• Picture Hooks Illustrator of the Year

    Congratulations to Kirsti Beautyman, Picture Hooks Illustrator for 2017. Kirsti was mentored by Helen Stephens (How to Hide a Lion, Fleabag).

    And congratulations as well to all five of our illustrators for 2016/17. You can read more about all of them and find their portfolios here.

  • Speed Dating for Illustrators

    Thank you to all of our guests from the children’s publishing industry who attended our
    speed dating event. It was a brilliant day – we loved playing matchmaker and wish the best of luck to our illustrators.

  • Mentoring 2016/17

    The Mentoring Programme for 2016/17 has come to a close, and the work is now on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

    Click here for information on eligibility and how to apply next time >>

    The scheme is funded by Creative Scotland.

  • Conference


    Thanks to all who attended our conference in association with the AOI at
    Manchester School of Art. Keep an eye on our “Upcoming Events” page for future conferences, lectures and events.

  • Exhibition & Events

    The work from the 2016/17 Mentorship programme is now on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

    The exhibition offers an insight into the process of making a picture book, from sketch to finished illustration. Our five illustrators this year have produced some outstanding work under the guidance of their mentors.

    On now until 18th February 2019.

    Find out more >>

The end of 2017’s mentoring scheme – what next?

School is nearly out for Picture Hooks. Our mentors and mentees from the 2016/17 cohort have been working hard for months on their illustration projects, and we are now gearing up to show off the results to the public. We wish our illustrators the very best of luck with their future after the mentoring scheme – we’re sure that they’ll go on to many great things!

What’s next for Picture Hooks? First up is our end-of-year exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art, which opens on 28th October and lasts until 18th February next year. We’ll be showcasing the final projects of our mentees Hazel Dunn, Anders Frang, Rachel Everitt, Hlín Davidstottir, and Kirsti Beautyman and original artwork by our mentors Patrick Benson, Steve Antony, Debi Gliori, Ross Collins, and Helen Stephens. We will also have sketchbooks and working drawings on display so visitors can get a feel for the full creative process.

Don’t worry if you can’t make it up to Edinburgh to see the artwork. Our exhibition is touring a few galleries and community spaces next year, which we will be announcing on social media and our blog at a later date. Keep a look out for us in venues around Scotland – and potentially in England too!

Fourteen emerging illustrators are taking part in our Speed Dating for Illustrators event this Thursday, which coincides with the private launch of our exhibition. These lucky illustrators will be matched with a number of eminent publishing experts, who will give their expert advice on getting work noticed and offer feedback on our participants’ portfolios. We are delighted to have publishers visiting us from all over the country, including Tiffany Leeson of Egmont, Paula Burgess from Orchard Books and Little, Brown Book Group, and Leah McDowell from Floris Books.

While we look at options for offering future mentoring, we have a few workshops to tide you budding illustrators over. Our mentors and mentees are delivering sessions in their pairs over the next couple of months that give insights into their individual techniques and processes for illustrating children’s books. All the workshops will take place in the Scottish National Gallery. The details for each session are listed below:

Ross Collins & Hlín Davidstottir – Saturday 18th November 10:30am-12:30pm (this event is now sold out)

Helen Stephens & Kirsti Beautyman – Saturday 2nd December 10:30am-12:30pm

Steve Antony & Anders Frang – Saturday 6th January 10:30am-12:30pm

Debi Gliori & Rachel Everitt – Saturday 20th January 10:30am-12:30pm

Patrick Benson & Hazel Dunn – Saturday 3rd February 10:30-12:30pm

Another workshop to look out for is being run by our new Project Manager, Saskia Cameron. She is teaming up with our own Vivian French and local illustrator and bookbinder Mhairi Braden to offer their expertise on the art of the page turn. They will be looking at the best ways to put a sequential narrative into a book form (a key skill for producing a children’s book). More details on when and where we will be hosting this session will be available soon.

It’s going to be a busy few months in the Picture Hooks office, and we can’t wait to get started. In the meantime, remember to stay in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates from us and to share the love for picture book illustration.

Image: Preparing for Adventure by Anders Frang.

Innovating in illustration – Robert Frank Hunter and Zoë Aubugeau-Williams, Nobrow

The enormously talent Robert Frank Hunter joined Zoë Aubugeau-Williams of Nobrow to talk about the relationship between the illustrator and publisher. Selling and creating is a collaborative process between people in all areas of publishing – here are some of the ways that we all work together.

Hunter’s journey into picture book publishing started through other illustration work – it could be worth doing different projects to show off your talents.


To start a picture book, drawing roughs can help you imagine how the narrative and layout will work together…


Look ahead! Hunter also experimented with spot colours before adding colour to his drawings, so he could predict how the book would look after printing.


How about using technology to simplify your own art process?


How can you use your skills to help promote the book? Illustrators can be valuable beyond the page…

It’s important to think about where your picture book might end up…


This is the first part of a series of recaps from Picture Hooks Conference 2017: Inside Publishing. Click here to read more tweets from the day and interviews with the conference speakers. 

How to get your art to a publisher – Tessa Strickland, Barefoot Books

First to speak was Tessa Strickland, one of the founders of Barefoot Books and a writer of children’s books. Speaking from both sides of the picture book industry, she gave us some insights into how to get your illustrations in front of a publisher.

This is where publishers are looking for illustrators…


… but be careful not to be overzealous when approaching them.


Think about how you are marketing your work to publishers. Develop a style, an identity – good personal branding makes the publisher’s life easier.


So what exactly are publishers looking for in illustration? Most important are the fundamentals…


… but there are also trends to tap into right now.


So you’ve finally got that book deal – what next?


Tessa has a final word of warning for illustrators. Don’t get complacent – keep hustling.


This is the first part of a series of recaps from Picture Hooks Conference 2017: Inside Publishing. Click here to read more tweets from the day and interviews with the conference speakers. 

Know Your Rights – AOI, Handsome Frank, Matthew the Horse, & Sonny Ross

Our final panel of the day featured Lou Bones from the Association of Illustrators, Amy Veried of Handsome Frank, and illustrators Matthew the Horse and Sonny Ross. We ended on conversations abour empowering yourself as an illustrator, protecting your rights when working with clients, and making sure that your work pays off (both artistically and financially).

How often have you been asked to work for exposure with no fee? Don’t. It undermines the industry, and your own value.


But how much should you charge? It depends on the size/reach of the project.


Remember, if you are not happy with the fee you have been offered, you can change it.


And if you can’t change the fee, change the project instead.


Don’t be afraid to negotiate! It is a normal part of the working relationship with a client.


Contracts should be tight and explicit. But about what?


Make sure you know what is expected of you. That will rule out nasty surprises and delays in the project later.


Remember to make work that you enjoy. If you take on a project you are not passionate about, you may be stuck with work you are not interested in forever.


Any last words from our panelists?


To sum up…


This is the first part of a series of recaps from Picture Hooks Conference 2017: Inside Publishing. Click here to read more tweets from the day and interviews with the conference speakers. 

From pitch to picture book – Tiffany Leeson, Egmont Books

Tiffany Leeson, Creative Director of Egmont Books, spoke to us about the process of turning an illustration into a picture book. We got a tour around her office, and a look at some picture books from their initial sketches to the finished product on the shelf.

If you want to get your work in front of a publisher, you might want to consider getting an agent first…


Undertaking sample work can help publishers bear you in mind for future projects too.


Once you’ve got your illustrations onto their desk, what keeps a publisher interested?


It all depends on the market.


So the publisher has noticed your work and wants to commission you for a project. What happens now?


Marketers, designers, and editors will all get input in your work. You’ll have to win over the whole team.


Remember it’s the marketers who decide whether they think a book will sell.


Need ideas for places outside of picture books to get your illustrations published?


You don’t even need to limit yourself to one publisher. Get several!


This is the first part of a series of recaps from Picture Hooks Conference 2017: Inside Publishing. Click here to read more tweets from the day and interviews with the conference speakers. 

Hooks, lines, and pulp: Jonathan Gibbs introduces Picture Hooks

Good morning! This is an un-plugged presentation: there are no electronic devices. I speak as one who has illustrated a few books and is involved with art education.

Picture Hooks, this is it.

We all know a picture when we see it.

And a hook, naturally.

(brass picture hook placed on table)

The pop song, Waterloo Sunset has a beguiling if repetitive hook.

There are different kinds of these things . . . real or symbolic.

And I would like to talk for a moment about lines, ‘the line’, in fact.

This parcel has been addressed to me at this event, today!

(picking up and showing parcel)

I have a sharpened 9B pencil as it happens, between the fingers and thumb of my right hand.

This is applied with varying pressure to the surface of the paper to make a continuous line : a fish, drawn here on the back of this parcel.

(line drawing of fish on back of parcel)

And it has a picture frame!

Which is not real, it is an illusion!

This represents my thoughts, ideas and feelings at this moment, fixed here on the paper.

. . .

But the moment has passed.

Now I am thinking about something else!

However, the image remains . . . and, so do the thoughts, ideas and feelings.

There they are.

This is a philosophy seminar, isn’t it?

Or have I come to the wrong University?

No, it is Picture Hooks, I know.

Of course!

So, let us unwrap this subject a little.

(un-wrapping of parcel)

Here we have stack of books, eight in fact; the proverbial slim volumes:

Harris Finds his Feet, Where the Wild Things Are, Goliath, Higgelty Piggelty Pop, Pappersvaxten, The Snarling of Wolves, Owl Babies, and Il Canto delle Scogliere.

These are classic books for children and some written and illustrated by Edinburgh College of Art alumni and staff such as Vivian French.

For whom, three cheers I say!

Neither pictures nor text are dominant. They are mutually dependent, more or less.

But what do books really contain?

Just paper and ink, that is all: pulp.

No, that is not all, they contain words and pictures. It is that elemental and profound combination which defines Illustration’s identity and purpose to a very considerable extent, I believe.

Neither pictures nor text are dominant. They are mutually dependent, more or less.

But theirs is an interesting and sometimes troubled relationship.

A book will have a title, one line, just a few words strung together, which tells us something about the story within.

Il Canto del Scogliere – Song of the Cliffs

And so, I would like to reflect upon the line, as a significant element of language:

Lines that are drawn, sung, played, written, spoken.

Catherine Rayner draws and illustrates. And she makes prints.

In these pursuits, an implement is held by hand, pen, pencil or brush and applied to the surface of paper to make a mark.

This has character that is uniquely Catherine Rayner’s, even when the image is reproduced in a print-run of five thousand books.

Artists will talk about ‘line’ how they use it, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, for example, or Paul Klee. Incidentally, Giacommetti erased his lines in part many times, over and over, to accumulate the ghost of an image. This Swiss sculptor’s work is currently at the Tate. He made a series of beautiful lithographic illustrations of the streets of Paris.

Art students are tutored in the application and meaning of line.

Picasso’s light drawings, photographed with a slow shutter-speed, demonstrate lines illuminated in space.

Pictorial line depicts shape and form, as well as conveying movement, a story, character, or appearance.

Literature has vocabulary, syntax, and punctuation. Music has its metronomic number, for example, to denote speed: allegro vivace, 140 beats per minute, which translates as Quick and Lively. The books on this table have pace, within their pages of story-telling.
Speech has cadence, pauses, timbre and volume.

In all of these endeavours, line captures the imagination.

Recently, listening to Brett Westwood’s Dawn Chorus on Radio 4, I was inspired by the connections between literature, sound and visual art, which prompted reflection upon the identity of Illustration. Dawn Chorus was an informal and cultured commentary on the song of waking birds, brilliantly recorded by Chris Watson.

The commentators included Mark Cocker and a bird acoustics expert Dr. Jenny York; Tristan Gooley; Will Young and Hanna Tuulikki, a singer from Finland. We heard first-hand the unison song of many birds, in a subtle cacophony of sound for the rising of the sun.

At various art college seminars, a little like this event today, thinking in terms of sound and vision, I have presented musical pieces.

These were syncopated melodies and rhythms, lasting for about four minutes. The pieces were composed to evoke a railway journey.

Melodic lines, interweaving between the treble and bass, (98 beats per minute: Andante), gave a sense of time, space and movement. recalled the vocal rhythm Night Mail by W. H. Auden, and the turning pages of Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson whilst reading to my own children.

There are many train-songs, highway songs, naturally, and stories in literature about such things. Not necessarily for children, but sometime so.

Speaking as an illustrator, I have made work for three of Mark Cocker’s books, as well as his essay on birdsong, for the BBC Wildlife magazine. I scripted a verse of John Clare’s Ode to a Nightingale within a double-page spread, to illuminate this piece of writing.

As said earlier, these connections encapsulate poetry, literature, radio and book illustration, which recalls an earlier time when I made a series of Radio Times illustrations for readings on Radio 4.

This brief entailed distillation of the essence of a novel into a single image. It was commission that inspired the House Style project at Edinburgh College of Art, at a later time, which is another story.

Again, these are small-scale illustrations for the page but they also complement the activity of listening.

All of my illustrative lines are engraved into woodblocks before they are scanned and reproduced in print.

For editorial design, the result is a unique image made in response to a particular text, which is then mass-produced to the tune of a 750,000 print-run.

Within society, these are somewhat ephemeral illustrations for magazines but they do have a wide scope of communication.

However, books have a much longer life-span.

And so I must return to this parcel:

Here we have owls, monsters, wolves, giants, children, hares, a Sealyham terrier and a unicorn. These are wild creatures, each illustrated with a different emphasis of weight, shape, colour and the qualities of line.

In this book, Anine Bosenberg’s unicorn is beautifully composed in photoshop, with clearly delineated colour, originating from the qualities of gouache. This is a fine example of contemporary methods used in a rather traditional mode of book illustration.

Maurice Sendak spoke of the essential importance of music in his work, and the eminent lineage of which he is a part, from medieval illuminated manuscripts to modernist German book illustrations for nursery rhymes and Winslow Homer.

Sendak’s art has its roots in these European traditions, as well as in folk art and Polish culture.

To conclude this talk, for Picture Hooks I wish to celebrate these extraordinary strands of story-telling in the realms of imagery, text, and sound.

Also, I celebrate the cultural relevance of contemporary Illustration and its place in the lexicon of art school subjects. I speak as one who has illustrated a few books, so I celebrate the excellent initiative for emerging illustrators that is Picture Hooks.

Thank you.

This is a transcript of Jonathan Gibbs’ introduction speech at Picture Hooks Conference 2017. Click here to read more about the day and interviews with the panelists. 

Interview: Tessa Strickland, Publisher

Together with Nancy Traversy, Tessa Strickland founded the award-winning independent children’s publishing house Barefoot Books in 1992 as part of a dream to live differently, moving away from a corporate London career to create a small business where imagination could thrive.

Barefoot Books opened a New York office in 1998 and has published hundreds of books for children, translated into over twenty five languages, and sold millions of copies internationally. The stories range from fiction to non-fiction and new to traditional, but they all celebrate education, a love for the Earth, and a connection between all communities.

In December 2016, Strickland stepped-back as the editor-in-chief, but after 25 years at Barefoot this is by no means the end of her career. Under the name Stella Blackstone, Tessa has authored over 60 children’s books, including titles such as A Dragon on the Doorstep and Bear on a Bike, and now devotes her time and expertise to writing for both children and adults, as well as working at her private physiotherapist practice.

A Dragon on the Doorstep illustrated by Debbie Harter

Although Strickland doesn’t illustrate any of her stories herself, she grew up with a love of painting and has a keen eye for matching illustrative styles with the right story. I’ve been lucky enough to ask Strickland about the illustrative side to children’s literature. To begin with I asked what she considers her favourite illustrated book, and unsurprisingly the answer is “I don’t think I can limit myself to one favourite. Well, I know I can’t.” Instead she notes that it is never purely the illustration which will establish a book as a favourite, rather that it must be a balance (“it is the way the illustration and the design and the narrative all work together”), before going on to name a few of her most treasured books.

First on the list is Astrid Lindgren’s The Tomten, illustrated by Harald Wiberg. This is the story of a Scandinavian dwarf-like creature and his night-time walk around a snowy farm. “The Tomten reassures all of the animals that they are safe, and he talks to them in Tomten language, which horses, cows, cats, children etc understand.” Tessa notes how Wiberg uses beautifully soft images to depict this amazingly comforting story. “The illustrations are very restful to look at, in a way that compliments the text.” It is easy to see why this book may be the perfect bedtime story. “The implication of this classic picture book is that someone special is out there, even in the dead of night, and this someone likely understands you, the child, even if your parents probably don’t.”

In Strickland’s childhood favourite, A Child’s Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer, she describes how pictures can be used as a gateway to a different kind of reading: “it’s a fantastic example of the way in which illustrations can make a book accessible to a child.”

In Claire Nivola’s Orani: My Father’s Village, the illustrations act as a a window with which the reader can share in the memory of a far away place. “Memories of summer holidays in her father’s Sardinian village evoke an entire way of life in the Mediterranean. Whenever I pick up this book, I find myself led into the bright light and dusty streets of the village.”

Finally, Strickland touches on some more contemporary favourites, and suggests less is often more: “I think Chris Haughton’s book Shh! We Have A Plan! is a stunning exercise in graphic self discipline and so are all of Jon Klassen’s books. They are pure genius.”

As for her favourite Barefoot book, Strickland chooses The Barefoot Book of Children. “Every double-page spread in this one-off look at the different ways in which children across the world live their lives is a masterclass in itself. All of them take my breath away, but I particularly love the one which shows different children at bath-time. Thank you again, David!”

I then asked Strickland, as a publisher, what she looks for in an illustrator’s portfolio. Her answer is threefold: originality, discipline and presentation. “To be original is perhaps the most elusive thing and yet the most obvious, because all we need to do to be original is to be ourselves,” she explains. She adds, “one of the hardest things to find, as a publisher, are illustrators who know how to draw children and who can retain and develop a sense of character throughout a story.” She also gives a wise word to consider when choosing a story: “there’s a powerful push-pull in picture books that it pays to bear in mind: children love to be scared but at the same time, they need to feel safe, certainly by the end of the story.”

<em>The Gigantic Turnip</em> illustrated by Niamh Sharkey & written by Aleksei Tolstoy

As for discipline, Strickland looks for consistency as well as a true ability to understand a text. “To illustrate well you have to have a sense of how to tune into the emotional messages of the text and to draw these out by changing gear in the right way at the right moment. Niamh Sharkey does this to brilliant effect in The Gigantic Turnip, which has been translated into 26 languages and counting.”

Strickland describes how essential it is to have an awareness that presentation matters: “it shows the publisher that you take pride in your work and that you know how to organise yourself as well as knowing how to express yourself creatively. Of course, presentation alone is not going to get you a commission – you have to have the talent as well – but it is well worth taking the trouble to think through what you want to present and how you want to present it.”

As a final word of encouragement to all aspiring illustrators, Strickland reminds us to keep a thick skin and not give up – self belief is key! “The selection process is subjective too – what is not quite right for one publisher may well be pitch-perfect for another. Believe in yourself and believe in your work and you are already well on your way!”

Words by Katie Williams
Featured image from The Barefoot Book of Children, illustrated by David Dean

Interview: Robert Frank Hunter, Illustrator

The work of London-based illustrator and animator, Robert Frank Hunter, sits between two worlds. He uses traditional drawing and print techniques to create images which whisper of folklore, deep magic and lost religions; but his illustrations are no pastiche of the past. He uses striking colours and bold compositions to give his work an unmistakably contemporary edge. Old and new blend seamlessly in Hunter’s mesmerising creations.

Indeed, Hunter believes that colour and form is vital in helping your portfolio stand out. His advice to emerging illustrators is to use “bold colour choices and dramatic compositions”. The New Ghost (published in 2011 by Nobrow Press) is a brilliant example of this advice in his own work. It tells the story of an unlikely relationship that starts between astrologer and a spectral figure. Set entirely at night, Hunter makes wide use of navy and midnight blue, but strategically intersperses the nighttime gloom with shots of neon pink and bright yellow.

This traditional yet modern approach to picture-making is also echoed in the work of Ping Zhu, a Brooklyn-based illustrator whom Hunter particularly admires. Zhu “experiments with her work and seem to push herself to try new approaches to her work” whilst still remaining “so confident in traditional illustration techniques and [she] will produce original paintings for commercial projects which is something of a rarity these days.”

It is actually a manual process that is one of the best pieces of advice given to Hunter. He begins every project by drawing thumbnail sketches, which he finds a fast and easy way to start. After all, “starting is always the hardest part” – something I’m sure every illustrator can identify with.

Words by Beatrix Calow

Interview: Tiffany Leeson, Creative Director

Tiffany Leeson is the creative director of Egmont Publishing. Egmont are the UK’s leading children’s publisher and sell a staggering one million books and one million magazines each month alone. Leeson has over 22 years of industry experience under her belt, with past jobs in Ladybird, Walker Books, and DeAgostini.

Leeson’s impressive career in children’s publishing is not a self-serving one. She says that she’s “never really viewed my work in children’s books publishing as a vehicle for my career.” Instead, her work is underpinned by her passion for “getting children into reading and books – whether it be a beautiful picture book from Barroux, or a Thomas the Tank Engine reader.” This mission is perhaps more important than ever with mobile devices and digital entertainment now competing for children’s attention.

Leeson has picked up a wealth of wisdom in her career from other publishers and illustrators, some of which she uses in every project. She shares a couple: Anna McQuinn (of DeAgostini Editions) encouraged her to ask the question “how would a child who can’t read understand that spread?” and Liz Wood (of Walker Books) told her “when it comes to cover design, the answer is always inside the book.”

The best part of her job, Leeson says, is the moment when she knows she’s matched the right illustrator to a text – “an illustrator who can really bring more to the text than any of us could ever have briefed or imagined.” The concept of collaboration points to a wider reason she loves her role. Publishing a successful picture book is, at its heart, a team effort and Leeson values working with people “who are all at the top of their game and focused on making a fantastic book.”

Words by Beatrix Calow

Interview: Zoë Aubugeau-Williams, Nobrow

“My job is to tell as many people as possible about the amazing work of talented illustrators,” says Zoë Aubugeau-Williams of her role at Nobrow. Nobrow is a publishing house dedicated to publishing books that showcase groundbreaking graphic arts. Its imprint, Flying Eye Books, is similarly committed to bringing high-calibre illustrations into children’s books.

As the Marketing Co-ordinator for both, Aubugeau-Williams spends her time coming up with interesting ways to promote picture books. “I enjoy working with the illustrators and our brilliant design team to spread the message of their books in all different kinds of ways,” she says, “from creating animated book trailers, window displays… or stickers!”

Flying Eye Books

Part of promoting a picture book will involve drawing attention to its most eye-catching elements. On what first catches her attention in an illustrator’s portfolio, Aubugeau-Williams highlights colour as the most important factor: “I am a fiend for an interesting palette and that’s what most often draws me to pick something up!” More specifically to picture books, she also notes how key it is for illustrators to be able to convey a character’s personality and emotion: “I think that is what really resonates with children too”.

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

It is for this reason that Aubugeau-Williams enjoys Tove Jansson’s illustrations so much, in particular the Moomins, which “manage to exude so much personality, character and sense of surrounding, whether they are B+W line drawings, coloured illustrations or comics”. She also cites Raymond Briggs and his ability to tell stories just through pictures, Charley Harper’s Golden Book of Biology (which she calls a “masterpiece”), and Lorena Alvarez, Blexbolex, Emily Hughes, Joe Todd-Stanton, and Robert Hunter (who she will be in conversation with at Picture Hooks Conference 2017).

Buy your tickets to the conference on Eventbrite.

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez