Centre for Continuing Education

Children's Book Illustration Course

Visual Arts. Open to everyone.

Learn Visual Arts the smart way with Visual Arts courses at CCE, the University of Sydney.

In this creative and practical course, we cover all aspects of the creation of picture books and illustrated children’s books. Starting with an overview of where the illustrator sits in the book publishing process, we will cover the roles of the publisher, author, artist, editor, art director and designer – pre-press, printers, sales and marketing, booksellers, librarians, and of course, readers. We will explain the commissioning process of both texts and illustrations, and the expectations facing the illustrator throughout the creation of the book.

We will cover both theory and practice, with students working hands-on to create their own characters in preliminary drawings and some final artwork, and progress towards building a portfolio. Some experience with art is an advantage but not essential.

Course Content

Please note your equipment requirements for each stage of the course are marked in italics throughout the course outline below.

Week 1

During Week 1, participants will:

  • Look at the process of picture book creation from the beginning to final printed book including the commissioning process, interaction with editors and designers, and the illustrator’s place in the creative ‘team’.
  • Explore and discuss the age pitch and appropriateness of text and art, and how to know who your readership is.
  • Through ‘show and tell’, we will look at the character and stylistic approaches of a wide range of Australian and international illustrators – identifying and discussing medium and style and trends in illustration. Discussion will cover how and why creators choose either ‘realism’, anthropomorphism or other illustrative choices, and how these styles speak to the targeted child reader.
  • Explore subtext, interpretation, place and setting, and explain the process of structuring, pacing and storyboarding a picture book.
  • Begin some practical character development drawings, and some easy ‘homework’ will be provided for the intervening week before the next class.

Class materials: Participants will need to bring an A3 sketch pad of bond bank paper, graphite pencils, a sharpener and eraser. Rulers won’t be necessary.

Week 2

During Week 2, participants will:

  • Be encouraged to get their hands dirty! We will give some demonstrations of various media for those who want to try something new. Participants are also welcome to use digital platforms.
  • Participate in group drawing ‘games’ and discussions exploring visualisation, and the artist’s imaginative repertoire and ‘toolkit’.

Note: This session will be an entirely practical one.

Class materials: A notebook and practical ‘messy’ clothes are recommended. Participants will need to bring art materials of their choice.

We suggest any of the following:

  • Watercolour paper of weights around or more than 250gsm. The paper should be hot press smooth (not cold pressed textured) for use with any medium – paint or other drawing media. One sheet of paper will be sufficient at this stage. Recommended brands are Fabriano, T. H. Saunders Waterford, Canson and Arches. (Be sure to avoid printmaking papers intended for etching or lithography).
  • Watercolour brushes – synthetic are fine (or hog hair brushes if using acrylic paints).
  • Watercolour paint in either tubes or pans or acrylic paints.
  • Coloured pencils (water-soluble / ‘aquarelle’ coloured pencils are not recommended unless the student already uses them).
  • Pastels (chalky or oil).
  • Collage materials, scissors and glue.
  • Cleaning rags or paper towel.
  • Any other preferred materials.

Week 3

During Week 3, participants will:

  • Continue with practical work.
  • Discuss the process of building a portfolio and approaching publishers. We will cover the ‘business’, explaining copyright, licensing, contracts, flat fee work, royalties and other relevant aspects of professional practice for illustrators, including advice on professional organisations and bodies aimed at creators of children’s books.
  • Have the opportunity to present their past work and discuss what may be appropriate for general publishers' needs.

Class materials: Participants will need to bring their artwork and materials, and may also bring any folio of past work they may have – whether aimed at children or not.

All sessions will involve open discussion and students are encouraged to engage with the teachers and the other students.

Suitable for

Some formal art training is an advantage but not essential.

Before the course

Reading List – to be provided

Additional information

Donna Rawlins and Wayne Harris are both award-winning illustrators, writers and art directors of children’s books. They have extensive experience working with emerging and established illustrators, and have taught illustration to all ages. Many of their past students are now established children’s book illustrators.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • Thank you to the facilitators for their time and for sharing their expertise. I have been provided with such valuable information – and it’s made me love children’s books even more (if that is possible). I thought it was fantastic how every person received encouragement and motivation. Excellent teachers and illustrators who have very much inspired me. Thank you!

  • It was an amazing course and I would like to know if any course to this quality comes up in the future. Absolutely love the tutors and what they taught us.

  • The presenters are superstars. Insanely talented, amazingly approachable with a wealth of knowledge and amusing anecdotes between them, making the course informative, inspiring and most of all thoroughly enjoyable! Pity it wasn’t longer! :)

  • The presenters were knowledgeable, engaging and encouraging – an absolute delight to spend time with.

  • The teachers were so knowledgeable and encouraging, I got a lot out of this course.

  • Wish the course was longer!

  • The two presenters were an absolute pleasure to learn from and shared their wealth of practical and invaluable information about the children’s book illustration industry. They explained the publishing process in detail from start to finish, provided useful information on developing a portfolio and gave us great tips for developing our illustration and visual story-telling skills. A great course – loved it!

  • I certainly got my moneys worth. The presenters did not waste a minute of our learning time. I also loved the lunch that was provided for us.

  • It was great...loved it.