Sunday, February 3, 2013

CHILDREN'S PUBLISHING: The Long Journey to Illustrate for Children

This month marks the Four Year Anniversary of this blog and my journey to learn everything I need to know to become a children's illustrator. It hasn't been easy. There have been highs and lows and everything in between. My family has sacrificed a lot. My paid working hours have given way to long unpaid hours at the drawing board and although I've done my best not to affect family time while working intently on my portfolio, I know I have.

Hitting this milestone has made me reflect back, not only on my journey into children's publishing, but on the years leading up to it. After thinking about it all, I'm surprised I continued on, but that's how determined I am. It has been both fantastic and uncomfortable...

After my daughter was born I decided to give up freelance illustration and focus, instead, on her. She was right beside me at 6 weeks old as I illustrated my last book. I had a non-creative part time job to fill in the gaps and continued selling my illustrations as cards and prints.

That was fine for a long time, but then job drama began to suck the creativity out of me. On the side, I had occasional clients, but I missed bigger projects and more than anything, I missed working on books. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'd been thinking about it for a few years and thought illustrating children's books was something I would like to do.

Funny how things happen. I was just comfortable enough not to follow any real dreams and that's right about when my part-time job began to disintegrate. Suddenly I was very uncomfortable. What did I have to lose? In June 2007 I jumped ship to paddle the lonely waters and go back to pursuing a full-time living on the creative side. I had a plan. I set up local art shows, workshop schedules and began looking for clients.

Unfortunately, two weeks after I quit my job, there was a major wildfire in our town that destroyed or damaged over 300 homes and other structures. Several thousand people were evacuated. It devastated our tourism economy along with my big summer art show plans, but a rep approached me, wanting to sell my illustrated cards across California. Design clients also began trickling in and I started to relax a little bit.

But not for long! In October, on the 5 year anniversary of my husband's hire date, he and his coworkers were notified that their department would no longer be needed(!).

Inside I was panicking like nobody's business, but I held more tightly to my paddle and kept going. Clients and opportunities kept coming, but the only illustrating I was doing was for myself. I really wanted to illustrate more books - especially children's - but… I didn't know how to illustrate children's books and that meant I would have to do some really hard work. It would be even more difficult than finding clients. So, I didn't.

But you know, if you want to do something badly enough, even if you don't tell anyone, it has been my experience that someone will come and find you and put those wishes right in your face for you to confront. And that's exactly what happened. I finally had to face the fact that I really wanted to illustrate children's books even if it was going to be hard to start over and learn everything I needed to know. So, in December of 2008, even though it was terrifying, I applied to the Mentor Program with the Nevada Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I was accepted into the Mentor Program which marked the beginning of my dedicated journey into children's publishing and the start of this blog to chronicle and share the process.

Four years of intense study is now finished. This summer I made the decision that I would get back to work bringing in new clients instead of letting them trickle in by themselves while I toiled at the drawing table.

Does this mean I'm no longer working on my children's illustrations? Not on your life. I'm just working differently. My dedication to new clients is in the forefront. Working on my portfolio takes up less time and no longer feels like a second and sometimes third job. This means, I have a life again. My portfolio has a life too, as it circulates through the publishing houses...



  1. Every once in a while looking back at where you've been and where you are going is so valuable. Thanks for sharing, Kristen!

  2. Definitely, so valuable. Thanks for stopping by, Kjersten!