As an indie publisher, I wear a lot of hats, but my first love will always be my work as a children’s illustrator. My professional life started as a designer, before moving into children’s illustration, and finally on to my dream of creating children’s picture books.

People often ask about the tools I use, and which ones I recommend. So here’s a selection of my very favorites, and how I use them in my work as a children’s illustrator. Click the links in the title of each item for where to buy.

9 Favorite Tools of a Children’s Illustrator

Stori Dori Sketchbook

Stori Dori for the children's illustrator Emma Apple

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you probably saw this one coming! This is where a lot of the magic begins, this is my art home, my sketchbook. Nilly from Stori Dori hand makes and hand dyes stunning custom leather Travellers Notebooks. They’re basically versatile leather journal covers that you put inserts in. You can change out the inserts whenever you like, make your own, buy brand name, or grab them from Etsy. I even put an iPad mini in mine at one point, just hooking the case into the elastic insert holder.

I have the EPIC (A5) journal and the adorable TINY, both in the Hello (Yellow) color. At the moment, I’m using my EPIC for my bullet journal and it also has beautiful sketchbook inserts. The TINY is my highly portable sketchbook.

I also had the pleasure of working with Stori Dori on their Hajj Journal in 2017. I created 7 exclusive ink drawings illustrating the different locations where Hajj pilgrims stop during their time in Mecca. Nilly, the owner, has also become a dear friend. If you have any excuse whatsoever to pick up your own Stori Dori, do it!

Staedtler Pencils

Tools of a children's illustrator - Emma Apple

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but I’ve had this set of Staedtler pencils since I was a teenager. They’re somewhere around 20 years old. They’re in rotation with the other way too many pencils I have, which is why they’ve lasted so long, but they are a set I always go back to when I want beautiful and consistent soft pencils to work with.

Winsor & Newton Watercolors & Brushes

I’ve had a love of watercolor since I was a teenager. I love the unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable nature of this medium. You can get either a rich or very gentle tone with it, depending on how you use it. I’ve only used it in personal work so far, but I know watercolor illustrations will make their way into my books eventually.

Winsor & Newton is one of the top names in watercolor. Their affordable and high-quality Cotman series are absolutely lovely to use. It’s important to have some watercolor paper to compliment them, of course. I haven’t found a brand of paper I feel I can recommend yet. There are many great watercolor paper options out there and I’ve liked most of the cold press ones I’ve tried. I didn’t really like hot press, but if you want a smooth watercolor paper to work with, hot press is what you’re looking for.

Speedball Dip Pen & Ink

Speedball Dip Pen - Emma Apple

I used dip pens to illustrate two of my black and white books. There’s nothing quite like the beautiful clean line you get from these pens, and the whimsical look a children’s illustrator so often wants to achieve. It can be messy, and the nibs can be a pain to keep clean and new, but if you work with ink, these are well worth a try.

Prismacolor Colored Pencils

I don’t do a lot of work in colored pencil. I had some Prismacolor pencils handy but hadn’t really gotten into them much. That is, until I started work on my NZ Birds series earlier this summer (2017). I also used them for a Baby Dory sketchbook piece a while back. They are silky and rich. If you do any colored pencil work at all, you have to pick some of these up!

Strathmore Smooth Bristol Paper

Strathmore Smooth Bristol Paper for children's illustration - Emma Apple

This paper is true to its name, smooth! So, so smooth! It’s acid-free, heavy weight, bright white, absolutely perfect for pen and ink, and pencil. It can take some watercolor but it’s not made for that so not your ideal watercolor substrate. When I illustrate a book traditionally, this is the paper I use.

Tombow Brush Pens

These pens are like butter. The brush is soft, the colors are smooth, they are just so much fun to use! So far I’ve used them for sketchbook work and for my bullet journal. They’re popular with brush letterers, and while writing was not made to be elegantly produced of my hand, I picked some of these up for my daughter to try out and ended up trading them for my Faber-castell PITT brush pens. Both pens are fantastic and have different strengths, you have to grab a set of each and try them out.

iPad Pro & Apple Pencil

I was reluctant to try the iPad Pro at first, I have a Cintiq Companion which allows me to use Photoshop and draw on the screen. So I wasn’t sure where and how an iPad Pro could fit into my process. My husband insisted I try it out and I quickly fell in love. Coupled with the Procreate app (see below) it offers a beautiful and smooth traditional-digital hybrid experience. I illustrated my new book. Is Allah Real? completely on the iPad Pro with Procreate.


Using the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Procreate as a children's illustrator - Emma Apple

As mentioned above, this is an iPad app for drawing on iPad. It offers an intuitive interface and a ton of different tools which it renders really well. Procreate has pretty much all the features you need as a children’s illustrator, layers, blending tools, masking, an array of brushes, even custom brushes. It has built-in time-lapse and video recording, so you can share those behind the scenes videos, everyone loves. The features are too numerous to list, but if you have an iPad for illustration, this is its perfect companion.

These are just a few of my favorite illustration tools. Feel free to ask me any specific questions or let me know what tools you recommend in the comments!

This post contains affiliate links, you can help support our work by buying something from one of these links. Thanks!