Julia Groves, Norwich based Illustrator and Printmaker is this month's Featured Artist, see her work in the Showcase Gallery here!

Thanks for inviting me to be the Words & Pictures Featured Illustrator!

I have created a banner which reflects the Words and Pictures theme for June of; ‘Festivals, Workshops and Retreats’. The characters are from a picture book idea I have recently written and illustrated. The original story is set at night, but I wanted this illustration to be all about colour.

I joined SCBWI in 2011, on the recommendation of a friend in order to enter the Undiscovered Voices competition. To my surprise and delight I was selected as one of the six winners in the illustration category. It was a great introduction to children’s publishing and I had a wonderful time at the launch party; meeting new SCBWI friends and receiving invaluable advice from editors and agents. My selected entry was also published in the Undiscovered Voices 2012 anthology.

My winning UV2012 entry Birdsong

I originally studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and Printmaking at Brighton University. Since then I have worked as a lecturer in Art Schools (teaching most Art & Design subjects!). In 2011 I was fortunate to gain a place on the MA Children’s Book Illustration course at Cambridge School of Art as a part-time student and I am currently in my final year.

The course has been a rollercoaster ride and a brilliant crash course into the children’s book world. The first semester was all about drawing, we chose our own theme and I concentrated on ‘interiors’, giving me a great excuse to sit in museums and cafes drawing exhibits and people watching.

Sketchbook page, Cambridge Museum of Zoology

We went on to a Sequential Image module, on the advice of my wonderful tutors Paula Metcalf and Marta Altes, I bit the bullet and wrote and illustrated my first picture book, Monty’s Midnight Friend. A black and white story which explores issues of loneliness and new friendships, as well as teaching children about different nocturnal animals! The illustrations were based on chalk-board drawings; I started working on actual chalk-boards, then black paper and finally on washes of black ink on watercolour paper.

Spread from Monty’s Midnight Friend

My next book came about through painting and doodling, when my mind was a blank. It’s a ‘zoom style’ board book, I made it using relief prints and typeset the text using old wooden fonts. I really enjoyed working on a board book, there are fewer restrictions in terms of page numbers; mine was only six double pages (picture books always have to conform to the 32 page layout, for printing reasons). I can’t reveal the whole sequence as it is currently with a publisher in the USA, but here is a sample page.

Spread from I SEE board book

I have been developing a way of working using a simple table-top print method. I print black proofs and scan them as separate layers in Photoshop, where I colour and compose my final images. I favour simple, graphic images with an emphasis on bold compositions. I have also been working on a counting book. 

I have been lucky to visit the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy for the past two years. It’s an amazing experience for any aspiring children’s book illustrator, as publishers from all over the world congregate in one place to sell foreign rights to each other. Of course this presents a wonderful opportunity for British illustrators to meet publishers from all over the world.
This year I was selected to be represented on the Cambridge School of Art stand (the only participating university at the fair). It was all arranged by the amazing Pam Smy, our course leader. It was very exciting as I assisted in several meetings with publishers on the stand, had meetings arranged for me by my tutor Prof. Martin Salisbury, but also managed to see several other publishers during the week. The experience has enabled me to make contact with publishers and to gain invaluable advice about my work.

Cambridge School of Art stand at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2013

My advice would be not to underestimate your own experience; I had no idea what sort of illustrator I would become. My years of printmaking and my interest in graphic design have really shaped my approach to design, colour and composition. My time on the MA course has opened my mind to discussing and developing new ideas, both with fellow students and tutors. SCBWI offers wonderful networking opportunities via workshops, conferences, the website and the NING social site.

My two children are also a constant source of inspiration, both for stories and characters.  It’s good to run any idea past a child if you possibly can, you’ll be amazed at their brainstorming abilities! 

See more from Julia in her Showcase Gallery, her blog and on Twitter.


  1. I love the banner illustration Julia - colourful, bold and interesting.

  2. I'm so in awe of you talented illustrators. My father was and my son is an artist and I know the effort that goes in.
    Enjoyed looking at the gallery!

  3. I love your table top printing technique combined with your simple graphic design, it's so striking.

  4. Great double-page spread in black and white for Monty's Midnight Friend! It definitely makes one want to read the story.

    I love the use of texture on the illustration featured at the top of Julia's Showcase Gallery.

  5. Yes it's very striking, Julia. I love the happy flag waving Monty in the banner!

  6. Thanks for great examples of "less is more" Julia! I particularly like those brave and bold book covers in your Showcase portfolio.

  7. Thanks so much for your kind comments everyone,
    it's so lovely to be featured here!!
    Julia x

  8. "It’s good to run any idea past a child if you possibly can, you’ll be amazed at their brainstorming abilities!"
    With the wonderful ShoutSouth Festival http://www.shoutsouth.org.uk/, and Sally Gardner describing children's imagination as the 'fuel for our future' you are definitely in the flow here, Julia!

    1. Thanks Jan! Good luck with ShoutSouth Festival x

  9. Interesting work Julia, hope to see more.

  10. Very nice work, and a wide range of styles and techniques.


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