How to Make a 1960s Children's Book Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

How to Make a 1960s Children's Book Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

If you’ve looked inside a 1960s children's book, you most likely have seen illustrations that look close to this style. The illustrations of each book are beautifully drawn with simple shapes and pencil-like brush strokes.

In this tutorial, we’ll make a 1960s children's book illustration using pencil vector brushes for Illustrator.

To follow along, I recommend adding RetroSupply’s VectorSketch Pencil Brushes to your arsenal of vector Illustrator brushes.

Of course, you don’t have to buy VectorSketch. You can also use Google for free vector brushes for Illustrator, but be aware that quality may not be the same.

01. Research

Before starting any illustration, it is best to do visual research to get your creative cogs going. Since the tutorial is about make a 1960s children's book illustration with pencil brushes, we’ll be looking at artists during that era. Some great artists to look at is Cynthia Amrine and Bernice Myers.

Most of their illustrations feature simple bright shapes and pencil-line lines.

02. Sketch

A pencil sketch of a child

What I did was create a little mood board on how I wanted the illustration to look and then set my mind to it while I was sketching. The illustration is mainly basic shapes, so I provided a quick run-through to show how you can draw the same figure.

A pencil sketch of a child at school in front of a blackboard. They are holding a drawing of an apple in their hand.

Once you are satisfied with the sketch, take a picture of it or scan it in. Drop it into Illustrator and give it its own layer. Double click on the layer on the Layers Panel (Window> Layers). Lock and dim the layer by 50% or lower.

03. Line the Shapes You Want to be Solid

You don’t have to line every shape—only the ones you want to be solid. Later, we’ll draw out the other shapes with some vector Illustrator brushes.

A pencil sketch of a child at school with red outlines drawn on top of them.

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and line each shape with no fill, but a bright colored stroke. For me, lining with strokes instead of fills makes it easier to see the sketch underneath. The image above shows all the shapes I created. Notice that I didn’t make everything with one shape like the shirt; instead, I gave each its own.

04. Background

In a new layer, create an organic shape with the Pen Tool (P) around the figure for the background. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make the chalkboard and floor on top of the organic shape.

A digital illustration of a grey, black, and red figure in front of a black shape. A menu panel shows

To encase everything inside the background, select the organic shape and Copy (CMD+C) and Paste (CMD+F). Bring the shape to the front(CMD+SHIFT+]) of all the background contents. Select the shape, chalkboard, the chalkboard’s board, and ground. Right-click and select Make Clipping Mask.

05. Use Vector Pencil Brushes for Illustration

VectorSketch has some of the best illustration brushes for this type of illustration. I used plenty of vector illustrator brushes for drawing the details.

Use the Brush Tool (B) for drawing out the details. This gives a less polished appearance compared to the pen tool. Keep in mind that the stroke width will sometimes need to be changed to get your desired appearance. You can do this in the Stroke Panel (Window> Stroke).

For the face, I used a variety of the PN no.2 pencil brushes. The mouth is done with Thick Stroke PN8. The eyes and nose are done with Thin Stroke PN2.

Two identical illustration of a child in black, grey, and read. The second image shows Adobe Illustrator's width tool

If you want to make the middle of the eye a little bit thicker, use the Width Tool (Shift+W). Select the one eye with the Selection Tool (V) and then use the Width Tool (Shift+W). Pull the center of the eye up or down to enlarge the stroke width.

For most of the details, I used vector pencil brush for Illustrator Light Dull CH1. This Illustrator brush gives the right amount of playful texture.

Two identical illustrations of a child in black, grey, white and red. The second image shows a drop down menu with

On the hair, use Light Dull CH1 and do the same Make Clipping Mask step as the background.

06. Roughening the Edges

A black, white, grey, and red illustration of a child at school with a blackboard behind them. They are holding a drawing of an apple in their hand.

Some of the objects like the clothes and paper look a little too clean and smooth. To change this, add a stroke of pencil brushes for Illustrator to those shapes or any shapes you want to roughen up.

Change the Brush Style through Brushes (Window> Brushes). I used a mixture of Heavy Straight PN9, Heavy Stroke PN10, and Heavy Dull CP10.

An illustration of a child at school with a blackboard behind them.  Adobe Illustrator's Scissor Tool is shown.

The background is a little bit more complicated because of the wall and chalkboard.

Copy (CMD+C) the organic shape again and Paste (CMD+F). With the shape selected, reduce the transparency through the Transparency Panel (Window> Transparency) so that you can see the chalkboard and wall.

Grab the Scissor Tool (C) and click within the outline of the shape you pasted to cut the shape into sections for the wall and chalkboard.

After this, remove the fill and give a stroke to all the sections. Bring the opacity of all the sections back to 100%. Change the color of the stroke’s brush style. I used vector pencil brush for Illustrator Light Dull CH1.

Finish it with some brush strokes around the background. For these strokes, used Wide Taper PC4 and Wide/Hard Stroke PC7.


A black, white, grey, and red illustration of a child in a classroom with a blackboard behind them holding a drawing of an apple.

I hope this tutorial helps you create a 1960s children's book illustration! It would have been hard to achieve this look without VectorSketch, so I definitely recommend that you grab it if you haven’t already.


Linh is a fourth year graphic design student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama.


You can see more of her works on her website and Instagram.