How to illustrate a book


I received for the second time a request to illustrate a crime fiction book. The book has about 250 pages and I have to do 12 Illustrations (120mm x 190mm).

The first time, I just illustrate some sequences of the story. Now, I would like to do more complex Illustrations, something that not just “describe” the story…

Do you have any “thinking strategy” to suggest me? Maybe some of you have experience in this field and want to share his experience with me?

I’m open for all suggestions!

Thanks a lot!

Have you discussed with the author what they want?
Commissioned illustrations aren’t about what you want.

Whenever we work with commissioned illustrators, we provide them with examples of a style we are looking for (though often the illustrator is chosen based on their portfolio style to begin with) and we provide photos (either stock or screenshots) of the poses, people, period of dress and ambiance of the piece.
Then they do sketches and we select which to move forward with.
Then we get a final sketch that may or may not need some tweeking and review that.
Then we do the finished piece(s)
It’s all business.

Whenever I’ve designed book covers, I’ve always insisted on getting preliminary printouts of the books to read. I want to be absolutely sure the cover design sets the stage for what’s inside and matches the tone of the writing. I’m thinking the same would be true of inside illustrations. And like PD said, it’s probably best to work collaboratively with the author (and publisher if it’s not self-published) to make sure your illustrations match and contribute to the story line.

Thanks for the Reply.

Well, the situation is different in my case. As I am not a “professional” Illustrator. The Autor saw some of my works in an exposition and he says, that my stile will be perfect for the book he is writing.

I have the text, but I do not know, how to start. I would like to do something more then a “illustration of the text”. I would like to create Illustration that matches with the text without an exactly “visual description” of it.


I think to a certain extent, you’ll need to illustrate what’s taking place in the text. Otherwise, it risks coming across as a purposeless, decorative interruption.

A possible approach might be to take a very generalized approach that communicates the setting and emotional qualities of the chapter in which the illustration resides without getting too specific about the illustration simply being a drawing of an event in the text.

Just for the sake of an example, let’s say a chapter was about a gangster heading into the mountains in the evening to bury a woman’s body next to a creek. A literal interpretation of that would be to draw a scene of exactly that — a guy digging a hole next to a creek in the mountains with a body lying nearby.

Or you could step back from the literal nature of that and, instead, illustrate a scene designed more to capture the emotional quality of what the chapter is about. This might consist of a dark, ominous, moonlit night in the woods with dark, jagged shadows, misshapen trees and inky black mountains. You could also pick up on minor details suggested in the chapter and include them, like footprints leading into the wood, a torn sweater left on the trail or the distant beam of a flashlight. Doing it this way wouldn’t amount to a literal depiction of the story, but would be more suggestive in a way that created a visual mystery for a person just thumbing through the book.

If you don’t want to just illustrate the storyline, maybe you could do some maps or infographic style diagrams, etc. This goes well if the setting is unique, or there are fantasy objects, characters, etc.
Maybe you could illustrate a newspaper cover with a story if it’s mentioned in the book.
I hate to say it, but what you’re looking for is creative ideas, and you gotta find that zone. Drink some coffee and read the book. Make a Pinterest board. Get inspired.

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