Illustration for Children Basics

Free Resource

What are the basics you need to know about illustration for children? In this resource we explain the industry, what you’ll need in your portfolio, and briefs, licences and contracts for commissions focused on children.

Illustration for children

There’s a whole range of products, entertainment and services focused on children utilising illustration. There is a large market in animation; games, puzzles and toys are produced with child appealing imagery; events and festivals are staged which will require the right kind of illustration along with books, magazines and lifestyle/health products aimed at children.

Look broadly at where children are engaged and what is being produced to capture their attention, and then create artwork that shows potential clients that your imagery is applicable.. 

What you need in your portfolio

Illustration for children will include human and animal characters, decorative elements, instructional images, fun, scary, cute, sentimental, realistic and stylised images. A large range of illustration styles are commissioned, and you can do research into the various areas to get a sense of where your work might fit.

It’s not essential that your folio will include images of children, although that will clearly be important if you want to depict narratives that include people. Representations of people within your folio artwork should be diverse to reflect modern society and ensure that your work is commissionable for client in different parts of the world.

It will be useful to mock up a few of the images in your portfolio to give art directors context for your work. What would your artwork look like on kid’s yoghurt packaging, T shirts or a puzzle for 5-year-olds? 

For working in the storyboard, keyframe and concept art areas, having knowledge of animation and editing is useful. For backgrounds, an understanding of compositing can be helpful to know what kind of file is required. For character design an understanding of how the character will be made and how animated will help.

Having a look at award winning illustration in areas such as children’s publishing will show you what is being commended in these areas. 


Commissioners of work for children will range from small artisan toy producers to multi-national book publishers, along with design and advertising companies who have been hired by brands. 

Animation companies

If you are focusing on animation work it can be useful to be able to adapt to a range of visual styles for different projects.

Games and toys

Most producers will have a strong idea of what they want to produce and have a good sense of their market. Researching their products will give you a good idea of what styles of illustration they commission


Publishers across fiction, picture books, board books, young adult, non-fiction, comics and educational commission a large amount of illustration – it’s an essential part of their business. They use a wide range of styles, and as all have websites featuring their books, you can research the type of imagery they are commissioning with ease to see if you are a good fit for them.

For educational illustration a portfolio will need to be lively and engaging, with clear samples in a range of formats. Commissioners will be looking for everything from full scenes to very small spots. Figure work will be a huge part of what commissioners look at and ensuring that you have the ability to draw inclusively is very important.

To help find clients AOI produces annually updated Client Directories at a reasonable price, with contacts for advertising and design, publishing and editorial companies.


Publishing briefs may be fairly specific for book covers, or you may be asked to read the manuscript to offer some ideas to the client. For picture books you will be given the text and maybe image direction from the art director. Educational briefs will be more defined and specific with less creative independence for the illustrator. 

Design work will have also have a comprehensive brief. Dimensions and how the work will be applied is crucial to know, along with the file format and how that should be supplied. 

Animation and storyboarding can offer briefs with a certain amount of freedom and control, as the illustrator is often the first person to visualise the idea. Although sometimes the brief is very defined and there are producer style guides to stick to, character bibles to read and a director with a very strict idea of what they want.


Fee will vary across all the various areas of commissioning, and in most areas you’ll be asked to give a quote to the client. Larger clients should have higher budgets.

Your quote will be based on the use of the artwork, the territory it is to be used in and the time period of the licence. The longer the time period and the larger the territory, the more substantial your quote will be.

There is a large range in fees across the publishing industry, and you are likely to initially be offered a fee rather than have to quote. Children’s picture books and heavily illustrated non-fiction books will have an advance fee offered along with royalty payments.

Licences and Contracts

Clients usually offer a contract across all these areas, and it is important that you receive this (and negotiate or agree the terms) before starting work. If the client does not supply a contract then offer your own agreement. AOI members can use the Illustrator to Commissioner Agreement.

Typical licensing periods: 

  • Children’s books are licensed for the period of copyright. This is standard in publishing.
  • 3 to 5 years for packaging for food and products
  • 1 to 3 years for products
  • Branding images will have a range of licensing periods
  • Animation for TV and film is likely to want extensive rights as the producers will be seeking control over the final work 

AOI Members can explore the area of Illustration for Children in more depth in the How To Get Into Illustration for Children publication.

Go here to see the Editorial Illustration Basics

Go here to see the Branding Illustration Basics

AOI Members have access to all Inside Illustration content.

The AOI would like to make resources accessible to all members. If you would like an alternative format please ask.


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