• Speed Dating for Illustrators

    Get matched with your dream publisher and show them your best work. This is a unique opportunity to meet a range of picture book publishers and agents from across the UK all in one room in Scotland.

    Apply by 29th September 2017.

    Find out more >>

  • Mentoring 2016/17

    Applications for the 2016-17 mentoring scheme are now closed.

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

    The scheme is funded by Creative Scotland.

  • Conference


    Picture Hooks presents its annual conference for illustrators, now in its fourth year, with the The Association of Illustrators and Manchester School of Art. This is a great opportunity for emerging illustrators and graduates to get an insider’s view into the picture book industry and other commercial opportunities, with illuminating talks from leading publishing experts and agents.

    Click here to buy tickets.

  • Exhibition & Events

    Exhibition & Events

    Develop your practical skills for illustrating children’s books with our series of two-day workshops for emerging illustrators at the National Portrait Gallery.

    Sign up to our mailing list for details about the next session:

    Find out more >>

    Illustration by Tracey Smith, 2014/15 Picture Hooks mentee.


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

Interview: Matthew the Horse, Illustrator

Matthew the Horse is a self-described Illustrator-Educator-Poet, dividing his time between producing illustrations, teaching at Leeds College of Art, and writing. His use of vivid colour combined with sketchy outlines (he favours drawing by hand over relying on design software) makes him an ideal candidate for editorial commissions, and his portfolio appropriately boasts clients like The New York Times, The Economist, and The Guardian.

Matthew has been freelancing since 2006, and during that time has drawn from artists like Marcus Oakley, James Jarvis, Laura Carlin, Jillian Tamaki, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Guy Billout and Geoff Mcfetridge, all of whom represent a spectrum between pencilled textures and a vivid pop style: “That’s a funny list but if you’ve got time I reckon I could join all the dots.”

As well as being innovative in its aesthetic, Matthew believes that a good illustration portfolio demonstrates “authenticity”. He is impressed by drawing, “especially when it’s able to convey the artist’s own tone of voice”. For Matthew, the artist’s individual stamp should be present in the artwork: “I believe skilful, uninhibited, performative drawing should be able make manifest the artist’s true self.”

For would-be illustrators, Matthew recommends a balance of getting organised, staying motivated, and maintaining a love for drawing: “Don’t stop making things. Momentum is a treasure. Make a clearing in the jungle and protect it. It’s not a race, there is no finish line. Organise your files. Drawing is good for you.”

Buy your tickets to Picture Hooks Conference 2017 on Eventbrite.

Interview: Amy Veried, Junior Agent

The most valuable piece of advice that Amy Veried ever received about her career was “Do what makes you happy”. Veried has done just that, deciding at art school that she did not want to be a freelance illustrator but that she still wanted to work within the industry. Now, just three years after graduating with a BA in Illustration with Animation from Manchester School of Art, she is working as a Junior Agent at Handsome Frank, an agency for contemporary artists.

Handsome Frank represents illustrators who produce work for advertising, design, and publishing, with styles ranging from clean blocks of colour to a more hand-drawn look. Veried is well-placed to describe what makes a good portfolio, no matter the techniques that are being showcased. She looks out for artists “having their own unique style and voice, something I haven’t seen before done incredibly well”. It is crucial that artwork is “finished to a high standard”, but illustrations with a personality of their own are what go the extra mile: “if it makes me laugh that’s usually a winner.”

Working with picture books can give illustrators the chance to put some these extra quirks into their work. Veried praises “the amount of space that is allowed for drawing instead of words to tell the story”. She also notes how paper itself can enhance picture books, bringing extra dimensions (quite literally) to the illustrations. “There’s some amazing paper engineering that goes into picture books,” Veried explains, “which makes them very exciting”.

Some of Veried’s favourite illustrators (not represented by Handsome Frank) include: David Shrigley, Leanne Shapton, Laura Callaghan, August Wren, Camille Walala, Dave Eggers, Katie Scott, Mr Bingo, Jon Klassen, Bodil Jane, Chris Riddell, Levi Pinfold, Raymond Pettibon, Quentin Miller, Marc Johns, Gemma Correll.

Buy your tickets to Picture Hooks Conference 2017 on Eventbrite.

Interview: Sonny Ross, Illustrator

Sonny Ross is a multifaceted illustrator. A zine-maker, picture book writer, and commercial artist, he originally started out wanting to be a history teacher before doing a stint training as a risograph printer. These past occupations have left their mark on his illustrations, which are characterised by bold but restricted colour schemes and compositions inspired by Renaissance art.

Going against the grain of those who advise illustrators to find a niche, Ross believes in a more broad approach to finding work: “I don’t understand why people limit themselves to one ‘genre’”. He most admires illustrators who show “the ability to do multiple things, from serious editorials to food or humour”. Ross’s portfolio is a good example of this versatile approach, with clients ranging from The Skinny to The Royal Horticultural Society and a picture book titled Duck Gets A Job (published October 2016 by Templar Publishing).

Ross also encourages illustrators to stretch themselves in terms of technique. The Brooklyn-based comic artist Kelsey Wroten, for example, “has moved from pure digital to scanned pencils and it has improved the work a million times over”. The artists that Ross tends to admire most produce work very different from his own style. They encourage him to improve in areas that he ordinarily focuses on less. He names Raj Dhunna, “who works in such a tight compositional way [that] will inform my work to be tighter on the whole”.

It is this expansive and exploratory attitude that Ross enjoys most about making picture books. Whereas working in editorial often restricts new characters and scenarios to just one image, “[w]ith books you get to explore the heights and limitations of that cool idea”. That idea, for Ross, manifested as a duck, who feels out of step with his friends who are all moving to the city and getting jobs managing spreadsheets. Ross’s picture book, no doubt slightly autobiographical, celebrates creativity and encourages readers to follow their dreams.

The best advice that has helped his own career, Ross says, is to “draw more”. Doodling gives you the space to experiment, make mistakes, and discover new techniques, which can then be fed back into your professional work. “Some of my strongest techniques came about through just drawing in bed.”

Buy your tickets to Picture Hooks Conference 2017 on Eventbrite.

Welcome to our new mentees and mentors

We would like to issue a warm welcome to the new mentees and mentors on the Picture Hooks 2017 mentoring scheme. We are delighted to begin the new year with such a talented group of illustrators, and very much look forward to seeing the work that they produce.

Kirsti Beautyman is a Newcastle-based illustrator who graduated from Edinburgh College for Art last year. The Edinburgh arts festival Hidden Door recently announced that Kirsti will be their chosen illustrator for their 2017 poster design. She will be mentored by Helen Stephens, writer and illustrator of How to Hide A Lion (winner of the Prix Livrentete, nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Redhouse Book Awards, and adapted for the stage by The Polka Theatre).



Hazel Dunn graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2014, and is currently a textile designer with Collect Scotland. She has been paired with Patrick Benson, illustrator for scores of acclaimed books including Martin Waddell’s Owl Babies and Roald Dahl’s The Minpins. He has also previously won the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Award, and the Kurt Maschler Award.


Credit: Hazel Dunn


This is the first time that we have opened up our mentoring scheme to illustrators from outside of Scotland, and it has been great to connect with talent from around the world. Anders Frang is from Denmark and graduated from the Danish Design School in 2015. He was previously commissioned to illustrate a picture book version of The Nightingale, and will keep developing this craft under direction from Steve Antony. Antony is the writer and illustrator of the popular picture book Please Mr Panda, which was nominated ‘Picture Book of the Week’ in The Times and ‘Picture Book of the Month’ in Barnes & Noble.

Hlin Davidsdottir is an Iceland-born graduate from the Edinburgh College of Art who currently specialises in 2D animation. She will be paired with Ross Collins, whose picture book There’s A Bear in My Chair was shortlisted for the inaugural Bookbug Picture Book Award 2017 and won Amnesty’s CILIP Honour for the Kate Greenaway medal shortlist.



Rachel Everitt graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 1999, and has continued to tutor part time in the Animation department. She has produced several animation films for children, some of which went on to win the Engage Scotland Visual Arts Education Award for Improving Mental Health and Well-being in 2005. She is mentored by Debi Gliori, a multi-award winning illustrator who who has mentored with us previously. Most recently, the book Always and Forever, written with Alan Durant, was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2003, whilst Where, Oh Where, is Baby Bear? was shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Baby Book Award in 2001.



Our mentees represent a wide range of career stages and skills, and we are confident that they will do well in creating their first (in some cases second!) picture book. We wish them all the best of luck.

Picture Hooks receives Creative Scotland & National Lottery funding

We are so pleased to announce that Creative Scotland and the National Lottery will be providing financial backing for another two years of Picture Hooks.

The support from these funding bodies will be invaluable in delivering our third mentoring programme for emerging picture book illustrators, starting again in January 2017. We will also be looking at ways to keep expanding Picture Hooks, which has grown rapidly and gained interest this year from illustrators all over the world.

We will be releasing information about this year’s mentoring scheme quite soon, including details about our chosen mentees and mentors and dates for our final exhibition.


Picture Books & Design at Book Week Scotland

It’s just under a month to go until Scottish Book Trust launches Book Week Scotland, unveiling hundreds of free events across Scotland that celebrate a love for reading. As we showed in our blog post on visual literacy, picture books can play a key role in encouraging children to read, so we are pleased to see so many events dedicated to illustration and design.

Publishing Scotland will present their exhibition “Design by the Book: A Scottish Publishing Showcase” for the entire week. Every day will see a celebration of innovation in book cover design in Scottish publishing, taking place in the Castle Vaults at Edinburgh Castle. The exhibition will also mark the Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design, which highlights the achievements of Scotland’s visual artists throughout 2016.

Children in Kirkaldy will be treated to a live drawing session with Adam Murphy, the creator of Corpse Talk in which he interviews famous dead people about their history. Young audiences are invited to have a go at drawing their own reanimated corpses, or to simply watch whilst Murphy does what he knows best. Murphy will also host “read-a-licious – Comic illustrations” in Peebles, where he will give children aged 8-12 some pointers on drawing comics.

Vivian French and Lucy Juckes of Picture Hooks will be hosting two separate events this year. French, a picture book writer herself, will introduce children and parents to her own and others’ works. There will also be a prizegiving for the Made in Scotland reading challenge, where children spent October completing a list of books set in Scotland and by Scottish writers. Juckes and fellow literary agent Jenny Brown are hosting “Pitch Your Book to Agents”. They will offer advice to writers and picture book illustrators on what steps to take next having completed their initial manuscript.

Wee bookworms can finish their week off at “Party Time With Katie Morag”. The beloved picture book’s creator Mairi Hedderwick will open the Children’s Book Festival in Helensburgh, a special add-on to Cove Book Festival for 2016.