18 Best Children’s Book Illustration Styles and Mediums

Virtually every children's book requires illustrations. Before you even decide on an illustrator for your book (or, if you are an illustrator, before you decide what book you are going to draw) you need to decide on an illustration style.

What is an illustration style? It is the type of artwork that you will use in your children's book, and there are many types.

Additionally, there are also different types of mediums, used to create art, which can be used in a variety of styles, but all have a flavor of their own.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Why illustration styles are important
  2. The top illustration styles to use
  3. The top illustration mediums to use
  4. How to find a good designer in your chosen style

Let's dive in, shall we?

The Importance of Children's Book Illustrations

When it comes right down to it, there are three basic components of a children's book:

  1. Writing the book
  2. Publishing and marketing the book
  3. Illustrating the book

While all three of these are incredibly important, one could argue that illustration is the single biggest element, as it is the most attention grabbing, it sets the tone for the book, and requires the most amount of work.

That is why it is not only important to have a talented designer, but you also want to know what their unique style is. Depending on the subject and tone of your book, one style might be more appropriate than another.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the best illustration styles in children's books these days.

The Top 10 Illustration Styles

While style is something that changes frequently with every decade, here are 10 unique styles that you will find today.

1. Cartoonish Illustration Style

From Peter Pan, Illustrated by Alejandro Mesa
From Peter Pan, Illustrated by Alejandro Mesa

A cartoon -like style is possibly the most common illustration style, as it is colorful and engaging for children.

This isn't just using bright colors and Disney-like people, but can also involve anthropomorphizing animals with human features, exaggerating reality a little bit, etc.

2. Realistic Illustration Style

From The Undefeated, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
From The Undefeated, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

While there are a few children's books that use photographs, a picture-perfect illustration style is not very common.

However, there are a few illustrators that specialize in a more realistic style, sometimes mixed with a few other styles to create something unique.

The example above is the perfect embodiment of this realistic, yet stylized approach.

3. Wondrous Illustration Styles

From Where Are You Beloved Lions, Illustrated by Marta Koshulinska
From Where Are You Beloved Lions, Illustrated by Marta Koshulinska

Sometimes called fantasy or whimsical illustration, this illustration style tends to lean more on the fantastical and less on reality. It tends to be a lot more fun and dreamy, inspiring the imagination.

4. Line Drawing Illustration Styles

From Baby Shark Coloring Book, from Crayola
From Baby Shark Coloring Book, from Crayola

While not common in most regular children's books, a children's book that doubles as a coloring book almost always has a line-drawn style.

This is a style using only simple lines, with little to no shading, to express the ideas in the book.

5. Sketch Illustration Style

From the Chronicles of Narnia, Illustrated by Pauline Baynes
From the Chronicles of Narnia, Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

Similar but different from line drawings, a sketch drawing is usually a children's book made up of one color (usually black), but adds a little more detail.

These type of sketch drawings were a lot more common in older books, such as Alice in Wonderland, or the Chronicles of Narnia.

6. Abstract Illustration Style

From the Wizard of Oz Illustrated by Goncalo Viana
From the Wizard of Oz Illustrated by Goncalo Viana

Abstract art tends to be a lot more exaggerated and stylized, but in a specific artistic direction.

This is one of the more difficult styles to define, but it is also one that you know when you see it.

7. Stylized and Exaggerated Illustration Style

From Oh the Places You'll Go, Illustrated by Dr. Seuss
From Oh the Places You'll Go, Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Similar but not necessarily the same as abstract art, stylized illustration styles tend to exaggerate real-world features and create aspects of the illustration that are larger-than-life, drawing attention to the focus of the book.

8. Vintage Illustration Styles

From Jamberry, Illustrated by Bruce Degen
From Jamberry, Illustrated by Bruce Degen

Vintage children's books are still highly beloved today, so it is no wonder that older styles of art are still relevant.

Vintage styles tend to be a little bit more subdued, often created with pencil, and evoke a simpler time.

9. Bold and Bright Illustration Styles

From There's a Hole in My Galaxy, Illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
From There's a Hole in My Galaxy, Illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

These bold or bright illustration styles make a statement. They tend to zero in on bright colors, large, powerful characters, and more.

These styles are great for creating a feeling of liveliness and activity.

10. Muted or Subdued Illustration Styles

From the Sad Sad Bunny, Illustrated by Marta E. Rivera
From the Sad Sad Bunny, Illustrated by Marta E. Rivera

In contrast to the bold and bright illustrations, these muted illustrations are perfect for a more serious type of children's book.

Using muted colors and subdued imagery, you can easily create a mournful, emotional atmosphere.

The Top Eight Illustration Mediums

In addition to the different styles, there are different mediums to create children's book art, some of which are so distinct they create styles of their own:

1. Watercolor

From Cat Afraid of the Shadows, Illustrated by Xavier Collete
From Cat Afraid of the Shadows, Illustrated by Xavier Collete

Watercolor is one of the most distinct mediums for illustration, as it almost creates its own style. When I was originally writing this post, I almost put watercolor into the styles section, because it is so unique.

However, watercolor is more of a medium, and it can be combined with other mediums such as pencil and acrylic paints.

It's beautiful subdued and gentle colors are often perfect for children's books.

2. Acrylic

From Sailing the Southern Seas, Illustrated by Maru Godas
From Sailing the Southern Seas, Illustrated by Maru Godas

When creating physical art, acrylic paint is one of the most common ways to design. It is a relatively clean way to paint, doesn't need long to dry, and can create beautiful and vivid imagery.

3. Pencil Art

From Silen Days, Silent Dreams, Illustrated by Allen Say
From Silent Days, Silent Dreams, Illustrated by Allen Say

Believe it or not, the use of black and colored pencils in children's book illustrations is quite common. A lot of older children's books especially, used pencils in a lot of their designs.

Pencils are cheap, they can record a lot of detail, and are a great tool for children's book illustrators in general.

4. Charcoal

From Klokkerens Evangelie, Illustrated by Gaute Heivoll
From Klokkerens Evangelie, Illustrated by Gaute Heivoll

For a beautiful and distinct style, try using charcoal.

Charcoal is great for creating bold shadows and illustrations that pop off the page. Children's books that use a heavy amount of charcoal rarely have much color, but they can still be incredibly striking in their style.

5. Collage

From Up, Illustrated by Ashley Barron
From Up, Illustrated by Ashley Barron

A lot of children's books take a collage approach, where your illustration looks like it has been pieced together from various materials like a scrapbook.

This is another medium that creates a unique-looking style, and is commonly used.

6. Multimedia

From Nobody Loves Me, Illustrated by Liza Tretyakova
From Nobody Loves Me, Illustrated by Liza Tretyakova

Who says that you have to have one medium? There are many books that use a combination of all of these techniques, whether it be digital art and watercolor, watercolor and pencil, charcoal and acrylic, or whatever you want.

7. Digital Painting

From Sulwe, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
From Sulwe, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

For books produced today, digital art is possibly the most common way to create children's book illustrations.

There are multiple types of digital illustration (we'll talk about another one below), but the most common are hand-drawn illustrations using something like a digital tablet.

The best thing about digital painting is that it can be adapted to almost any other type of style, and you can mimic most other mediums as well.

8. Vector Illustrations

From Wonder Tales, Illustrated by David Figueriras
From Wonder Tales, Illustrated by David Figueriras

Vector illustrations are a specific type of digital illustration that typically takes on a flat, 3D look.

Vector illustrations are the type that maintain their resolution no matter how large your file. This means that you can expand the size of your illustration to virtually any size, and it will still have an amazing, crisp edge.

Vector illustrations are most commonly created in Adobe Illustrator.

What Makes a Good Illustration in a Children's Book?

As with all art, the answer to this question is somewhat subjective. However, we believe there are a few attributes that you should try to embody:

  1. They should be visually appealing: you want to create something that will look good on a bookshelf and that will engage the child's mind when they read it.
  2. They should be memorable: there is a reason why the illustrations of Dr. Seuss novels are so iconic today, because they are unique and definitely memorable
  3. The illustrations should tell a story: children's books are not just about art, they are about storytelling. In addition to the actual writing, the images themselves should tell the story. A child should be able to look at the illustrations alone, and have an idea of what is happening.

Where to Find Children's Book Illustrators

In the age of the Internet, most children's book illustrators can be found freelancing online. Some of the best places to find these people include:

Additionally, if you have a children's book that you like, look at the artist. If they have a website, see if they are willing to work with you. You never know what might happen.

You might also find Facebook groups of children's book illustrators or authors, and can get recommendations there.

If you are an illustrator, or have found one who is willing to work with you, be sure to check out our other articles about how to write a children's book, and how to publish a children's book.

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