How much does an illustration cost? Okay, it’s a good opening to an enquiry from a potential client, but I really want to answer: ‘Well, how long is a piece of string?’ It’s like asking someone how much they charge for fitting a new kitchen before going in to all the particulars.
It varies a lot of course from book to book and depends on a number of things. First of all, what age group is your book aimed at? A colour image in a young child’s picture book usually costs a lot more to illustrate than a black and white drawing for an older child’s paperback, for instance. Secondly, it’s down to the subject matter and how much detail you want to include in your images.
Illustration costs can vary greatly from job to job.
So, you want full colour illustrations in your picture book? Do you want the images over the whole page including full background detail? Do you want smaller illustrations that are squared off or fade off at the edges? These could cost a lot less and yet still have lots of impact. It’s not always necessary to include every bit of detail, specially if your characters are just talking to each other, for instance. On the other hand, if they are on a journey in the countryside then it makes sense to add their surroundings if it’s important to the narrative. Young children like lots of different elements in a picture to hold their interest and to make them go back to the book again and again. Also, it’s always good to vary the size and shapes of the images from page to page in a picture book to make it more appealing and attractive to the reader.
A selection of illustrations from Goodbye Mother Bear
The subject matter is also important to costs. If there are a lot of people involved, especially if they need to look realistic, then this is going to take a lot longer to draw than looser, more cartoony drawings. I usually try and keep facial features quite simple purely because of time constraints. Indoor scenes also take longer to produce purely because it takes longer to draw furniture than a few fields and bushes! Additionally, if you want the images to go across two pages (a double page spread), this would usually add to the costs, though not necessarily double the cost of one illustrated page. There’s usually a few tricks one can use to fill out large areas of space fairly economically.
Cover illustrations can also vary a lot in price, purely down to how elaborate you want your image to be. The cover illustration I did for Frog Meets a Bog Beast took three or four times as long to produce as the one I did for Foley Crow, Friend or Foe. Norma Charles was simply on a tight budget and a simpler, more graphic approach was required, yet the cover is still fun and impactful. It depends on the genre of the book too. It makes sense to spend a bit more time and money on a cover illustration if it’s for an older child’s adventure book, for instance, as it will most likely be the only visual interpretation of the story the reader has.
The same thing applies to black and white drawings regarding how quick they are to draw and how intricate they are. The cheapest option is usually a loose, cartoon style with simple facial features, but still containing plenty of expression and humour. For things like animals I often use a digital drawing style as it can be quicker to produce than traditional pen on paper. However, the most important things with line art for paperback books is simplicity and keeping the background details to a minimum to help keep costs down. You will usually want more drawings than for a colour picture book so reducing costs will be key. The devil is in the detail!