Last year, I took an online course through MATS for Illustrating Children’s Books. I didn’t share a lot of my work while I was in the class, so I thought it might be helpful to collect the assignments I submitted and reflect on what I got out of the class.
The class was taught through a series of blog posts on the website and videos featuring Lilla Rogers, an illustration agent, and Zoe Tucker, an art director at Scholastic in the U.K. There was also a Facebook Group for the students (some 200 of us from around the world) where we could share our art, thoughts, and inspiration.
The class went for five weeks. Every weekday, an entry was posted according to a weekly schedule giving tips and information about building your children’s book pitch, developing your portfolio, tips for drawing, interviews with professionals in the industry, and pep talks. Each day also had a sketchbook prompt, which I found to be really fun and helpful (the class coincided with Inktober, so in the beginning, I tried to follow both that and the Inktober prompts).
At the beginning of the course, we were given the choice of three texts. I selected Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat and developed characters based on that text. All five assignments were based on illustrating Lear’s manuscript.
From Monday to Wednesday, we were given a mini-assignment that helped build up our sketches and ideas for the weekly assignment that was due on Sunday. You could download a calendar at the beginning of the course that outlined the theme for each week, what information would be posted, and what assignments would be due, but the full posting of the assignment details on Wednesday went in-depth enough that waiting for it before starting on the final piece was helpful to me.
After assignments were submitted to the class gallery on Sunday, a select number of pieces were chosen by Lilla and Zoe to be featured in a Skype video posted the following Monday that discuss points that would be helpful for all the artists to consider. Full disclosure there, my pieces were never chosen to be talked about, but I got a lot of good critique by following what was said about others’ work. I often have to remind myself that I’m at the beginning of my illustration career, so it’s better to make lots of mistakes now and learn from them!
One of the biggest things I got out of the class was inspiration. I’ve never taken any children’s book-specific illustration courses, and the wealth of information of titles and artists was really amazing to me. I also realized one of the biggest areas I have to focus in is color and consistency of character! Looking at all of these assignments together, Taol and Scree change color every week. I also experimented a lot with style and texture, so each piece has a different feel. Overall, it was a really satisfying experience though and taught me I have much to learn!