When we think of children's books, recommending them to other parents or searching for them in the library, it's the author who gets all the recognition. They craft the story that's the basis of the book. But often what a child, remembers best about the book isn't the words but the pictures, which come from an illustrator. If you're not sure what an illustrator's job is like, this article will fill you in.
Some illustrators are authors as well as artists - they write their own words and draw their own pictures so that they never need anyone's help with their books. Author/illustrators who work this way include Ezra Jack Keats, Aliki, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and Beatrix Potter. These people get to keep more of the money from their books than regular illustrators.
Most illustrators, however, are purely artists who do not write their own stories. Some of these illustrators are friends with authors who do not draw, so the two can pair up and deliver their work to publishers together. Examples of picture book authors who almost always work with the same illustrators include Robert Munsch, who works with Michael Martchenko, one of Canada's most famous picture book illustrators.
Those illustrators who are not lucky enough to know an author are matched up on a project by project basis with authors by their publisher. They get their jobs by sending artwork to publishers, who will then keep them on file when they need someone to draw pictures for a picture book They do their work and are paid for it, sometimes as a flat fee but most of the time in the form of royalties, or portions of the sale of each book.
If you want to be an illustrator of books for children, you need to be an artist with a distinctive style that will appeal to children. For some artists this means drawing or painting, but other picture book illustrators use collage, photography, or computer graphics to produce their images. Formal art instruction helps but is not necessary, as your portfolio, or collection of drawings, will be what gets you hired. Most illustrators work at home - they may or may not actually meet the author whose words they are illustrating depending on the publisher. Illustrators can have literary agents just like authors do who help match them up with work.