How to Illustrate a Children’s Book When You Can’t Draw

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I’m with you. I can’t draw worth a lick. My dad was an amazing artist, and I would have thought I could have at least received the ability to draw a symmetrical circle, but no, nothing.

And probably like you, I love to write, and/or have a ton of great ideas but don’t even want to put them down on paper sometimes because you know at some point, the dreaded “i” word is going to come around…

Illustration.

 

But, probably unlike you, I now have confidence a book can be illustrated without drawing—either illustrated via different means, or illustrated by someone else. So, I’d like to help you get to that point as well!

Ways to Illustrate a Children’s Book

The good news is, we are talking about children’s books—have you seen the illustrations in some children’s books? Many a best seller aren’t expertly illustrated, but in lieu, they are fun and consistent, and fit the words on the pages next to them.

Here are some ways you can try to get your children’s book illustrated.

Powerpoint Outlines

Yes, I said PowerPoint. And no, I’m not going to talk about clip art. Instead, with PowerPoint, you can fairly easily trace/outline real photos, and then fill in those photos with different colors and details.

This could work because, most people pretty much have PowerPoint already, and thus won’t need to go out and do something extra just to get started.

And, the pictures are based on real photos, but aren’t a simple “cartoonify” app that anyone can access. Meaning, you still have a bit of creative freedom to make the animations your own.

This deserves a separate blog post, but here is how you go about it.

1. Open PowerPoint

Open a blank PowerPoint file as if you were going to create the next great work presentation.

2. Add a Photo

As mentioned, this process is based on tracing photos, so if you have characters who can be created from real-life inspirations, than all the better.

In this case, we will use my dog Madden taking a bath.

3. Select Freeform Tool

Now, go to shapes, and click the dropdown caret to view all of the available shapes. You’re looking for the freeform shape tool, which essentially allows you to create your own shapes.

4. Trace the Photo

With the Freeform tool, you’re going to trace your photo; or, trace the main piece of the photo you want illustrated. So, in this case, I’m starting at Madden’s head and tracing all around her body.

The tool takes some getting used to, but every click you make, you’re piecing together a shape. So, for now, just capture the shape of the outline. So, I’m going to start at Madden’s head and then click around her entire body until I get back to my starting point.

Here is my Madden shape:

5. Trace the Details

Now, as you can see, we only have an outline at this point. From here, you can take some creative liberties in terms of getting facial expressions, coloring, etc.

One way to do so is to decrease the transparency of the outline shape you just created. You can do that by double-clicking the shape, and then under “fill” decrease the transparency so you can see through the shape and into the photo details behind it.

The other option is to move the shape to the side so that you’e again working from the main photo, and then trace the additional elements, and then paste them on to the main shape.

I prefer the transparency method.

Now, you can spend as much time on this step as you’d like. For me, if at any point it feels like it’s taking too long, I think about how long it would take if I were actually illustrating the story, and that helps put things into perspective.

Here is my finished project for this method example.

Canva

For a little different of an animation spin, you can also use Canva to illustrate your children’s book. I already did an entire post on KDP using Canva, but I’ll summarize the biggest takeaways here.

1. Take Inventory

I think the best thing you can do when starting out with Canva is to take inventory of all that you have available. Even if you’re a seasoned Canva vet or a beginner, you’d be surprised at just how much more you can do with the tool.

 

So, head to “elements” and do some browsing, particularly with “shapes” and “lines.” This method of illustration involves combining basic shapes to create your own animations.

2. Get Creative

Somewhat of an abstract step, but start playing around with what you can accomplish by combining different shapes. In my book, here are some pieces I created from basic squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles:

  • House: Squares, rectangles, and triangles.
  • Grass: Rectangle
  • Sidewalk: Rectangle
  • Sink: Half circle and rectangles
  • Christmas tree: Triangles
  • Bed: Cylinders and rectangles

Here is a basic rocketship:

And then here is something bit more complex, but still not too difficult:

And that’s how you can go about illustrating with Canva! And yes, it’s possible—I used this method with Canva to illustrate my entire book, which is now for sale on Amazon.

And frankly, this was all before I really dug into what you can accomplish with Canva, from removing backgrounds from photos, how to upload your own fonts, and more.

Fiverr

If either of the two above methods still aren’t helping your illustration woes, have you looked to Fiverr at all?

For the uninitiated, Fiverr is a gig marketplace where talented individuals make their work and skills available for those in need. (For instance, Fiverr is one way I monetize my writing.)

Point being, there are a ton of illustrators on the platform as well, and given the amount of work I receive as a children’s book ghostwriter, I know there are a ton of people on the platform looking for (and probably receiving) illustration help for their stories.

All in all, if you have big story ideas, don’t let lack of illustration skills stop you! Happy to help if you have questions, and best of luck!

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