My name is Emily Miller and I signed up to the Illustrating Children’s Books Online Art Course Diploma in April this year whilst on holiday working out my next life-move.

From a degree and short career in Web Development to a 14 year career in Counselling and Substance Misuse I needed a break, so handed in my notice and took myself away to The Lake District with my partner and furry family.

I’d returned to painting after some gentle badgering by my wife and having taken my paints away with me found myself painting for the whole two weeks. What a life! The only “risk issue” was the chance I might dip my paintbrush in my cup of tea… Utter joy.

So I looked for art courses on the Internet. And they were expensive, heavy, lengthy courses… Not for me! And then the London Art College popped up. And I found myself drawn (no pun intended) to the Illustrating Children’s Books course. My heart leapt! Something lit a lovely little fire in my heart. It was perfect. Inexpensive and I could do it in my own time. And, incidentally, I learned that my Grandad did a correspondence course at a London college 80 years ago in fashion design. Wonderful!

A week or so later, back at home, the folder arrived. Brimming with excitement I set to straight away, drawing and working my way through the first exercises trying not to look at the first submission…

Needless to say I found myself thinking I didn’t need to do some of the work “I can already do that” I think, like a frustrated school child, having painted a few pictures in my life. So I moved on to first exercise, which surprised me as suddenly I had no idea what to do… The brief was, well, brief! And I was scared I’d get it wrong. Eventually I decided to do some simple grasses in varying colours, and initially they were going to be tall elephant grasses, with an elephant walking through them… Hours later, having painted the paper, drawn the grasses and cut them out with a craft knife – my hand was incredibly stiff and I had a lot of bits of paper and a whole lot of self doubt!

How on EARTH was I going to make this look good!

The poor elephant went out of the window. And somehow the grasses became reeds and a little pond world came about, complete with ducks and a frog.

Illustrating Children's Books Online Art Course Diploma

So, on to the first assignment….

Illustrating Row Row Row Your Boat. Oh great, never was keen on that! First challenge of a children’s book illustrator – working on something you might not fancy doing! (of course until you’re established and can perhaps be a little more choosy).

And then blank…I couldn’t think of a thing to do! So I threw myself into my new job, a part time job in a little stationers, and spent my spare time doodling. Not the assignment, I decided I needed to improve my drawing, so I bought books and trawled YouTube (forgetting all about the exercises in the lovely LAC folder I’d thought I didn’t need to do, smarty pants) and started looking for drawings in every day life.

At some point or other I drew a boat. And a rabbit in the boat… And suddenly I had the illustration in mind. A rabbit youngster with an adult in a boat – and the child is imagining he’s a pirate. Bingo. “Life is but a dream”.

Illustrating Children's Books Online Art Course Diploma

Ha! And then the second challenge of a children’s book illustrator – how to make THAT work for children of a particular age. (slight pause for moments of self doubt, comparisons of other artists, “who am I to think I could be their contemporary” blah blah) Reassuring words from friends and family and one or two flying paintbrushes later I started drawing. I found my rhythm and drew a rowing boat and figured a way to draw a pirate ship in a similar fashion whilst keeping the sizes of the animals similar.

Illustrating Children's Books Online Art Course Diploma

And finding a way to make it clear that the second page is an imagined vision of the first. A week or two later it was done. (See artwork below)

As I type it’s winging it’s way to Maggy, our tutor, along with the pond. We’ll see if I managed it!

So now, having checked out the next assignment, I’m really going back to basics. Having painted a reasonable picture, but still feeling I have no style of my own, and feeling that the characters in the first submission are not hugely well drawn, I’m looking at what it really means to draw and draw well, consistently and with purpose. And how to excite and inspire those children, who, fundamentally are what this is all about.

Arrrrr me hearties!! Setting sail for Sebastian’s Sink City!

Emily Miller
Illustrating Children’s Books Online Art Course Diploma

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