Kristy Nerhaugen, Duluth Public Library

While attending Spotlight on Books, I had the privilege of hearing Eric Rohmann speak about being a children’s book illustrator. Eric talked about the importance of illustrations in picture books. The pictures aren’t just decorations—they help to tell the story. When illustrating a book, Eric thinks about four things: viewpoint, relationships between characters, the mood, and the page turner.

For viewpoint, Eric thinks about how to draw his reader into the book’s world using the illustrations. He has to get out of his head and think of how a child would view the illustrations. How Eric’s illustrations depict the relationship between two characters sometimes helps him to decide what he wants to draw the reader’s eyes to look at first. There is a hierarchy in what the reader looks at in pictures, and when he illustrates, Eric is aware that he is deciding what the reader will look at first. Illustrative techniques can be changed depending on the mood of a book’s story. For example, the bigger, darker lines in the illustrations of the book My Friend Rabbit helps to set the funny mood of the book. When illustrating, Eric also thinks about how to drive the reader to continue reading the story. He often illustrates page turners that entice the reader to wonder and to anticipate what will happen next in the story.

Overall, Eric says he’s focused on telling a story when he is illustrating a book. He said, “We’re storytelling here. We’re making books, we’re not making paintings.” Unlike simply creating a painting, Eric focuses on creating illustrations that help to tell the story. He is taking on the challenging task of ensuring the words and illustrations work together to tell the story—which is even more challenging when the story will be seen through the eyes of a child. After hearing Eric Rohmann speak, I won’t look at picture book illustrations the same way. I’m now more aware of the intentionality and the decisions that are behind the illustrations.