I often receive emails from students or aspiring illustrators wanting to know how to break into the industry. I’ve always tried to answer as many questions as I can but inevitably they end up at the bottom of a very long to-do list and eventually are forgotten (sorry if you are one of the people I never got back to!)
So, I decided I would make this FAQ blog post. I might have directed you here if you sent me an email- hello! But also hello if you stumbled upon it by accident :) I hope you find it helpful.
I stumbled on this page completely by accident, who the heck are you?
I’m Becky and I’m an author and illustrator that makes books. (If you’re not here for books or drawing or writing you might want to stop reading now and go back to googling the perfect lasagne recipe)
I live in Oxfordshire with my husband and a very accident-prone cat called Kiki. You can find out more about my books by clicking the link at the top of this website.
When did you start drawing?
I think pretty much as soon as I could hold a pencil. And I haven’t stopped since.
Why did you decide to become a children’s author/illustrator?
I knew I wanted to do something creative- drawing is like breathing to me and I can’t imagine doing something completely void of creativity- but it was only after a couple of years of my degree that I really considered that making picture books might be a possible career path. I loved flicking through the picture books in the children’s section of book shops. It was a tutor of mine that suggested I look into doing a Masters course in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. After my undergrad I worked for a couple of years to save up the money. The MA was the best decision I made as it helped me learn everything I needed to get into the industry.
Who or what inspires you?
Keeping sketchbooks, drawing from life and childhood memories. I am inspired by the people I meet and relationships I have and the many amazing artists on social media and on my bookshelf.
Do I have to go to Art School to become an illustrator?
Absolutely not- there are plenty of super talented illustrators out there who didn’t go to art school (and some that started off doing Science or Law and then did further studies in art later on)
For me however going to art school was what helped me figure out what I wanted to do for a job and how I would do that. I met lots of creative lovely people and I had access to amazing resources like print studios, exposure to the publishing industry and lecturers who were already doing it as a job.
What did you study at university?
I started a degree in 3D Design and ceramics but dropped out. I then completed a BA in Graphic Design and Illustration and finally an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.
What do you love about being an illustrator?
I love that I get to draw every day. Drawing is my passion and although it can be really tough and challenging sometimes, I generally love what I do. I love the fact that every project is different to the last, and I enjoy seeing my work improve with every challenge I face. I get a warm fuzzy feeling of pride when I walk into a shop and see a child pick a book I illustrated off the shelf :)
What is the most challenging part of being an illustrator?
Probably the money. At the start it feels like it is not a very financially viable career! Lots of jobs pay badly, publishers often don't pay on time and there is the anxiety over whether another job will come along when you need it. I would say this does get better over time but I would suggest if you’re an illustration graduate or someone starting out it’s worth getting a part time job to help keep you afloat at the beginning. It can also be lonely sometimes working from home, another good reason for a part time job or hobby to get you out of the house! And of course there are those days where you just feel like you can’t draw and everything is going wrong! Luckily there are lots of upsides too, but it’s not a very straightforward or stable career so you’ve got to be in it for the love.
What is your favourite sandwich?
New York Deli
What are you favourite art materials?
I often draw linework with an old fashioned dip pen and indian ink and then colour with watercolour but depending on the project I also use pencil, coloured pencils, inks, gouache, acrylic, collage and even crayola crayons sometimes! I work mostly traditionally but I scan everything in and then continue to manipulate images digitally in Photoshop, sometimes using it as a way to collage elements of my work together. I'm trying not to be defined by my materials but it is difficult to not get pushed into a style or medium by the commissions you take on. I would love to try oil painting one day and I have dabbled in ceramics and textiles for fun.
How did you first get published?
I was really lucky to meet my editor, Emma, at university when I did my masters. There were only a few slots to see her and I was chosen. We got on very well and she showed lots of interest in my work. After I graduated I was invited in for a meeting with her. A couple of weeks later I received an offer for my first book, Wishing for a Dragon. I've since worked with the same publisher (Hodder) on other projects (Enid Blyton) but I've also worked with a few different publishers. After graduating I was very active in putting my work on social media and trying to network and I soon signed with my agent Claire who now helps me schedule in work throughout the year.
What do I need to do to become an illustrator?
Draw every. single. day! There is no fast-track to improvement- practice practice practice. Like most careers success will come with hard work and patience. Do your research, network and don’t give up on your dream!
What paper do you use?
For finished artwork I use Saunders Waterford High White Hot Pressed watercolour paper. For sketching I use sketchbooks (moleskine, Seawhite) and cartridge or cheap printer paper.
Favourite brands of watercolour/gouache/pencils?
Watercolour: Winsor and Newton tubes, Daniel Smith tubes, Kuretake pans.
Gouache: Winsor and newton
Coloured pencils: Derwent and Faber castell Polychromos
Why does your cat always get in accidents?
I think she’s attention seeking… or maybe clumsy… or a bit of both. But she is the perpetual Cone Kitty. Good job she’s cute and we have pet insurance.
Who are some of your favourite illustrators?
Isabelle Arsenault, Ludwig Bemelmans, Sara Ogilvie, Beatrix Potter, Tove Jansson, Shaun tan, Quentin Blake, Jon Klassen.
What are some of your favourite picture books?
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans; The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr; Avocado Baby by John Burningham; Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis; Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio and Christian Robinson; Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault; Elmer by David McKee
What Advice do you have for artists starting out in art school?
Draw or make something every day. Try as many new materials and processes as possible. Use the print rooms. Take on board criticism and don’t let it get you down! Don’t get caught up trying to ‘find your style’. Most of all- enjoy yourself!
Have you got an agent? How did you find her?
Yes I do, her name is Claire, she’s very good at keeping me calm and organising my schedule. I was approached by her when I graduated my MA and signed on after meeting her a couple of times.
Advice for illustrators looking for representation: Do your research- there are usually submission guidelines on the agents’ websites. If you get the opportunity meet with them a couple of times and ask as many questions as you need to make your decision. Use your instinct- choose an agent who you click with and who has a list that you think your work fits well with. Hopefully if all goes well you’ll have a long working relationship with them so don’t necessarily jump at the first offer you get, take your time.
What do you love drawing?
Cats, children, fairies, to be honest…. anything cute or cuddly!
What do you dislike drawing?
Difficult interiors with multiple perspectives!
How do you avoid being pigeonholed by the visual language you are known for?
A really tricky one and some artists may like to do lots of the same work but for me I am always trying out new materials and ways of working and hoping I will be able to put them to use at some point. There will always be jobs where you are asked to work in the way you are best known but by dedicating time to your sketchbook and experimenting you might find a new way of working that is perfect for a future project.
Do you ever feel self conscious about your illustrations?
All the time! We all have bad days and good days. I find it really useful to have a group of peers that I can share my work with. A safe place to get feedback is really helpful- sometimes we need encouragement and sometimes we need to know where we got it wrong and when to start again. Take encouragement knowing that we are all on a creative journey and the more we draw the more we will improve.
You made it to the end! Hopefully that wasn’t too boring! Thanks for dropping by- I’ll keep adding to this page as and when I get questions.