drawing and illustrating children's books

Do children’s books need to be cute? Or are children able to appreciate more sophisticated art?

These questions have been on my mind lately. I have recently turned my creative attention to writing and illustrating children’s books and find myself questioning my abilities to draw in a way that would appeal to children. Most picture books (which is my area of interest) have characters that are cute and cartoony or highly simplified. That is not the style in which I typically draw.

I am currently writing wordless picture books, so the images are crucial to the life of my story. My goal is to work primarily in high contrast black and white (as I currently do in my fine art) with just a splash of one other color. Are children capable of appreciating more complex and detailed work? Or do I need to change my style to “accommodate” the market? I’m not very keen on the latter idea.

Being new to the world of writing and illustrating picture books, I recently joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to help guide me in the right direction. This past weekend, I attended my first seminar and critique (held here in Tucson) which was a great way to meet local peers and get feedback on my manuscript.

For any creative avenue you pursue (fine art, writing, music, etc), I HIGHLY recommend surrounding yourself with a group of professional peers. I’m talking about people who will give you their opinions in an honest and supportive way, not just someone who says “I like it” and puffs up your ego. The quality of your work will benefit greatly and you tend to hold yourself more accountable and be more productive (no room for excuses; your group doesn’t want to hear that you didn’t bring any updated material because there was a Harry Potter marathon on TV).

So, back to the question on hand, what are your thoughts? Do you remember any favorite books from childhood that had more sophisticated artwork? If you’re a parent, do/did your children find more realistic drawings appealing? Or do you think I need to “soften” my style so to speak?


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