Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christina Rodriguez - Why Hands Off is Best!

I believe each of us has a secret desire to white a children’s book. Is it the child in us clamoring to get out, or is it the desire to bring happiness to children as they listen to your story? If I’m not an illustrator, should I write the book if I can’t illustrate?

Christina Rodriguez, award winning illustrator, has kindly agreed to answer my questions.

The Author-Illustrator Relationship: Why a Hands-off Approach is Best

As a children’s book illustrator, one of the questions I am frequently asked by aspiring children’s book authors is, “Do I need to find an illustrator for the story I want to submit to a publisher?” I actually love getting this question because at it’s so easy to answer: “No.”

Publishers, whose money is backing the production, a lot of the promotion, and ultimately the success or failure of the book, rightfully want to choose the illustrator themselves. As you trusted their judgment when they selected your story for publication, you should trust them as they choose an illustrator for your words. What happens next may not always match your vision, but it is the publisher’s vision - comprised by a team of hardened industry professionals - that ultimately sells your picture book.

Illustrators need freedom to impart their unique sensibilities into the work; the old adage “Too many cooks spoil the soup” is pretty applicable in children’s book illustration. As such, it is not unusual for the author and illustrator of a book to never meet and for the author to have little to no input on the art. You don’t need to write illustration cues into your manuscript. Explicit compositional directions, color palette suggestions, or other “pointers” from an author are often distracting and unnecessary. When I read a manuscript, the words envelop me and I let the images come to my mind as they may. Illustration cues totally break that vibe.

That’s not to say that you don’t have any control over some of the visual decisions. I personally don’t mind a little insight into what the author was imagining as he or she wrote the story, because I do find that fascinating. I also love being able to reach an author for clarification if I have some questions about the text. For these scenarios, the author and illustrator can always reach each other through the art director. It is the art director who works closely with the illustrator, receives the sketches, makes those tough editing calls, and gives the final approval on each stage of the art. A good art director still wants to see the illustrator’s take on the story, but will also provide needed guidance and structure.

We illustrators understand that your story is important to you; after all, it’s important to us too! Trust that it is foremost in our minds, even if we don’t always see it in the same way. The individual style, sensibilities, and artistic viewpoint that an illustrator brings to the table will, in due course, make your picture book a stronger piece of work.


  1. Great post and topic Beth. Christina, thanks for sharing your illustration insight. Your work is always wonderful to see!

  2. Great interview, great illustrations! I so enjoyed reading your comments and observations.
    Sandy Humphrey

  3. This is a topic I've wondered about and you've answered my questions. I'm now thinking about dusting of a book for children that I started a few years ago and working on it again.

  4. Thanks for the great post, Christina!!!

  5. This is a great post -the book looks great!