Make Art That Sells (A): Children’s Picture Books


Ahem, *Bragging alert*.

Many people have said this week was the most challenging, and even Lilla mentioned this week was one of the toughest weeks, but I am not feeling it. I must say, in these past two years, I have become the expert of children’s books. This was the easiest week for me, and the week I enjoyed the most so far. HAR HAR HAR (villain laugh).

Since my son Connor was born, I shopped for books everywhere: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, second hand book stores, Taiwanese online bookstores (for Chinese books), you name it. I went to mommy blogs to find out which ones are the big hits for each stage, and which one are the classic must-haves. Connor had his favorites since he was a newborn, and his preference changes as he grows. My husband and I have been trained to know exactly what books work and what doesn’t work. I read them aloud from 15 minutes to an hour or more every single day. If anything, I am the target audience.

On top of that, I always love to draw little characters.

Connor at bookcase

Back to the assignment. This week we were asked to draw foxes, and maybe hand lettering for the words “The Fox and The Crow” as our mini assignment. Our main assignment was to create the cover or a spread based on the story “The Fox and The Crow” by Aesop.


I have an idea of what I was going to do, but of course, I looked around for inspiration. In the image above, we own (A), (C), and (D). I have always praised (A), which is a train puzzle illustrated by Marc Boutavant. Connor is obsessed with it. Each 3.5″x7″ puzzle piece is its own world. Marc re-imagined each car to be a little fantasy land – the individual car could be an aquarium, a circus, to a mid-century home with witches practicing magic. “Red Truck” (C) is a huge hit. My husband and I were walking around Barnes and Nobles, children’s section on our DATE NIGHT (yes, we have no life, right), and he insisted on buying this book illustrated by Valeria Petrone, saying Connor will go nuts about it. And he was right. I think Connor is into the simple graphic look, because he also love the series of books that we have by (D) Leslie Patricelli – that wasn’t his favorite to begin with – he grew to love them as he grew older.

I know about (B), Mique Moriuchi, through the MATS A classroom, and really love her work. Then I just realize a friend of mine actually own one of her illustrated books. I know about (E), The Happy Little Handsaw illustrated by Milli Eaton, via the MATS A Facebook group. I was so inspired by how the world is created with no horizon line, yet it works beautifully and you don’t feel it is being too abstract. It influenced how my final cover looked. There are so many more that I looked at and I loved, but there are just too many to show.

"The Fox And The Crow", sketches

Here are some of my mini sketches. It was the Easter Weekend and I have little time to finish the assignment, so I stuck with what I know: the vector graphic look. I like the simplicity it creates. The eyes of babies/toddlers are not well developed yet, so bright colors and simple shapes allow them to comprehend what’s going on much easily (black and white works best for newborns because their world is in black and white). I liked 2A the best. I drew a couple more expressions to show how the character can be developed. My problem with him is he may be limited when talking, as I need to figure out how his nose can move out of the way to show his mouth, but that can be worked out when there is more time.

"The Fox And The Crow", test cover illustration by Irene Chan

Above is what I have submitted for the main assignment. I have thought about submitting a spread, but that needs a bit more time to resolve. This story is about the conversation between the fox and the crow. Visually it can get pretty boring because the scene doesn’t change and the characters don’t really move around. I will probably create two spreads to see how I will move the camera to illustrate the story so we are not always looking at them at one angle, and I don’t have time for that!

The story of “The Fox and The Crow” is about a¬†mischievous fox tricking the crow into singing and dropping the cheese for him to steal. I have added that evilness to the fox, but I don’t want to make him an evil-looking guy. He remains cute and approachable so young kids wouldn’t get scared. According to the story, he is quite a charismatic fellow anyway! As for the crow, to me she is not very smart. She cares a lot about vanity, because she easily falls for praises about her looks and her voice. Therefore, I added a pretty scarf for her.

After I finished with the vector drawing, I added the personal touch with color pencils. Originally I added some watercolor textures I’ve created to the book, but thought it is a bit arbitrary. There is still a slight hint of that if you look hard enough, and the gradient in the fox is actually from the watercolor textures I used too.

I added a lot of icons of other little animals, some doing funny things (eg. the flying crow is pooping). Toddlers always find little funny things to look at every time they read the book, especially when they are approaching the potty-training age! I bet my son will point at the crow and say poo poo, poo poo, every time when we read this book, well, if this were a book!

I didn’t do hand lettering. Everything you see, including in the mini, are fonts. I have tried, and didn’t like how mine looked.

I was again lucky enough to be included in the review. It was a short one-sentence review (!), but I am very very humbled, and I can not believe how lucky I am!

We are already in Week 4, wall art, as I am writing this. And this time is very stressful for me… talking about karma! I have no expectations – I just hope I can create something at least decent – more on that next week!

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