How to make the perfect children’s book

Artwork credit: Maddie Frost

Check out Robyn’s rundown of the key ingredients for illustration success in this field:

Consider your audience and your buyer

As well as being perfect for the target market in both style and substance, the look and feel of the book must be appealing to the adult that is most likely to be purchasing the book. Think about the tastes and current trends that are likely to grab the attention of book buyers.

Accept constructive criticism from those in the know

The editorial and design team will have bags of experience and be directly in touch with sales people so have faith that their feedback will always be based on really valid market information. Even if changes can seem random at times, trust that the outcome will only improve sales of your book. For example, covers that are green sell less well than red covers! It’s a thing - I promise!

Be aware of global tastes with regard to facial features

It is worth having a selection of different eyes and noses up your sleeve (so to speak), and in your portfolio. Features can often be a sticking point as some looks work better in some markets than others. Design teams will often ask for options so it is worth being flexible.

Artwork credit (left to right): Top row: Dan Widdowson; Hannah Peck; bottom row: Benji Davies; Nan Lawson.


Be mindful that your book might be sold across the globe and should appeal to all children and their families, whomever they are and wherever they are in the world.

Artwork credit (left to right): Top: Rosie Butcher; Aura Lewis; Alea Marley; Sophie Beer.


For younger children, it’s great to be obvious, but for older audiences, don’t over-egg it! When we are surprised, we don’t always throw our hands up to our faces, or gasp when we are shocked, for example, so think about more natural reactions and gestures when creating character poses. Use friends as models to get expressions and limb positions just right.


Wherever there are characters, a children’s publisher is looking for a little bit of humour, so don’t be afraid to add extra detail or funny elements. Humour appeals to all children (while subtle comedy can lend a book all-important appeal for adults, too), and can really help make your artwork stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t have to include reference to bodily functions, although – to paraphrase the great Ade Edmondson of Bottom fame – a fart is always funny…

Ben Mantle, from Giant Jelly Paws and the Pirates, written by Helen Baugh and published by HarperCollins, 2015.


This is the terminology for any extra elements on books that add play value, so that’s anything from flaps and sliders to pull-tabs and pop-ups! Good design teams should always provide clear die-lines and briefing notes if these elements are part of the book you are working on, but it is worth becoming familiar with how these work. Spend an hour in a local bookshop in the board book section to familiarise yourself with moving parts, or buy a few novelty books from charity shops and take them apart!

Demonstrating just a handful of different activity elements that might be used to enhance 'play value' in a novelty publication (featuring interiors from the Bizzy Bear series, illustrated by Benji Davies and published by Nosy Crow).

Always ask the question

Don’t feel silly for asking your assigned designer lots of questions: they will be happy to answer anything and will be super-relieved that you asked instead of getting confused by something.

Make the best out of briefs

In my experience, a designer will always prefer to brief you in the way that best suits you. From the outset, do say if there is a particular way you like to work – or, if you are mid-project and struggling with the way it is being briefed, don’t feel afraid to ask for an alternative approach.

And finally…

…Ask your agent

We are here for you: to support, advise, and help to develop your work – and to be your champion. If you need any assistance, would like some insider advice, or simply want us to ask a publisher something on your behalf, just let us know: that’s what we’re here for!

Read more about Robyn on her Agent profile page at The Bright Agency website

New books for autumn from Bright’s artists & authors

The end of summer is in sight, and a new season means NEW BOOKS! The latest titles publishing this autumn from our brilliant Bright artists showcases the breadth of gorgeous styles across the portfolio — from bold and quirky art full of humour, to beautifully enchanting festive tales.

Among the exciting new titles soon to be adorning bookshelves, is the latest picture book from ‘Supertato’ creators Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet; the much-anticipated sequel to David Litchfield’s highly acclaimed ‘The Bear and the Piano’; and once more we return to the captivating world of ‘The Storm Whale’ to join Noi on his latest adventure. Enjoy!


‘Look’ By Fiona Woodcock / Greenwillow Books

‘As We Grow: The Journey of Life…’ Illustrated by Richard Jones / Caterpillar Books

‘The Space Train’ Illustrated by Karl James Mountford / Little Tiger Press

‘Angry Cookie’ Illustrated by Maria Karipidou / Walker Books

‘It All Began When I Said Yes’ Illustrated by Annabel Tempest / Simon & Schuster

‘Santa Claus Vs The Easter Bunny’ By Fred Blunt / Andersen Press

‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bogey?’ Illustrated by Tom Knight / Scholastic

‘Cinderella’ Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle / Orchard Books

‘The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin’ By Nicola O’Byrne / Nosy Crow

‘The Bear, The Piano, The Dog and the Fiddle’ By David Litchfield / Lincoln Children’s Books

‘Lightning Girl 2: Superhero Squad’ Illustrated by James Lancett / Scholastic

‘You Can Tell A Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood’ By Migy Blanco / Templar

‘Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins’ Illustrated by Mark Chambers / Two Lions


‘When I Was A Child’ Illustrated by David Litchfield / Hodder Children’s Books

‘The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty’ Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle / Lincoln Children’s Books

‘Christmas Gremlins’ / Illustrated by Chris Chatterton / Egmont

‘Brave and the Fox’ Illustrated by Sebastien Braun / Scholastic

‘We’re Going on an Elf Chase’ Illustrated by Laura Hughes / Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘Snowball’ By Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet / Macmillan Children’s Books

‘My Friend Sleep’ Illustrated by Hannah Peck / Words & Pictures

‘Grandma Bird’ By Benji Davies / Simon & Schuster


‘All Right Already!: A Snowy Story’ Illustrated by Benji Davies / Harper Collins

‘Frockodile’ Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis / Hodder Children’s Books

To work with Bright’s artists and authors please get in touch.

Introducing: Gabriella Buckingham

Vibrant, playful and expressive, Gabriella Buckingham’s sumptuous paintings positively glow with warmth and life, and almost seem a direct reflection of the artist herself.

One of Bright’s most exciting and recent signings, she brings a huge wealth of creative experience - from both independent-artist and industry-insider perspectives - as well as an infectious enthusiasm and colourful exuberance to the portfolio.

We caught up with Gabriella from her Norfolk home to learn more about her inspirations, varied career - and complete love for her craft!


Introducing: Allie Runnion

Inspired by vintage illustration, and with a degree in Illustration and English from the highly-esteemed Rhode Island School of Design, Allie Runnion’s bright, bold designs and strong sense of colour and texture lend her work an immediate appeal, combining the warmth of a subtle nostalgia with an undeniably trend-savvy energy.

Allie dropped into our New York office earlier in the summer, and chatted with agent Hannah Curtis (in the States for a raft of industry trade shows and client meetings) about her creative motivations and ambitions.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find a lot of inspiration in old things, especially mid-century illustration and design. I’ve always been a collector and love to shop in antique and thrift stores. I curate an instagram account, @vintageillustrated, where I scan and post images that I find as inspiration for both myself and other artists. I also live in the beautiful state of Maine and find so much inspiration in the natural beauty around me.

What are some of your favorite things to illustrate?

Patterns! Florals are probably my favourite. I love flipping through old field guides and gardening books as reference, and discovering new flowers and plants to draw in my backyard. I also enjoy draw animals and am working on incorporating more figures into my work.

Left to right: Allie shares a glimpse inside her tranquil design studio; leafing through vintage books and guides on botanical subjects, ink pen in hand
As a designer and illustrator specialising in surface pattern design, Allie has a fantastic array of repeat designs in her portfolio, but also creates beautifully observed, sensitively rendered standalone artworks with a spare use of line and distinctively nuanced palette.

Has your style developed at all since you began illustrating?

Yes! As an Illustration major at RISD, I struggled to find my style, bouncing between graphic work and more painterly styles. After graduating, I began my career as a graphic designer and narrowed in on more graphic work. As I have returned to doing more illustration work in the last few years, I now feel much more at home with my style. I love merging traditional drawing and painting with digital techniques that I have learned through years of experience in graphic design.

Allie's portfolio also includes examples of her hand-rendered typography and figurative work - a truly versatile artist!

Do you have a dream project you’d like to work on?

I’d love to work on a bedding or home collection, or do packaging work for a fun brand!

To view Allie’s entire portfolio, click here. You can also enquire with her agent, Hannah Curtis, about licensing specific pieces or to discuss commissioning bespoke artwork.

Behind the Book: Monty & Sylvester by Carly Gledhill

Carly Gledhill’s artwork style is immediately recognisable for her quirky characters and playful layouts, full of humour and heart. This spring her debut author-illustrated picture book ‘Monty & Sylvester A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes’ published with Orchard Books.

We spoke to Carly on creating her first picture book, and delve deeper into what inspired this imaginative, witty tale, and the loveable duo behind the story, best friends — and unlikely heroes — Monty and Sylvester.


Artist Profile: Karl James Mountford

Karl James Mountford is one of Bright’s most successful and instantly recognisable artists. His distinctive visual language channels a retro aesthetic that, while acknowledging the legacy of some of the true greats of the illustrative and animation ‘canon’, is never cosily nostalgic, and which makes striking use of an often limited palette and wonderfully textural, hand-rendered effects - all delivered with an undercurrent of the ever-so-slighly-unnerving…

Specialising in cover and editorial illustration, recent commissions have included some fantastical book cover design briefs such as The Uncommoners by Jennifer Bell (Jan 2017, Penguin Random House) and The Peculiars by Kieran Larwood (Jan 2018, Chicken House), but Karl is also a keen believer in the importance of pursuing self-directed projects with a ‘just for the hell of it’ flourish guaranteed to keep the imagination limber and creative fires stoked. A voracious reader of fiction, he also has a keen interest in all manner of creative arts - particularly traditional, ‘hands-on’ techniques such as printmaking - while an abiding affection for the cult shows of his childhood, and the iconic artists and creatives whom exerted such an influence on their aesthetic, clearly informs his own artistry.

Karl James Mountford chats about his inspiration, working method, and creative aspirations:

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background and training?

I’ve been drawing from the get-go, but began to really focus on it all when I started art college. I was on this amazing art course that did everything from photography and ceramics to graphic design and painting. It was such a well-rounded course, but illustration was the aspect I enjoyed most, and my final project was re-designing book covers.

Self-directed book cover artwork: top line, left to right: The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore; bottom line, left to right: Smoke and Mirrors, Kristin Halbrook, The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.

I then went to a real gem of a university, Swansea Met (now Swansea College of Art) to study Illustration and screen-printing. The course explored everything about illustration - not just picture books - and we had life drawing every week, which I think was so helpful for heading into the art profession. I proper loved the place and the people there so much: I stayed on to do my Masters degree in Visual Communication while becoming an Artist in Residence for the Illustration Department.

Your portfolio includes an impressive array of work, referencing popular culture, e.g. tributes to the Stranger Things Netflix phenomenon, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and those knitting superheroes, as well as your own unique take on classics, such as Peter Pan, that we’d pretty well all recognise. How much would you say ‘story’ and nostalgia are important motivators or influences in your work? And do you think you are drawn to any one genre in particular?

Story and nostalgia are massive motivators for me. All the book covers I’ve mocked up for my portfolio are ones I’ve enjoyed reading growing up, and there is something really special about creating a book cover that houses a story you love. It’s the same for paid work: when I get a brief, I (almost) always read the manuscript (although sometimes I will have to skim-read) because it’s the best tool. If you know the ingredients, you can make a cake - it’s a bad analogy, but knowing the story means you can find the tone of it and hopefully make a great book cover/art…or even cake. That said, there’ve been one or two occasions that I haven’t read the manuscript in full and it shows in the final work. Maybe not to everyone, but to me it does.

Karl’s homage to Stranger Things (Netflix series, 2016), and his tribute cover artwork for A Series of Unfortunate Events (now also a popular Netflix series created from books by author, Lemony Snicket, Feb 2017).

Pop culture is the best, too: people love to see something they enjoy or have a personal connection to recreated through an artist’s impression or homage. EVERY illustrator draws what they love at some point: whether it’s TV or film characters, animals, food - whatever it is, it’s always a good place to start. Drawing things you are interested in spurs you on to try your best. I do lean towards stories that are darker…Maybe ‘darker’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps ‘truer’? Maybe not that word either…but a story that doesn’t try and ‘hold my hand’ too much has far more appeal for me.

Superheroes reimagined as avid needle-workers, left to right Superwoman (DC Comics), The Mighty Thor (Marvel) and Captain America (Marvel).

The picture books and stories I remember from being a kid weren’t the ones with comfy tales and endings, it was the ones where I put myself in the characters’ shoes, and had to think about myself in that situation. Like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are and David McKee’s Not now Bernard…which is terrifying, and it wasn’t really because of the monster; it was that worry that my parents would ignore me and I’d end up being eaten by a monster down the end of the garden. But when you’re five…I just thought it was the monster that gave me wiggins, when really it was the parents’ neglect.

In an interview for Waterstones about A Place Called Perfect for which you were shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award 2018 Younger Fiction category (congratulations!), you mention having been drawn to the project because that writing had a slightly darker tone. Much of your illustration (I hope it’s fair to say) does have a wonderfully quirky, slightly unsettling quality to it – which, of course, is part of its distinctive appeal – but how differently do you think you might approach the artwork to a story with a less threatening undertone?

Completely fair to say. I might contradict myself a bit here…I think two or three years ago I would lend myself to whatever the client wanted, I was just so grateful that I was getting any work at all, and after two years of solo freelancing (without an agent) I was desperate to turn something I love doing into a job. But you are asking me today and I think, now, I’d have to read it [the work] before I said yes, OR at the very least get a synopsis and flavour for what the client wants. I’m at this weird point in my career where I’m not just saying yes to everything, because as much as being able to pay your rent is great, it’s like winning the lottery when you’re hired for a project/story that interests you and that you can really get behind. You can really invest yourself - and that surely means you’ll make better work.

Are there other sources of inspiration you draw upon on a regular basis? Are there any artists - of any discipline - whose work you find particularly inspiring?

Oh, for sure. Alice and Martin Provensen are probably some of biggest influences - their use of shape and colour! Disney’s Mary Blair too, and Shaun Tan, who I think is the best storyteller this world has. Film-makers Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson, too - again great visual storytellers! I have a stack of old books - you know, the sort of old books that are over-decorated but with few colours and those geometric-patterned borders. Books used to have a real class about them, back in the day. I love the old Penguin books from the 50’s and 60’s, too. Also, ANY screen-printers, past or present - there is a magic with screen-printing that is different to painting or ‘colouring-in’ on Photoshop. It’s sort of flawed and random, but kind of perfect too?! Tom Frost is one of those screen-printing artists whom I admire a lot. And when I say ‘admire’, what I mean is, if I could trade skills, it would be with him.

Clockwise from top left: The Animal Fair cover art - Alice & Martin Provensen; concept art from Cinderella - Mary Blair; interior illustration from The Arrival - Shaun Tan; A Book of English Clocks and British Reptiles and Amphibia - Penguin books: artist unknown; limited edition screen print - Tom Frost.

I think anyone or thing that reminds me of something older [artisanal, hand-crafted], sparks my interest. I’m not knocking digital art - I use it every day, and it’s a god-send for speeding the process up (and the possibilities are endless!) - I’m just fond of getting my hands dirty when making work.

Could you give us a bit of an insight into your process when you embark on a new project? Where do you start, and what stages would you typically follow to arrive at the final artwork?

I usually start reading the manuscript and making notes, then I read over the brief. Usually a publishing house has an idea of what they want me to do ‘looks wise’ with the book, but I always make a few alternative rough ideas for a cover, just so we’ve explored all the possibilities. Also it’s nice not to just go with the trends on the bookshelf but instead try make something that’s a bit different and tailored to the story inside. Once we’ve settled on a design, I do colour tests - again just to make sure we haven’t missed a trick. It’s a lot of ‘back and forth-ing’ but I really enjoy the development of book covers and artwork.

Do you ever suffer from a bit of an artistic ‘block’ and, if so, do you have any methods you’d be prepared to share for overcoming those times and rediscovering your creative mojo?

Oh, for sure. A lot of the time artist block for me is from burning out. I’ve found the best thing I can do is just go with it. Having an illustration break is just as important as working round the clock. I make a lot of lists too; nothing fancy, but just lists of personal work I want to explore - topics on mental health to food packaging - so when free time comes about I can ponder on those and try and make something. The lists help when I’m at a loose end, art wise. It gives me a starting point.

Do you ever have time, as an illustrator, when you are not being creative – and, if so, how do you like to fill it (aside from sleeping…!)?

It feels like an all-around-the-clock sort of thing. It’s not like a normal job: there is no 9-5 cut-off point. Even when you’re out and away from the desk, you’re always thinking ‘oh that would be a cool building to draw’ or ‘this might be useful for a story idea’. BUT, that being said, I like to see my mates and be around my favourite folks - and be outside, of course, walking the dog down the beach. And I love a bit of D.I.Y too - especially wood-work, fixin’ up stuff.

What has been your favourite project to date?

Favourite…I like most of them, and they are all special for some reason or another. BUT Kieran Larwood’s The Peculiars I’m a bit proud of. It was a re-brand job, but the folks over at Chicken House gave me a ton of freedom and trust to just make a decent book cover. It wasn’t over stressed about, and it was just a seamless project.

And finally…which book/film/Netflix series would you most like to create cover artwork for?

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials - 100%. But I’ve got a list. I would love to illustrate some more classic novels too, and maybe do the artwork for some big festival – I reckon that would be amazing to be a part of.

Check out Karl James Mountford’s full portfolio here, or contact Bright Illustration’s Fiona Kenny for further information and to discuss commissioning.

November 2018
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