The Art of the Picture Book: A Craftsy Course on Children’s Book Illustration

By Michelle Morris in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

Recently I had the chance to enroll in Craftsy’s The Art of the Picture Book, an online video course on writing and illustrating children’s books taught by the very talented Shadra Strickland.


Shadra is a children’s book illustrator in her own right, as well as a teacher at Maryland Institute College of Art, and she does an excellent job explaining each facet of creating a picture book for children from start to finish.

This course (which is 50% off for EE readers throughout the next week) contains seven lessons totaling more than two and a half hours of instruction, comes with 10 pages of downloadable handouts, and teaches artists of any skill level how to generate book ideas, develop characters, create a believable setting, and set the mood of a story.


Students of this course will also learn about proper book structure, how to make a storyboard for a book, how to self-critique their own artwork, how to finalize their art, and how to create a book dummy ready for submission to a publisher.

As always, Craftsy provides an interactive board for sharing your work with other students in that class, a place for questions and comments, and a place to take notes. And, each of the seven lessons ends with an assignment to further cement what you’ve just heard. I have been impressed with my previous Craftsy classes, but this was the best yet!

Here’s a breakdown of each part of this course:

Lesson 1: Generating ideas

Shadra starts by explaining how to ask questions that will spark ideas for stories. She encourages those who are artists but have never written to try their hand at it by sharing common themes, a rule of threes, how to find a point of view and balance words with pictures. These ideas are then developed further in the following lessons. This lesson started the creative possiblities for me and I really enjoyed the process.


Lesson 2: Character development

The goal for this lesson is to help you visualize and build your own characters. To that end, Shadra includes some very good tips on gathering references, which I personally feel are very helpful to anyone with no formal illustration background.

I used reference materials from free online sources for my own illustration, seen at the end of this article, but using your own reference materials will make sure your work is original and specific to your needs.

Lesson 3: Bringing your character to life

One great way to do this is to draw inspiration from your own gestures and emotions—the lesson talked about different gestures that correspond to emotions such as surprise or anger, and explained how to use a mirror to understand how your character might look or react to certain situations.


All of the other examples of student illustrations (showcasing a huge variety of emotions) makes it easy to see the infinite possibilities and uniqueness each artist brings to the work.

Lesson 4: The structure of a picture book

Here you will learn the different formats of self-ended and separate-ended layouts. Using a downloadable template for reference, Shadra walks you through the formats and how they are used to enhance the stories. She also discusses the “trim size” of a book and how it can help support the story as well as the characters.

Lessons 5 & 6: Completing your picture book

These lessons are very detailed, and explain how to use a storyboard to flesh out the many details needed for a polished, finished product. Specifically, lesson five covers pacing of your story and its physical composition, and lesson six helps you learn to critique your story and its mood.


Lesson 7: Creating a “book dummy”

A book dummy is a mock-up to send to publishers. For the final step in this course, Shadra guides you through the process of putting together a book worthy of submitting for publication.

Now, as promised, here’s the illustration I came up with during this class:


Not only did I use this illustration for a story on my blog last week, I now have an entire children’s book brewing that uses those dandelion characters as a jumping off point. I absolutely love all the possibilities this class gave me!

Overall, The Art of the Picture Book is as fun to watch as it is informative—Shadra was engaging and excited about the process, which translated very well in the lessons. I would recommend this class to anyone interested in illustrating or writing (or both!) a children’s picture book.

NOTE: Special thanks to Craftsy for offering a one-week 50% discount on this class and sponsoring this article! Click the link above to learn more.


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