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.

Visual Literacy in the Classroom

Aurelie Norman is a teacher at Wardie Primary School in Edinburgh and recently gave a talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival about visual literacy. She talks to us about how pictures can be used in the classroom to teach pupils basic literacy skills.


Can you tell us about the project you ran with the illustration students from Edinburgh College of Art?

Vivian French from Edinburgh College of Art ran three workshops with Wardie Primary School that connected second-year illustration students with primary school children on a collective art project. This was an exciting opportunity for the art students to work with their potential audience and to understand the interests of five- and six-year-olds. For the children, it was a wonderful experience to work with artists and play with new materials to create posters.

The first two workshops took place at Wardie, where the children collaborated with the illustrators to create their own superheroes. During these sessions the pupils discussed and sketched their chosen character at length. They decided who their superhero would be, what powers they would have, and consequently where they would live. The art students then took the joint drawings away and designed wonderful superhero posters.

Storytelling sessions allow children to be creative and tell stories without the restrictions of literacy and writing skills.

The final session was at Edinburgh Art College where the Wardie pupils had a tour around the illustrators’ studios and to the exhibition of their joint work. For the final part of the visit, Vivian French did a storytelling session, which included students drawing her stories and pupils acting it out. It was a fantastic and memorable project!


visual literacy school


What was the impact on the pupils?

The pupils had a rare opportunity to develop a new character and its surroundings with skilled art students. The posters that they created were then used for storytelling. The children were able to imagine scenarios for their superheroes using some of the details in the posters.

Storytelling sessions like this allow children to be creative and tell stories without the restrictions of literacy and writing skills. Their detailed stories were first drawn out as a plan (black line drawings) and then written down. This process helped children of all abilities to create excellent stories.


What other hooks have you used to inspire your pupils to write creatively?

I have been fascinated by storytelling over the past few years and it has been very beneficial to my pupils. They enjoyed one storytelling project with the Scottish Book Trust that we took part in immensely, and afterwards I discovered their literacy skills had improved dramatically. The writing results at the end of that year exceeded expectation, with 2/3 of the class achieving above average levels for their writing.

After researching storytelling further, I rolled it out throughout the school. It is key for children to be confident when talking and telling stories, whether they be known family stories, re-told tales, using puppets, storytelling dice and maps, or making up their own stories. These alternative storytelling techniques help children to develop not only their listening and talking skills but also their writing techniques.


visual literacy school


Can you give us some hints and tips about using picture books in the classroom?

Whilst reading skills like de-coding, fluency, and expression are of great importance, it is equally necessary that children understand what they are reading. Picture books are a wonderful resource for understanding the writer’s message, and make a great comprehension tool for children of all abilities and ages.

Picture books are a wonderful resource for understanding the writer’s message.

Picture books encourage children to look at the illustrations before the text. They discuss amongst themselves what they have noticed and what they think the writer is trying to convey. The teacher is there as a facilitator and is not there to influence observations. Children start to ask open ended questions, such as ‘I wonder why?’, which leads to a great discussion amongst the pupils. One observation often sparks another and develops the discussion.

I run these sessions in mixed ability groups of around eight children and only look at a few pages at a time. It is just as important to look at the cover and end papers of a book, as the illustrators often spend a great deal of time adding detail that gives clues about the story.

Once a group has been trained, it may run independently and do follow up tasks like predicting what happens next in a book or making connections to their own lives.


Can you teach non-fiction topics using visual techniques?

Well sought out video clips and songs can support non-fiction books, which are critical for improving children’s understanding and enjoyment of language.

In a recent project with my class we watched video song clips that imparted facts about the solar system. Children discussed the information they had picked up and made notes in their draft jotter. Some drew the facts that they had learnt and others created annotated diagrams.

Once these notes had been collated the children created their own non-fiction books, using some of their favourite formats they had found in other non-fiction texts. They drew pictures and diagrams to support their written facts. This was a great example of using visual literacy techniques to learn facts, take notes, and to create non-fiction texts.


space visual literacy


How else can you bring visual literacy into the classroom?

We have used a variety of visual techniques at Wardie to give children feedback. The use of ‘Tickle Me Pink’ and ‘Green for Grower’ is an effective tool for written activities. Children’s work is highlighted in pink for something positive and green for a point needing improvement.

Another useful resource is writing feedback stamps. These are especially useful with infant classes, where children often can’t read the ‘two stars and a wish’ comments that teachers write. It is both meaningful to the child and takes less time for the teacher to mark, which allows for more time to plan fun visual literacy activities!

Storytelling maps are another useful visual tool. I used them when I taught my class about the Middle Ages. The children made up ‘historical fiction’ stories about people living in that period. As they re-told their stories it was evident that they had picked up many historical facts along the way. This was an effective and valid way for me to assess them without any writing.

Meet the Illustrator: Kasia Matyjaszek

You’ve been on quite a journey since your time with Picture Hooks in 2012. What was the first thing you did to get the ball rolling at the end of the mentoring scheme?

I think I just kept drawing, developing my picture book ideas, showing it to people and then drawing even more. It has been a very busy few years!


What has been your favourite project to work on since finishing with Picture Hooks?

It is quite difficult to decide as every project was different and I really like them all for different reasons. I loved working on two picture books for a Polish independent publisher Dwie Siostry as I had the opportunity to work with fantastic, very powerful texts by Ewa Madeyska. The brief was very open so I had a lot of freedom with deciding what to illustrate and what the spreads would look like.

I also very much enjoyed working on ‘The Fourth Bonniest Baby in Dundee’ for Floris Books. The story written by Michelle Sloan is probably the liveliest and the most hilarious thing I have ever illustrated.

And of course working on my own picture book where I was both author and illustrator was a fantastic and very different experience.



Wolf and Teddy drawn by Kasia Matyjaszek


Whilst you were with Picture Hooks you were also Artist in Residence at the Edinburgh College of Art. What do you think was the most valuable part of that experience?

Illustrating is a great job but it can feel very lonely and isolating at times – you basically spend most of your day by yourself in the studio, surrounded by your imaginary characters.

It is not long before you start having conversations with them, they become your best friends etc. The residency at Edinburgh College of Art was a way to be a part of a wider community of artists and illustrators and be around people who have similar interests and understand what it is like to be a freelance illustrator. It was also great to be back to the college and get the opportunity to work with the students. I have actually never left the college after the residency as it directly lead to my job as a tutor.


Now that you tutor at the University of Edinburgh, what is the most important piece of advice that you give your students?

Keep a sketchbook, go out and draw from observation. This is something I find myself repeating most often. Very often students don’t appreciate how much research goes into an illustration project and how important it is to draw from observation.


Keep a sketchbook, go out and draw from observation.


Funnily enough, this is something I have to often repeat to myself. Sometimes I get stuck on the project, nothing really works and I feel like I will never be able to draw again. This is when I have to remind myself of that ‘most important piece of advice’ and just go out and draw. Usually an afternoon drawing in the National Museum of Scotland does the job.

Drawing from observation is such an important tool for an illustrator and also a very relaxing and therapeutic thing to do.


You’ve also been running creative workshops for children. Does working with young people ever feed back into your own art?

Yes, definitely! All the time! It is an invaluable experience to work with children, watch them play, make art and engage with the world around them. And also seeing how different they are in the way they play or respond to the art activities – some children would spend the whole session focused, i.e. covering a large sheet of paper with glue and sticking bits of paper to it, others are much more active and they just keep running around and causing chaos.

It is always a challenge to design the activities so every child can find something for themselves. And I guess when making picture books you come across similar challenges – how to make a book that appeals to a wider audience?

I cannot really draw when I lead the workshops but I often take mental notes and quickly draw them from memory in my sketchbook after the session. And later they often make way into my illustrations.


I am also very much inspired by the art and drawings made by small kids.


I am also very much inspired by the art and drawings made by small kids. They are brilliant! When a 5 year old draws a dragon, they really mean it, they just go for it and it really comes across in the finished piece. It is a real dragon! There is this freshness and sincerity in the way children draw. And sadly it is later lost and for a grown up artist, it takes years of training and practice to somehow regain it.

So yes, working with young people is an integral part of my own process and I don’t think I would be able to make picture books if I didn’t do workshops.


Stockton the Cat drawn by Kasia Matyjaszek


Most excitingly, you’ve got a new book coming out – called I Am a Very Clever Cat – on September 8th! Could you tell us a little bit about the book and where you got the inspiration from?

Yes, this is very exciting indeed! The process behind I Am a Very Clever Cat is very much connected to the Picture Hooks and it probably wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for the mentoring scheme.

It started back in 2012 with a small sketch of a cat carrying a ball of wool that I later developed into a set of illustrations and submitted for the Picture Hooks mentoring scheme. Obviously I was over the moon when I heard that my application was successful and I was one of five finalists for the first edition of Picture Hooks.

During the mentoring scheme I developed the character further but I struggled a bit with a narrative. I had a character which I liked a lot, and which got a very good response from the Picture Hooks exhibition, but no story.


The process behind I Am a Very Clever Cat is very much connected to the Picture Hooks and it probably wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for the mentoring scheme.


The breakthrough came later and it was inspired by two seemingly random events.

One was a workshop for children I lead at the North Edinburgh Arts centre, which involved making structures from the wool. I bought three balls of wool and we made this big structure by spreading and taping the wool to the walls, floor and ceiling. It looked very tidy to start with… And then the kids came and they started playing with it, throwing the leftover balls of wool, attaching random objects to it, running around and getting caught in the net. So by the end of the session we had this big knot of wool hanging in the middle of the room with bits of furniture and art materials attached to it. A big mess! This workshop was the main inspiration for the storyline.

And the other inspiration was a puppy we got around the same time. I worked from home and spent a lot of time observing him play and mostly cause chaos and destruction in our flat.

And now, over four years later from that first sketch, after lots of very helpful editing advice from my agents at Fraser Ross and an awesome experience of working with the team at Templar Publishing, I am a Very Clever Cat is finally published!


And finally, who was your favourite illustrator as a child?

I don’t think I had a favourite illustrator as a child. There were just books I liked or I didn’t like. And one book I liked a lot was a collection of poems by Jan Brzechwa beautifully illustrated by Franciszka Themerson. It was not until later when I learnt about Franciszka and Stefan Themerson and their amazing artwork.


Kasia Matyjaszek’s book I Am A Very Clever Cat will be published by Templar Publishing on 8th September 2016. Click here to buy a copy. 

Picture Hooks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

We have just ten days until the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes off again in Charlotte Square Gardens. Of course the festival is not only about the written word – there is plenty in store for picture book fans and illustrators too. We’re thrilled that so many from our own Picture Hooks community has made it into the programme. Our past mentors will be introducing new books, hosting live drawing sessions, and showing us how illustrations can be used to teach. We’ve compiled this summary of events so you know who’s doing what and where.

Debi Gliori will join Faye Hanson (author of picture books Midnight at the Zoo and The Wonder) in the Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre. They will talk about creating compelling fictional worlds that give space for children’s imaginations and questions. Gliori will also host The Crocodiamond Big Draw, a draw-along where audiences can invent their own baddie characters.

Ross Collins will invite you to create your own characters when he talks about his picture book, There’s A Bear On My Chair. He will show audiences how he draws his characters (from big bears to small mice) before asking you to draw with him. Collins also speaks with writer Claire Barker about the latest book in their popular series, Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog and the Last Circus Tiger. Expect some live drawing at both events, and a good dash of whimsical humour.

Nick Sharratt will give an interactive talk when he promotes his first book of nonsense poetry called Vikings in the Supermarket. A highly-accomplished illustrator and fantastic entertainer, Sharratt’s event will include live drawing and silly rhymes for the whole family.

Cate James is also introducing a new picture book this year called Go Home, Little One!. She will showcase her story, which describes a tiny hedgehog who would rather play outside with his squirrel friends than hibernate through the winter.

Shakespeare 400 will also make an appearance when Brita Granström and Mick Manning use live drawing to introduce children to the bard. The pair will show how pictures can bring facts about William Shakespeare to life for children.

On a similar note, Vivian French will discuss how picture books can be used in the classroom in our very own Picture Hooks event, The Hook of Visual Literacy. French will argue that communicating with children through images is getting more and more crucial in our increasingly visual world. Another of French’s events, The Write to Read: Discussing Dyslexia, will cover writing books for children who struggle to read. There will be a Book Doctor on-hand at the end of the event to recommend dyslexia-friendly books.

French will also host a game of consequences for comic book makers. The audience will be asked to start each story, while the artists take turns continuing the plot through live drawing. On top of this, she will join her long-time collaborator David Melling to talk about the latest installation of their Knight in Training series. We will hear about whether Sam J Butterbiggins has achieved his dream of becoming a knight yet.

There is a fantastic array of events featuring illustrators this year, so don’t just stop with our ones. The Edinburgh International Book Festival presents a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the picture book world.

5 reasons to apply for the Picture Hooks Mentoring Scheme 2016

We’ll be announcing the details of the 2016 Picture Hooks Mentoring Scheme at our conference next week. Here’s former mentee, Jon Bishop, on 5 reasons to apply. 

1. It helps you focus your work. 

The application process for the mentoring scheme allowed me to identify the areas that I wanted to develop most. Applying allows you to take stock and assess the direction you really want your work to take and make the necessary steps to move forward.

 2. Face to face contact with your mentor. 

Whether you’re a seasoned illustrator extraordinaire or just starting out, the profession can be quite a solitary experience. One of the most useful parts of the mentoring project for me, as well as the amazing tips and insights that my mentor, Debi Gliori, passed on, was having that face to face meet up time with her. I was able to bounce ideas back and forth with her and sometimes it helped just to blether away and clear my headspace.

3. Being part of the scheme brings exciting opportunities.

As well as the insight and support of the mentors, the scheme also brought me some other amazing opportunities. I’m still in shock over the realisation that my work featured as part of an exhibition at the National Galleries. Also, throughout the project, we had the chance to meet with a range of publishers, art editors and agents. What are you waiting for? Apply, apply, apply!

 4. As important as it is to apply, it’s also vital to reapply. 

When I was selected for the mentoring scheme in 2014, it wasn’t the first time I’d applied. If, indeed, like me, you weren’t selected the first time around, don’t be put off!

 5. Even if you aren’t chosen, great opportunities can come from it!

I was delighted when I was chosen to be a part of the programme in 2014, but it wasn’t all tears back in 2012. A friend of mine, who works in theatre, liked the story that I had developed for the first submission and so we decided to create a piece of children’s theatre around it. If the mentoring scheme doesn’t work out for you this year, the work you do create for the application may lead onto something else and it will undoubtedly benefit your folio for future applications.

So, in short, do apply to the mentoring scheme….and good luck! If the outcome isn’t what you wanted this time, make sure you don’t give up and continue to develop new material for the next round!