Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 10, 2020

What’s an Illustrator’s Voice? By Dr. Mira Reisberg

What’s an Illustrator’s Voice? By Dr. Mira Reisberg

The Children’s Book Academy ( is deep into preparation for the upcoming amazing Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books (–business-of-illustrating-childrens-books.html) interactive e-course  And that’s started the creative wheels turning about what makes a great kid’s picture book in terms of illustration. With writing, we often use the term “voice” to refer to the often identifiable way in which a writer writes (e.g. dry, ironic, funny, emotional, dramatic etc.) and when we apply this same concept to illustration, style is the concept that keeps coming up. Style is the illustrating counterpoint to writer’s voice: it is what makes the work distinctive and marketable.  

Illustration style can employ a wide range of techniques, including drawing, painting, photography, stamping, printmaking, collage, montage, digital design, multimedia, 3D modelling, or anything else that makes your little creative heart beat faster.  Another way to think about style is that illustrations may be expressive, loose, modern, vintage, realistic or highly technical.

Style is how you choose to illustrate your manuscript. It can include the materials you choose to use and whether you make it realistic or highly stylized or even super funky like Lauren Child (below).

Some people have a really consistent style in that you look at the book or art and you know that it’s them instantly (think of famous artists like Monet, that are instantly recognizable). For example, in the picture book world, Jon Klassen tends to use a moody muted palette with robust forms and a very distinctive look especially in books like Where’s My Hat and I Want My Hat Back

Former student Yuyi Morales used to always use multiple acrylic layering techniques but then she moved to 3D work with books like Viva Frida and My Abuelita, and then more digital art in Niño Wrestles the World and Rudas, Niños Horrendous Hermanitas.  And then there’s the exquisite Dreamers, which like Thunderboy Jr., combines painting and digital art to create something extraordinary. All of these books have layers of both art and meaning and, although each book or series is very different, Yuyi has a style that is uniquely her own. It could be said that all art is self portraiture in that it contains aspects of ourselves in it and this is especially true in Yuyi’s work.

Pay attention to the ways that illustrators illustrate noses or faces or use color or pattern or texture. Former student Sandie Sonke uses a wonderful bright palette of lights and darks in her Procreate-based work, which is instantly identifiable by its palette, patterns, textures, and robust forms created with thick gouache-like Procreate brushes. Sandie illustrated Melissa Stoller’s Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and is illustrating its sequel The Return of the Magic Paintbrush. We loved Sandie and her work so much, we ended up hiring her to co-create a Procreate course that’s currently free with the illustration course or which can be purchased separately by clicking here! 

Now, other people like Paul Zelinksy or former CBA students Chantelle and Burgen Thorne like to reinvent the wheel and do things differently for each book. But the thing is, generally, the illustrators who make it big in the industry have one consistent style that is pretty unique and identifiable to them, although Paul constantly proves us totally wrong.

Here are some examples of Chantelle and Burgen’s work:

Like Paul Zelinski, Chantelle and Burgen are illustrators who like to experiment and vary their style. While all of these images demonstrate incredible talent, I was thrilled with how they illustrated The Real Farmer in the Dell, which is very texture driven with a more retro palette. Their latest book that we are working on is totally different and equally thrilling.

For illustrators, or those brave enough to play with art, try doing some Todd Parr or Lucy Cousins-like illustrations that are super simple with thick black outlines or working in a style that is very different than what you might normally do

Below are some examples of author/illustrator Todd Parr’s many, many books followed by Lucy Cousins’ many, many books. Although the way they illustrate is very different, their use of bright high contrasting colors and thick black outlines shows a stylistic kinship. The other benefit of working this way is it is much easier for young eyes, which are still developing, to recognize the shapes. Plus it’s super fun.

Something else that’s fun to do is draw a cat or person without taking your pen or pencil off the page and see what happens. If you are already making art,  see if you can identify a style that you enjoy using and if you want to amplify or simplify that style or try something completely different.

If you are someone who is curious, loves to learn, and is open to trying new things that might just reap wonderful rewards, visit the Children’s Book Academy ( Open yourself up to a whole world of wonderful with direct interaction with art directors, editors and agents, extraordinary submission opportunities, and so much more with one of our interactive courses!!  

Our Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books (–business-of-illustrating-childrens-books.html) is a great place to start making art or up your game if you are a professional. It’s a Highly Interactive, Proven Track-Record e-Course & Talent Search Designed to Fit Any Schedule. I don’t want to brag, but so  many of our students return to courses again and again because the content is multi-layered, the individual attention is formidable, and the schedule is flexible. We also love to provide a whole bunch of great bonuses and bring in tons of fantastic submission opportunities to help our students succeed. For more information visit 


Now you might be wondering, how do I find my own illustrator’s voice. Well the answer is easy. It’s usually about working in a way that makes you feel good about what you are doing. If you don’t have fantastic drawing chops, go the super-stylized fun and funky simple shapes with either collage like Lauren Childs and G. Brian Karas, both of whose work I love or the simple shapes with thick black outlines like Todd Parr and Lucy Cousins. You don’t have to draw like Michaelangelo anymore, you just need spirit, or soul, or humor in your work while learning how color and the elements and principles of art. In our last illustration course, using Procreate was a total game changer for so many of our students who developed a specific illustrator’s voice in how they used this incredibly flexible and forgiving tool. But the big thing is to just go for it and play, experiment, have fun with it, and watch how your own style or voice emerges.

Bio: Mira Reisberg has worn just about every hat in the industry: award-winning author/illustrator, agent, kidlit university professor, editor and art director, and fearless director of the Children’s Book Academy. Her students have published over 500 books and won every major North American award. She is obsessed with making, reading, and helping others make wonderful children’s books. Mira lives in Portland, Oregon with her handsome husband Guy and two quirky cats.

Talk tomorrow,


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