Book Illustrator

The role, salary, software and skills of a book illustrator in the publishing industry

Mentor work by Eric Wilkerson

What does a book illustrator do?

Book illustrators work to a brief from a publisher or author to create images that accompany a story or text. Depicting characters and worlds based on descriptions, a book illustrator must think in terms of visual storytelling and forge a creative connection with the author. This role can be separate from a book cover illustrator, which is often a job on its own.

The input for a book illustrator can be minimal, in the case of educational materials that require graphs and charts, or a major part of the work in the case of children's books or graphic novels. 

Invariably Book Illustrators will train as digital artists as book production is computerized. In the case of illustrations being created with physical materials such as crayons or watercolors, the artwork must always be scanned as digital files and finished using software.

Book illustrator job description

The role of the Book Illustrator is to work alongside the author to create the artwork that will accompany the book. Most illustrators work as freelancers and pitch for projects. A well-known illustrator may be commissioned to produce illustrations. Some writers work in collaboration with illustrators on numerous publications, especially in childrens’ publishing. 

The Book Illustrator must be able to imagine characters and worlds from descriptions, think in terms of visual storytelling and find a creative connection with the author. Depending on the publication illustrators can have a lot of creative input in the book, in the case of a graphic novel, or they can have minimal artistic engagement, in the case of an educational textbook that requires graphs and charts. 

Most illustrators will specialize in certain book genres and build up a clientele over the course of their careers. Professional relationships with editors and publishing houses is also key to attaining commissions and recommendations for work. 

Role and responsibilities of a book illustrator in publishing:

  • Liaise with the author, publisher, editor regarding the brief for the project
  • Design with audience in mind, have a basic understanding of the text
  • Present a series of drafts of the illustrations for approval
  • Collaborate with author regarding the style and look of graphics
  • Work to a schedule
  • Ensure illustrations meet quality print standards
  • Deliver professional, appealing designs
  • Supply final artwork to set specifications

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Skills required to become a book illustrator

The skills of a Book Illustrator include the ability to visualize story, to give graphic form to elements of a text and an instinct to bring a book to life. They must have a talent for interpreting a brief or a text, and strong conceptual skills. 

Publishers may look for the following skills when hiring a book illustrator:

  • Training in fine arts, illustration, graphic design
  • Talent for visual communication, strong drawing skills
  • Understanding of visual storytelling
  • Familiar with color correction for print
  • Able to work creatively with an author
  • Knowledge of book genres
  • Familiarity with publishing industry
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Adaptable to concept and graphics changes, able to see the big picture and work collaboratively
  • Skilled in producing graphs, charts, maps, icons, logos, infographics, diagrams, tables, schematics, plots, flowcharts, etc for educational, scientific, corporate, etc publications
  • Solid understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition, depth of field, proportion, spatial awareness, etc
  • Good communication skills, ability to explain concepts and support artistic choices
  • Skilled in technical drawing
  • Ability to adapt to various visual styles and genres
  • Passion for latest trends and techniques in design
  • Disciplined in delivering deadlines 

What software and tools do book illustrators use?

Book Illustrators will work with desktop publishing, graphic design, multimedia development, technical graphic, specialized graphic software. They must know about publishing layout to be able to produce graphics that work within it. 

Book illustrators may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat
  • Dreamweaver
  • Microsoft Paint, PowerPoint, Visio
  • QuarkXPress
  • Corel Painter
  • HTML
  • Autodesk SketchBook

How much does a book illustrator make?

The average wage of a Book Illustrator runs between USD $32,000 for a junior position to USD $77,000 for a senior position. Source: Glassdoor 

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Digital Illustration? or What is Concept Art?



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