Dream Job: Children’s Book Illustrator

Dream Job

Children’s Book Illustrator

One of the best perks of working at Adventure Nannies is the amazing variety of children’s books we get to see. This has led to a minor obsession for illustrated children’s books, so I sat down with the amazing Nicholas Sutton Bell, author and illustrator of Mary the Tooth Fairy and The Girl Who Whines to see just what goes into creating a children’s book. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring children’s book author? 

Draw, draw, draw, draw! Seriously! Get in trouble in class for drawing on tests! Just draw on everything all the time! Listening and watching are huge as well. Try and listen to strangers conversations and look at every one you pass on the street. Every human is different from the other and they are all SUPER interesting! One of my favorite designs I ever did was for Santa Claus from my last book. That came from me literally standing on a street corner racking my brain to try and come up with an original design for Santa Claus. I kid you not, at that moment a tall skinny older gentleman with a pot belly and a long white beard walked in front of me across the street!

Your illustrations have so much life to them- what is your thought process behind deciding what to draw on a page? 

Days of walking around with head phones in watching people and observing life. Then heading back home and trying to reinterpret what I saw, but through a weird lens and without much reference. Basically drawing from memories and feelings that were forgotten. Its like trying to interpret a different language without knowing where to start.

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Who are your favorite illustrators? 

Jordan Crane, Bill Watterson, Shaun Tan, Arron Weisenfeld, Ashley Wood, Tomer Hanuka, Neil Dvorak, John Starr the list goes on! Its funny when you first start out you have your heroes in illustration. But then the more you put yourself out there, the more illustrators you meet that are at your level or above and you start to admire your friends who illustrate even more then your heroes.

Can you tell me the inspiration behind The Girl Who Whines? 

Sure! I have a sister that is 16 years younger then me and she was a pretty whiny kid. One night a bunch of years ago my Dad was making an AWESOME dinner with mushrooms in it and she just walked right up to the dish took one sniff and started screaming “I HATE MUSHROOMS!” my Stepmom tried to calm her down for a few minutes and my sister just kept whining. Eventually my sister was on the floor kicking and screaming and my stepmom just turned around and continued to wash the dishes, completely ignoring her. My sister eventually just got up and walked away when she realized no one was listening to her. Right then and there I thought how crazy would it be if the whole world just ran away from whiners…

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Some people might think writing a children’s book is child’s play- how much work goes into it? 

It’s nothing but work. So many people have come up to me since I started doing this wanting to tell me their idea for a children’s book. That is great and all, but most of the time I just wish they would sit down and make one- I love reading children books! We all get stuck in the loop of talking about ideas but the fact is big dreams take big work. Its simple math just put in the hours and you will get the product you want. You have to treat it like any other job.

I’ve worked with several kids on “Publish Yourself” children’s books. What would you recommend as a step-by-step process to follow when we make our next masterpiece? 

  • Sketch ALL THE TIME! For every one illustration in this book there are 100s of failed drawings that will never see the light of day.
  • Have fun! Make sure you start with an idea that you love! You can probably see it when a kid is really into an idea they will bounce up and down and won’t be able to sit down.
  • Have them draw that idea, or help them talk through it till they are bouncing off the walls!
  • Then draw that one!
  • The rest will take care of its’ self.

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How much time per week do you spend practicing your illustrations? 

Too much! I always have a sketch book with me. I still get super nervy sketching in public so some times I’ll run to the nearest bathroom or duck around an alley to jot an idea down before it leaves my brain space.

Can you share your favorite page if “a girl who whines” and tell us what you love about it? 

Honestly. I think its the cover. Its the last illustration I did for the book and it was one that I was having the most trouble with. Like it was always in the back of my head like “What the heck am I gonna do for the cover?!?!” but when I finally finished all the other illustrations in the book and worked out which fonts I was gonna use it all fell in place. So basically it took creating an entire book to figure out that one illustration. (ha!)

What’s next for you? 

I would love to get into film in some fashion. I’ve toyed with it a bit and it is a ton of fun to be working with other creative people and not just the voices in your head!

Anything else you want to share with us? 

As much as it seems like I did this book just to dig at my sister she is the main reason it exists. As she grew up I would tell her about this idea and she would harass me like crazy to do it. So it’s kinda funny how the girl who whines basically whined this book into existence.