Tips to Illustrate a Children's Story

Learn the method used by Teresa Martínez to transform text into images in the most efficient way

Illustrating children's books can be a beautiful project but also one that requires a great deal of expertise when choosing the style and elements to use. After all, the goal is to synthesize a whole story into a series of images that capture the imagination of readers, both young and not so young.

To help you start translating words into images, illustrator Teresa Martínez shares with us her typical workflow. She explains the importance of sketches and considers three ways in which an illustration can be related to the text.

Take notes on the text

What is the first thing Teresa does immediately after receiving the text from the editor? She prints it and starts reading, trying to understand what it is about, and taking notes along the process. While reading, the author recommends highlighting all the essential details of the story that have to be reflected in the illustrations.

Turn to simple sketches

The second step Teresa takes is to create all kinds of sketches and doodles, often quite abstract, but already capable of telling her, in some way, what she will end up illustrating.

To do this, the illustrator uses small flashcards in which she sketches the ideas suggested by the text, and then sorts them side by side to see how the story unfolds at a graphic level. Although she prefers to do it with flashcards, she encourages everyone to organize themselves as they like, using other resources if necessary.

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On the left, the finished illustration. On the right, Teresa's previous sketch.

Three ways to illustrate a text

Taking Andersen's classic The Little Mermaid as an example, Teresa Martínez also details the three ways in which the illustration can be related to the text.


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When opening the door...

In the first example, the prince opens the door to his room and finds the Little Mermaid on the floor. The text only tells us that he opens the door. It does not tell us what he sees. It's the illustration that supplies this information, showing us what the prince finds through the image.

This way of illustrating is called complementing. If we only read the text without seeing the image, _ we do not know what is on the other side of the door. The image completes the message.


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When opening the door... The Little Mermaid was still there.

In the second example, the prince finds the Little Mermaid sleeping, as both the text and the image tell us. In this case, it is no longer a picture finishing a sentence, as in the previous example, but enriching the adjacent text, adding visual details to information that is already complete. The illustration makes it richer.


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When opening the door... The Little Mermaid was still there.

Finally, the illustration may directly contradict the text, showing something completely opposite to what it reads. In this case, the prince does not find the Little Mermaid, but a cardboard figure that replaces her.

If you want to learn with Teresa Martínez how to tell stories with illustrations created in Photoshop, follow her course 'Digital Illustration for Children's Stories', where she will teach you how to create attractive digital images for children and young readers.

You may also like:

- Illustration and Creation of a Paper Theater, a course by Elena Odriozola.
- Children's Illustration for Editorial Publications, a course by Pamela Barbieri.
- Illustration and Design of Children's Books, a course by Carlos Higuera.
- Narrative Techniques for Children's Books, a course by Natalia Méndez.


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