The Cambridge Summer School for Illustration

With the summer season of courses and schools for book creators fast approaching, Margaret Sturton looks back at her experiences at last year's Cambridge Summer School for children's illustration at Anglia Ruskin University.

Each year, I set time aside to attend a summer school, conference or course for professional development. Last year I signed up for the Cambridge School of Art summer school for writing and illustrating children’s picture books.

The aim of the Cambridge summer school was for each of the 40 odd students to produce a dummy book of a story written before the summer school started. Friday afternoon was devoted to a critique where each student’s work was commented on in depth. Saturday was a day conference with various industry guest speakers.

The summer school was organised by Pamela Smy who is an illustrator and the main course tutor for the Writing and Illustrating MA at Anglia Ruskin University. The co-tutors for the 2013 summer school were Birgitta Sif, Marta Altes and Ness Wood. Martin Salisbury and Emily Gravett both delivered lectures.


The basic structure of the course was a lecture each morning followed by a personal tutorial each afternoon. The rest of the time in between was for drawing, storyboarding and structuring your picture book. The conference on Saturday was a chance to network and have feedback from a variety of editors, agents and designers.

Character studies © Margaret Sturton

The Course 

The tutors were excellent. Birgitta Sif delivered an inspiring talk on ‘Getting to know your character’. Ness Wood, who is a freelance designer, gave a lecture on the role of the publishing house designer. Marta Altes was an engaging and witty speaker who delved into the variety and possibilities of the relationship between words and pictures.


My reason for attending the summer school was the lure of Emily Gravett. She did not disappoint. The opportunity to flick though Emily Gravett’s sketchbooks was amazing.  Knowing her books and seeing the initial ideas was an incredible experience.

Summer Schools generally are an opportunity to have feedback from industry experts. For me, the value of the Cambridge summer school was the quantity and quality of the input. My work improved so much over the course of the week. If you do choose to go on the 2014 Cambridge summer school, good luck and work hard!


General advice

  • Applying early and getting university accommodation is an advantage.
  • Doing lots of work each day made the input during tutorials more productive.
  • If you have a portfolio, take it! The more visual information the tutors have the better.
  • The conference is a useful networking opportunity so take business cards and don’t be shy.
  • Take drawing equipment you are used to using. If you are not an illustrator, bring a basic drawing kit (soft drawing pencils, a decent rubber and drawing paper). There is not much time for experimentation.

Margaret Sturton is an illustrator and animator based in Winchester. Her website is at


  1. Welcome to Words & Pictures Margaret, your summer school tips are great!

  2. It sounds like a really inspirational course, well done on your work Margaret!

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