Jan Ormerod

Jan Ormerod, who passed away earlier this year, was a much loved picture book illustrator and author. Born in Western Australia in 1946, Jan later settled in the UK, where her first picture book ‘Sunshine’ won the Mother Goose Award in 1982, the first of a remarkable series of books for children. Gillian McClure, who knew her well, here offers a personal memory.

I first knew Jan when her girls, Laura and Sophie were little and she lived in Cambridge in a terraced house, like mine by the river Cam.  My youngest son and Laura went to the same school and I was often popping over to Jan’s house to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat beside her Aga. It was all very homely there with two pet rabbits hopping around the garden.
Jan (on the right) in 2008 with Jana Novotna-Hunter and Amanda Hall at the Bologna Book Fair.

Later Jan went to live in Rutland and we did not see so much of each other except at the Bologna Book Fair where we often shared self catering accommodation with a group of UK illustrators.  Jan attended the Fair to see her Australian publishers, Little Hare, but there was also a lot of time to enjoy the parties the different publishers threw and to sit in the Piazza Maggiore enjoying the wine and sunshine. Once we went to an exhibition of artwork by Lisbeth Zwerger and I remember Jan being very taken with the way Zwerger drew people and children. 

Jan herself will always be remembered for the way she drew children.
In Moonlight, the companion book to her first, award winning, picture book, Sunshine, she is able to show the tenderness between a father and daughter and capture all the stances and mannerisms of small children.

She could draw babies like nobody else –

Like this one in Lizzie Nonsense, inspired by her Australian grandmother. –

Jan was brought up in Western Australia and she captures the heat of that arid land in WaterWitcher, by using a limited palette and strong black line.  

Again it’s the life and humour in her drawings of the children that make this book so special. 

She once said, “My books have largely been a celebration and savoring of the positive experience of parenthood.”
But I think she did more than that. Jan had the ability to capture love, without sentimentality, between the pages of a book; here, a mother-daughter love in this picture from Lizzie Nonsense.

All images © Little Hare Press and Frances Lincoln, reproduced with thanks.

Gillian McClure has had many books published and has accumulated a great many illustrations. She has served on the CWIG committee, the Public Lending Right Advisory Committee, was a 2006-7 New Writing Partnership Escalator judge/mentor, and a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at Kent University 2005-8 and Essex University 2011-12. In 2010 she started her own publishing company, Plaister Press, to celebrate the art of the picture book. She blogs on writing and illustrating. 


  1. Gillian, I don't think we've met but I lived in Cambridge at one time and was part of a group of illustrators, including Jan, that met regularly in each other's houses. I also knew Amanda Hall and I think that Jana came along to a couple of meetings.
    At that time, though I grew up in Australia, I didn't know the importance of Jan's work and I don't remember ever talking about illustration with her. I wasn't involved in children's illustration (my commissions have been mainly in other areas) and this was before I became a parent. I hadn't come across her books.
    The conversation I had with her that I remember most vividly is her description of a visit to a beautician and of non-surgical facelifts - it was hilarious. And I think I also remember talking to her about cats. But I think that this is an illustration of her charm, she could talk to anyone and would always find some kind of connection that made you feel like a valued friend.
    Thanks for talking about her work.

    1. Yes, Jan could be hilarious. I remember her laugh. And she loved her cats.

  2. What a beautiful tribute. I didn’t know Jan personally but she was a strong presence in my life as a mother, her images sent my children to their dreams every night. She will not be forgotten.

    1. Yes, her images were gentle and could do that.

  3. What a touching account Gillian - and a perfect choice of illustrations - thanks! You're so right about the love - and humour too. She ran one of the most memorable and inspiring SCBWI workshops in Paris about getting back to roots, childhood experiences.
    I treasure the creative times I had with her, staying first at my house in France, where she helped me over a bout of self doubt, later brainstorming stories with Sue Porter in Brittany.
    I also visited her one summer in a house she'd borrowed in Western Massachusetts to finish a job for a US publisher. When I arrived she was washing a huge watercolour in the bath - a picture of wagons heading west in the gold rush - a hard job but she did it brilliantly - a trooper overcoming her own bouts of doubt. And so innovative too with formats and approaches.
    She inspired and deserved huge respect, not just in UK but in the US too where she had many publishing friends - and of course in Australia where books like Lizzie Nonsense took her back to her own roots.
    We all miss her!

    1. Jan once told me she used to wash out bits of watercolour that needed washing out, in the bath. And you saw her doing it!

  4. I first knew of Jan's work through her Mother Goose winning Sunshine, it came out just when I graduated so was all over the children's book press, which I eagerly followed. It was many years later when I finally got to meet Jan, in Oxford at the CWIG conference (2005 if I remember correctly), and was immediately drawn to her warm and generous nature, she was one of those people you just hit it off with immediately. I saw her at various conferences and at Bologna off and on thereafter. When I first settled back in the UK and spirits were particularly low she gave me a great deal of encouragement, she seemed like a rock of assurance, it was always great to see her. Though we only met on sporadic occasions I regarded her as a good friend, a colleague. I'd heard she'd been ill, but I had no idea how serious it was so her death took me completely by surprise. A tragic loss of a fantastic illustrator and charming person, she will be remembered.

    1. I had no idea how seriously ill she was too. She was so brave and soldiered on.

  5. These are all lovely memories of Jan and show what a sympathetic and empathetic person she was and how much she'll be missed.

  6. A great and pleasing tribute and really interesting insights into her life from you who knew her, thanks for this Gillian.

  7. These are all lovely memories and a fine tribute to a great talent. The closing picture is particularly beautiful and so fitting.


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