I usually start by creating the main characters for the story; it’s a bit like assembling a cast for a play or film.

Inspirational children’s book illustrator Loretta Schauer shares her approach and inspirations in bringing picture books to life through drawing, painting and digital collaging.


1. When did you start illustrating?

I started studying illustration seriously in about 2009, attending evening classes and workshops. I didn’t have any formal art training before that so it has been a steep learning curve, and I still have lots to learn.

2. How did you find your illustration style and has it changed over time?

I am still finding my style and it definitely changes over time, sometimes with a new project or idea. When I did my first book, I didn’t have anywhere to work, everything had to be done on a small scale. I came up with a way of drawing and painting individual elements, scanning them, and then collaging them together digitally. I wanted to explore using textures and other elements in my work; digital collaging worked really well for this and has definitely influenced how I work and my style. This way of working gives me a lot of freedom to experiment with how the final artwork looks, and I think it would be hard for me not to think in terms of collage now, even if the final outcomes of pieces look quite different.

3. What’s a typical day in your life as an illustrator and is there somewhere you like to illustrate?

I work at home so it’s often just me and the hamster all day working through whichever project I’m focusing on. Although I love the freedom of being my own timekeeper it can get to the point where I’m working so intensively that I don’t leave the flat for days at a time, I try to get out for a long run on Hampstead Heath at least a couple of times a week. Depending on what stage I’m at with a project, I try to take my work outside to a park or to the Heath if I can too – weather dependent of course!

4. What are the “can’t live without” items you use as an illustrator?

My 2mm mechanical pencil, a tube of Payne’s Grey watercolour (great for making textures and marks that can then be coloured digitally), and I guess my scanner and computer as I collage elements to create the final artwork.

5. When working on a new story, what’s the first thing you do?

I usually start by creating the main characters for the story; it’s a bit like assembling a cast for a play or film. I draw them in lots of different poses, showing a range of emotions and activities that they might encounter in the story.

6. How do you illustrate a story, do you have a process?

Usually a publisher will want you to establish the main characters first, then it’s a process of breaking the text into spreads and testing out how the story arc and page turns work best. At this stage I do rough pencil drawings to work out what’s going on in each spread and to experiment with different camera angles and with picking the right moment in the action to focus on. For a picture book an illustrator usually works on this stage with a designer or art director.

We make sure that the flow of text and image is easy to read and makes sense, and that there is a variety of full colour spreads, vignettes, and other visual devices throughout the book.

It’s important to make sure that the text and images work together to tell the story in the most effective way and there are usually several versions of roughs at this stage. After we’ve agreed on the layout and the content of each spread, I’ll begin working on the final colour artwork. Sometimes I do little colour thumbnails too to get an overall idea of the colour palette for the book and how colour can enhance the mood and atmosphere of the story.

7. What inspires your illustrations?

When I’m working on a commission I’m inspired by the story and characters in the text, but when I’m working on personal work or my own story ideas I tend to gravitate towards drawing animal characters, spooky kids or slightly darker characters and urban settings – I definitely like rooting for the underdog. I’ve been inspired by all sorts of things – nature, science, history – I’m a real history buff so I’d love to have a go at some historical non- fiction one day too.

8. How do you ensure that your drawings will appeal to young readers?

A key element to picture book illustration is the relationship between the characters. I like to keep my characters as expressive as possible and make sure their expressions and body language are clear to read. I also like to include little background details and extra background characters that have their own little stories or subplots going on.

9. How valuable is it for children to meet illustrators?

Children are always excited to find out about how I work and how the pictures get into the books. I like to encourage children to make up their own comics, stories and characters, and this can be a starting point for other areas of study. Discovering the creative process and communicating ideas through making pictures can really boost children’s confidence, whether they believe they are good at drawing or not.

10. What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?

Keep practicing, and keep looking at other picture books that are in the shops. There are no short-cuts, keep building your portfolio, perfecting your craft, and showing your work to as many people as you can. Listen to any feedback, and give yourself a couple of days to absorb it before you decide if you agree with it and can apply it to your work.

Edited by Janey Robinson

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