Illustrator Basics: How to Illustrate a Book Around Text

Working an illustration around the written text it will share with a printed page will be a great portion of  your work as an illustrator, so knowing how to do it properly is very important. I’m here to answer your questions on how to work an illustration around text for winning picture book any editor would be happy to publish!

The ins and outs of how to illustrate a book around text:

Placing your illustration may be as simple as leaving an open area, such as sky as shown here, with little or no detailed artwork to obscure the text…

A Frog's Tale -- Tips for illustrating picture books

…or possibly have the illustration rest within the text placement. This illustration is usually referred to as vignette and is very size specific.

Frog illustration on a picture book page

Can text be printed over a vignette?

Sometimes vignetted art will have a defined edge depending on how you like to work/or how your art director asks you prepare your illustration. Other times and in general, it is okay for background to wash under the text as long as it does not distract from the wording. The golden rule is to not have any overriding or detailed artwork under where the text will be placed.

Drawing illustrations around text

Your art director may either give you a specific size to work within or provide you with a prepared text placement layout to show you where your artwork needs to be (or not to be). If the assignment is for the educational market, very precise layouts will be given to you which in one way makes your job easier by removing the worry about where and how to fit your composition. But in another way, it can limit your creativity.

If you are lucky to be illustrating a book for the trade market, you may have some input regarding how the text is broken up from page to page (pagination), giving you a lot more creative freedom with your illustrations.

For me, shaping my illustrations around text can encourage me to be very creative in showcasing my skills. I love to work on vignettes because there is little or no background artwork to worry about compositionally and more focus can be applied to the small work you are creating. It is like putting a little spotlight on your work.

What happens if your vignetted art is a little off in size when it is completed?

As is the case with much illustration work, there are safety nets along the way to lessen worries about sizing your work correctly. First and mainly, editors and art directors will be looking at these very details at the sketching stage and ask you to make any necessary adjustments at that point in the project. Then there are the wonders of photoshopping to help make adjustments after the fact. Even if you are a traditional illustrator like me, you may be able to do a little photoshop work and most certainly the art director is able. It is ideal for everyone to get it right in the beginning since it saves a lot of time and energy all around.

Here’s a good way ensure artwork fits nicely with text when creating a vignetted illustration:

Take the printed text placement layout and cut out as much of the area that will need to be filled with art. Next I place it on my prepared page trim layout.
Setting text in a picture book

I then make light pencil markings all around the edge of the text so when drawing my sketch as well as painting it, I will be sure not to have any detailed art  or dark coloring beyond this space.

Beautiful bird illustration for a children's book

This method gives me more control as an illustrator to make sure my art shares the final printed page in an eye pleasing way.

Fitting an illustration around text in a picture book

All images are courtesy of songbook “A Frog’s Tale” written and performed by Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

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Do you have any particular way or ideas to share on how to have fun with vignettes?

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