Be a ‘detective’ as you draw and illustrate—use your powers of observation.
Yes, let yourself go, imagination and creativity can lead to the new. But also keep in mind that most, if not all, artists get a lot of their material for drawing and illustration from what they observe in the world around them. If you don’t know how to draw a hand, look at your own or someone else’s for ‘clues.’ Each of us has a slightly different head shape, some rounder, some longer, and our hair, eyes, noses, have different shapes, different distinctive lines. Look carefully at whatever you are drawing, not just at the drawing itself, and you will get ideas.
Illustrations tell stories.
An illustration does much more than simply repeat what is already in the text of a story or other piece. The illustration has a life of its own which can expand on and move well with the writing. There is opportunity in an illustration to add much that has not been said directly otherwise. Is it raining or sunny, day or night? Countless aspects of a situation can be revealed. The setting as well as fun and important details can appear in the drawings and help tell the story. In THE FUNGUS THAT ATE MY SCHOOL, the fungus in the illustrations became a character with changing expressions and a clearly mischievous personality, holding up a “Tardy Slip” in the principal’s office. In ALLIGATOR SHOES, the text at the end of the story does not tell the reader that the alligator is back on his island, but the illustration lets us know that important information.
Details imagined and real.
In adding fun details, you can make them up and they can also readily come from your own world, what is around you. Even in the high-flying fantasy of ABUELA, the city flown over is portrayed in the artist’s own lively way, yet is recognizably New York with real buildings and landmarks you could see there. Places in ISLA, or in RADIO MAN may similarly be recognizable as real places to some people. Mount Rainier appears behind a jogger in ALLIGATOR SHOES. Places, people, and things of interest to you may make good reference points for additions to illustrations, or you can create your own worlds by adding details you imagine.
Try different techniques and materials.
There is no one right technique or style to use for illustrating, many styles and techniques are used successfully. Each artist discovers what works best in his or her artwork. Some artists work in a variety of styles, choosing which works best for a particular project. Watercolor painting, acrylics, colored pencils, collage, engravings, and many other media have been used effectively. In TONIGHT IS CARNAVAL, the original illustrations were sewn cloth. There is unlimited variety in what the artist may do.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Everyone makes them, me, you, including the greatest artists of all time. Mistakes are an inevitable part of any process, and certainly part of the experimenting that artists do. If you work in pencil, or something changeable at first, you can change a work. If not, you can do the piece of art again and improve it. ‘Mistakes’ can become part of discovering something new—sometimes they can be used as part of the artwork, or at least for making decisions about what to do in the future. Have fun, keep observing and trying, and the artwork will come!