Illustrator Advice for Picture Book Artists

Illustrator Advice, Pointers and Tips for Children’s book artists from Michelle Bayuk

Picture of Illustrater advice girl Michelle Bayuk of Albert WhitmanMichelle Bayuk (Director of Marketing for Albert Whitman & Company) agreed to give us a few insights. Illustrator advice, if you will. Like advice for picture book Artist/illustrators and authors. She is NOT an editor but she publishing and specifically marketing in this crazy world of children’s books. Albert Whitman has been very good to their authors and Illustrators.  Will Terry has loved working with them over the years. He has illustrated a lot of children’s picture books with them. They have quite a track record from their early beginnings in 1919 they’ve seen their fair share of successes including the very popular “Box Car Children” series (which my mom read to me as a child and I read to my children as a mom, I mean dad).

Before coming to A.W. she served as the Marketing Director for the Children’s Book Council as well as marketing and publicity positions at several other children’s book publishers, including Millbrook Press and Scholastic.

To make money as an illustrator, Be ready to promote. 

Authors and artists forget that it is a business and they are the lead spokesperson. And yes, you are creating art, but in the end, you need people to buy it. So here is some more Free illustrator advice, Do tell people about your picture book, even if it seems awkward. Have your publishers information handy. Have your author visit information handy. Always have a business card with you. Of course, you shouldn’t become that person who can only talk about their book, but there is a happy medium. Most people you meet would love to know. Oh, and don’t get too caught up in reviews and Amazon comments.

You need to spend time on social media…BUT!

With so many social arenas open for self promotion, you have to find the best ways to promote and sell your own brand and identity. First of all, you do have to spend time preaching to the choir – especially when it’s a big choir. If you’re a new author or illustrator, the best place to build a fan base is with people who are already fans of your genre.
Don’t be afraid to use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and other social media, promotion that artists don’t use as effectively as they could or should. If you’re established, your fan base needs to know when you have a new book. So, yes, you need to spend time on social media…BUT! You don’t have to do all of them and you shouldn’t be spending hours a day. After all, you do need to work on your next book. My suggestion is to start with one and see how it goes. All the various media have their own personalities and so do you. Find the one (or ones) that fits.

Authors and illustrators need to be out there.

You are the best spokesperson for you work…period. No matter how good a publicist is, they will never know your work better than you do. This used to be done through media tours and answering fan mail. Now, you can stay home more…but you still need to accept speaking engagements and go to conferences and other book events. You need to be part of the community, whether it’s online or in person.

The Ability to tell a story with your illustrations is key

If there is a single most marketable aspect of an illustrator’s portfolio, I’d say it is the ability to tell the story with your pictures. I know that character design, style, color and quality all work together, but is there ONE thing that floats to the top?

I know it sounds simple, but the ability to tell a story with your pictures. The best picture books have stories in both the words and the pictures. The illustrations are not necessarily literal interpretations of the text. If you haven’t already, go to the library and/or bookstore (preferably several and often) and take down 20 picture books. Sort them into piles of “doesn’t work” “almost works” “works” and “really works.” You’ll find a very diverse group of styles in each pile. Your job is to emulate the magic that makes the “really works” really work.

As for what I need as a marketer – a great book with eye-catching illustrations. And then, speed. Publishers like illustrators that meet deadlines.

Should you get an Agent?

Maybe, big maybe. Agents make life easier. It’s not always necessary, but it allows you to spend more of your time on the books, less on the paperwork. If you don’t have an agent, definitely have any and all contracts looked at by a lawyer that specializes in entertainment/publishing. You need to understand what you’re agreeing to and what you’ll get in return.

The majic of that Perfect Children’s Book, is hard to capture

My dream picture book, from a marketing perspective, has amazing illustration and text, and kids demand that it be read again and again—not very specific, am I? I think those perfect picture books are few and far between because magic is hard to capture. Artists should concentrate on finding and following a vision.

The easiest picture books to market…

– a new picture book by a New York Times bestselling illustrator or author! Other than author or illustrator name recognition, books with good hooks can be easier – back to school, holiday, cancer, bullying, etc. But there’s a big caveat, it still needs to be a good book and just because the topic is hot today, doesn’t mean it will be hot when the book is ready.

Marketing to the art director, the editorial staff or what?

Illustrators often send post cards quarterly or so to clients that they’ve worked with or would like to work with. But should they send them to editors or art directors? Does the editorial staff or the art director choose the illustrator for a project or is it more of a collaboration? It’s definitely more of a collaboration. Our art director here at Albert Whitman did a blog post that might help with this, you can find here

 Thanks and have a great day.

Tips for New Illustrators & Illustration Students – Part 1

Tips for Up and Coming Illustrators and those still in school, Part 1

art student

I put together what I have for up and coming illustrators, and those that are still in school.

This is the advice I would want to hear if I were planning a long career in illustration. Now besides working here at Folio Academy, I also teach Illustration in Utah at UVU, and this is stuff I have been teaching to my students.

A few things every illustration student should know.

Now this is only part 1, so I plan on touching on a few things that hopefully I will be able to go over in more depth, while still being able to stay focused. What I want to touch on and go into later is

“Saying goodbye to the word Maybe.”

Getting started doing what you love.

The way things were and how they are now.

And is there enough room for all these different artists to make a living?

Getting started as an Artist, and doing what you love.

When getting started if you’re like me you wanted to make a living by doing something that you enjoy. What I wanted to do was to draw and paint.  I wanted to paint for a living. Basically what I wanted was make money doing what I love to do.

 The way things were

In the past you had to go through a middle man so you needed to find a person with money to get your illustrations out there to the market place.  Either for products, or services, you needed executives, or publishers, you needed to get to the people in charge of hiring artists.


If you were an animator, illustrator, musician, filmmaker, an author, if you were an artist you needed someone to pick you, to choose you in order for your stuff to get published, for your voice to be heard.


This has been going on for a long time, from the days of Caravaggio all the way to Dr. Seuss.  Caravaggio needed “the Church”, he needed rich people there to pay him. He needed to impress them enough so that they could say ‘Yes we will hire you to paint this or that painting’. All the way up to Dr Seuss, who had to impress a publisher, to be able to get his message, his stories told.


When it comes to traditional Publishing there have been two groups of artists, those who have been told Yes, and those told Maybe, (sometimes even a flat out No)  and the group that has been told Yes is small group.

Is there enough room for all these different artists to make a living?

What about everybody else? Is there room for everyone else, or even just a lot of people? To be picked, to be chosen, to be hired, to be utilized as an illustrator? I will have to go into that more later, because I want to cover so much, such as a little more about publishers.


Publishers are limited to how many books they can publish every year. In fact most publishers have a list of a number of books they are willing to publish in a year.


I have even heard from Editors that there are times when they almost cry inside because they have to turn down a book they would like to publish but all the slots are filled on their list for that year.  And some of those books do get chosen by another publisher, because they are so good, but sometimes that can take a year, or two and sometimes more, and quite frankly, many of them never get published.


Then we get to 2008 when the economy begins to go south, and the economy starts to really suffer. At the same time we’ve had Digital Media taking off. There are Story apps and digital eBooks. With that explosion the digital media started competing with printed books.


facebook logo 02Since the internet has exposed many more talented authors and illustrators with sites like Pinterest, Deviant Art, Illustration Friday, Blogs ect. artists are learning from each other and online.  Online education has been getting better and cheaper. Sites like Lynda dot com, New-Masters academy, Folio Academy (that’s us) SVS, (school of visual storytellers) the Lamppost Guild, by Corey Godby and Justin Gerard.  All kinds of online schools, easy access, online ways to learn and ways to improve your education, it’s getting cheaper and easier to obtain.  And you can have inexpensive access to some of the best instructors in the world.

Learning online vs at University

Now I do want to put a disclaimer here, I work for a University so I am definitely not saying that learning online is better than learning at a University. There are advantages to both, and here are some of the differences between learning online compared to a University: Financial aid, and long term exposure to your intended field can both be extremely beneficial. The opportunity to learn from other students, and networking. Responsibility from homework and other projects. A lot of the time online gives the information but no call to action, no accountability.  There are many benefits to study at a university if you can.

The Amount of talent is skyrocketing, and the internet has made it possible to hire people all over the world.  I used to think there was a lot of talent ten or twenty years ago.  Back when everyone had a workbook that was a couple inches thick.  Now you go on a site like Deviant Art, or Pinterest or Blogs, and it’s amazing how much talent is out there.  If you can see it, and if I can see it then Art directors are seeing it. And now they have access to hire so many more people than they used to.  This is giving people all over the world with different back grounds and educations the opportunity to illustrate for a living.

Say goodbye to Maybe 

So I’ve been told yes, I was chosen and it has been very nice.  I have enjoyed the benefits and the recognition, the speaking engagements, money, and of course the opportunity for more work. Because of that some people may ask why, if I’ve been picked, and accepted into the publishing world, why I would come back and talk about all this? The reason is because I feel like one of my callings is to be a teacher and I feel very strongly about truth in education. I don’t like it when a student is given half-truths or outdated information, especially at a university where students are paying top dollar for their education.


During your life you have been told ‘Maybe’, a lot of people have been told maybe.  Maybe you can be published, maybe you can be hired, maybe you’ll be good enough someday, maybe you can do this.  My kids say that maybe just means no. I don’t like to tell my kids no, I like to say YES. . . Yes if. . .

What I want to say is that in the past ten years you have been told yes, you just may not have heard it.  You may be afraid of the word yes, you may be afraid of the opportunities available to you.  You may not like the conditions that come with the word Yes.

My friend can colleague, Wayne Andreason says that yes is his favorite word.

I’ll talk more about that next time. For now just say goodbye to the word maybe.






I must think so or this would be a really short post right?

First let me just say that I’m like a lot of you – “NOT ANOTHER SOCIAL MEDIA SITE!!!” I know I know – but trust me – Pinterest is worth it…and you can get in and out quickly!

I will show you how to find out what people think of your work.

For starters lets deal with that title – what if I told you that there is a way to see how your art stacks up against your competition? What if you could be that fly on the wall in the office of an editor, art director, agent, or fellow artist? What if you could know what people really think of your work? I’ll show you a very simple way to use Pinterest to do just this.

1. Make your own Pinterest account

BUT do it by logging in from Facebook or choose the setting so that every time you make a “PIN” it updates facebook.
Why? So people see your pins, visit your board, and re’pin your pins.

2. Type a Key word in the “search bar”.

In the “search” bar at the top of the Pinterest page after you’re logged in – type in something like “illustration” or “Children’s illustration” or “characters” and hit enter.

3. Click on “boards”

4. Click on a piece of art that interests you.

You might want to scroll a little – pick a goody! Ok – now pick five images to “re-pin” AND – pin them to your illustration board.  (I figured all this stuff out so if I can do it a snail can do it – I mean a snail with a high school educations. Sorry snails :( …make sure you REALLY like the images you’re re-pinning. These need to be images that you really admire and perhaps wish you’d created so be picky!  Also – if you don’t pin really good stuff people will ignore your board and that will kill this whole experiment.

5. pin one of your own images.

Now pin one of your own images and then throughout the next year or so, repeat this ratio – a handful of other artist’s images to one of your own.  I suggest you pin from your website or blog so that if people click on them they come back to your portal – but that’s not what this post is about. (You should still do it for marketing reasons.) There’s a way to download some thing-a-ma-jig to your browser so you can “pin” from any site – I don’t remember how I got it to work, you could ask a snail. I think I googled “how to pin with Pinterest” or something like that. I need one of those snails to do that stuff for me.

6. Below is a look at my illustration board on Pinterest. If you go there or zoom in, you can see how many times each image was “re-pinned”, or not re-pinned. – and here in lies the magic! You get to see how many votes or “pins” each image gets including your own. In a way people are casting their votes in an impartial way – self serving! They see something they like and they re-pin it for themselves. This is more valuable than a critique from friends in some ways because it’s a rather large sample size and it’s honest. The people pinning don’t really know or care that you’re looking at the data this way -they’re just grabbing images for future consumption on their own boards.

link to Will Terry's Pinterest boards

So how can Pinterest help you improve your art? You can learn a lot by seeing what people like and don’t like. If you’re work isn’t getting re-pinned as much as the other work you pin you have some work to do – but not in the blind – because you can see exactly what images people respond to the most. You might want to make a list of the things the popular images have in common – then compare to your work. However, this could also be a little dangerous if you follow it too closely and copy what is getting votes – you could become a follower- you still have to innovate but in order to create great art you have to consume great art!

Pinterest is in my opinion a very valuable tool for inspiration, strategy, and marketing – I’m starting to get emails and messages from customers who are finding me on Pinterest – and I hear it’s the fastest growing social network! so get pinning!