Our guide to illustration
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to illustration

First published date October 28 2013 Amended date November 10 2015

Do you find yourself doodling and sketching furiously while speaking on the phone? Or perhaps you have a whole host of quirky comic book characters in your head that need unleashing on to paper. There is perhaps no better time then to put pen to paper and delve deep into the vast and varied world of illustration. An illustration course might be the perfect confidence booster to get you drawing, printing and painting just for the fun of it. Or you might have a burning desire to work for a top fashion house in Paris or create a striking logo for a new advertising campaign. Courses are fun, informative and sociable, and guaranteed to get you illustrating like you've never illustrated before.


What is illustration?

An illustration is a drawing which communicates information, a story or an idea. It might be a sketch, a painting, a photograph or designed on a computer. Illustrations are usually created to go with a text, such as a poem, a children's book or a magazine feature (rather than to be hung on a wall in an art gallery); they can also be used to decorate or visually represent a product such as a shampoo bottle while technical illustrations are a necessary element for proposals of new building plans.


From fashion house to outer space...and beyond!

There are illustration courses to suit every area of work you might want to follow: from illustrating children's books (you might be the next Quentin Blake) to drawing for comics and learning how to capture flora and fauna on paper on a natural history illustration course. If you fancy a fully-fledged career in illustration a three-year BA (Hons) will immerse you totally into all areas of this exciting art form.

Explore, experiment, test and develop ideas in drawing, painting and printmaking as well as photographic, digital and interactive media. There are work experience opportunities, 'live' project briefs, competitions and even a chance to form illustration collectives. Aspiring children's book illustrators might choose a short course tutored by successful book illustrators themselves, combining a mix of practical and creative skills. Learn how to build expertise, technique, composition and picture planning as well as how to approach requests from publishers.

Fashion gurus might find their niche in fashion illustration, be it a full-time BA (Hons) degree course or a short beginners course where you can unlock your passion for figure drawing, colour palettes and the fun and fast-moving world of the fashion house! Illustrating a comic or a graphic novel is another avenue to explore. Be inspired by the great graphic storytellers such as US-born Jim Steranko who is most famous for his iconic Giant Size Hulk cover for Marvel in the late 60s


Which way now?

Illustration isn't just about creating couture and kooky characters. Here are some possible job markets you might not have considered:

Architectural illustrators create imagery and draw pictures of buildings for design professionals. Their work is to transform complex concepts into simple and realistic visuals for clients, customers and the general public.

Commercial illustrators work in advertising and design logos and images for brands and ad campaigns via posters, storyboards etc.

Technical or scientific illustrators prepare detailed drawings to help people understand complex scientific or technical information such as in textbooks, instruction manuals and sales brochures.

Medical illustrators might draw detailed pictures of the human body for education and research resources or create artwork for posters, leaflets and websites in a hospital department. Can involve photography and video.


Children’s book illustrators we love…


Quentin Blake found his passion for illustrating children's books in his 20s. His illustrious career has meant a hugely successful collaboration with children's author Roald Dahl for whom he created some of our best-loved children's characters like Matilda and the BFG. Blake's illustrations for Michael Rosen's Sad Book sensitively capture the book's subject of bereavement.


Axel Scheffler is a German-born book illustrator best known for his colourful and cartoon-like pictures for Julia Donaldson's classic books The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child. Other books illustrated by Scheffler include The Smartest Giant in Town and The Snail and the Whale.



Mick Inkpen Award-winning author and illustrator Mick Inkpen has a catalogue of successful children's books including Kipper The Dog and Wibbly Pig. They are both loveable and comical characters in a series of books for pre-school age children.


Nick Sharratt trained as a graphic designer and illustrated his first children's book in 1987. Ideal for younger readers, his simple, straightforward style uses vibrant colours and thick outlines inspired by the pop art movement. Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray is a perfect example of this. His favourite colours, by the way, are bright yellow and light blue.


By Lara Sargent

Similar Subjects