be clear on before approaching an illustrator:

  • The number of revisions you’d like the illustrator to make (Is the illustrator obligated to make massive changes to the first draft of the illustration?)
  • The color palette for the book cover
  • Desired design elements
  • The copyright options for the artwork (e.g., will the illustrations become the book author’s property upon completion of the project, and can the illustrator use them on their website or portfolio?)
  • The typography for the title
  • What will be the main focus of the design?
  • The file format in which the illustrator should send the completed project
  • The project delivery turnaround
  • Are you ready to pay extra to complete the project in a short time frame?
  • The number of options needed for the illustration style
  • The resolution of the final files
  • Will the illustrator only work on individual design elements or provide a background?
  • What are the dimensions of the book?
  • What is the upper limit of your illustration budget?

Projects on Project Catalog clearly state the deliverables, delivery timeline, number of revisions, and terms for commercial use. Here’s an example.

Set budget

However, you should always be upfront and clarify any point you’re unsure about before starting the project.

6. Find an illustrator with the perfect touch

Unique and memorable illustrations can be the make-or-break factor in your book’s success. Eye-catching illustrations create a more enjoyable experience for your readers and can translate into increased book sales and revenue. It’s essential to spend time and effort searching for an illustrator who understands your vision and has the creativity and talent to execute it.

Online hiring platforms like Upwork are great places to find independent talent to illustrate your book. Upwork’s vast network connects businesses with expert freelancers worldwide, giving you access to a massive talent pool.

Upwork’s Project Catalog is a convenient way to find the right illustrator for your book project. With Project Catalog, you can browse through listings where the scope of work is mentioned, prices are decided in advance, and the delivery timelines are transparent.

Searching by talent ranking is another helpful feature of Project Catalog. If your illustrations require complex design elements, you may want to go for a Top-Rated Plus professional with the highest ratings and more experience. You can also save all the projects you like while browsing and revisit them before finalizing your choice of freelancer.

Hire a professional illustrator from Upwork to take your book to the next level.

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How To Find a Book Illustrator
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large Fortune 100 enterprises, with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and freelancers to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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