Featured Illustrator: James Brown

James Brown is this month’s Featured Illustrator. One of the winning artists in last year’s Undiscovered Voices, James studied English Literature at Sheffield and Stockholm Universities before taking an MLitt (Master of Letters) in Creative Writing at St Andrews. Illustration has always featured in James’ work, he came third in the 2014 Illustrate It competition and is now represented by United Agents. Find more of James’ artwork in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

To some people, Twitter is a dangerous place full of trolls blurting out horrid things, following you around and popping up when you least expect them to. But in the children's writing and illustration community this is not so. People are friendly, supportive, enthusiastic and reassuring, particularly to someone like me who two years ago knew nothing about Twitter and had just set off in search of The World of Publishing, hoping one day to find himself on bookshelves across the land.

It’s through Twitter I learnt about the SCBWI and its Undiscovered Voices competition. Having joined, I was spoiled for choice in picking which story starter extract to illustrate, but for me the one that leapt off the page was Maureen Lynas’ Sophie in Gargantua. Immediately I could picture the arch of the scene and Sophie’s trailing curls. An hour later I’d drawn the main characters, along with other bits and bobs, and went on to glue them together digitally.

My winning image for SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2014 based on
Maureen Lynas’ story Sophie in Gargantua.
I remember Jan Carr being incredibly helpful when I was submitting my entry. And then it was a waiting game.

December arrived and so did an email that told me I’d won a place in the 2014 Undiscovered Voices anthology. The winning illustrators were all invited for a ‘portfolio intensive’ with Anne-Marie Perks, John Shelley, Bridget Strevens-Marzo and Loretta Schauer who were all incredibly supportive and generous with their advice. It was a rigorous and thought-provoking day and helped us prepare for the February launch to meet agents and publishers. Being in the anthology was wonderful; as a result I was offered representation by several agencies and I’m thrilled to be represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents who fell in love with my Santa Claus:
The image that got me ‘spotted’ on Twitter.
Meeting Chris Riddell at the launch party was pretty awe-inspiring. He took the time to chat to each of us about his work and his speech was riddell-ed with humour, much like his artwork. And the evening just got better. If I hadn’t entered the competition, and if Ali Ardington at Stripes hadn’t seen Sophie in the anthology, then perhaps I wouldn’t be looking forward to two Elspeth Hart books (written by Sarah Forbes and illustrated by me) coming out in May and September next year. Before long I was doing character sketches and spending the summer drafting roughs and then the final artwork for Book 1:
A rough and final image of the main character in Sarah Forbes’
Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, published May 2015.
For black and white illustration I use pencil, fine nib pens and Faber-Castell crayons (usually blacks, greys, browns). I then enhance using Photoshop.

At the launch party I also met Fliss Johnston from Orion who liked my colour illustrations for younger readers. From meeting Fliss, I’m now writing and illustrating two books for the Early Readers series, published in 2016. For the artwork, I sketch in pencil then use crayon and a lightbox before colouring with watercolour and gouache (ramped up with Photoshop). This project is very dear to me and I can’t wait for the books to hit the shelves. I’m a great fan of Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry and Kaye Umansky’s Algy’s Amazing Adventures. I can’t believe I’ll be part of the same series, especially with illustrators like Tony Ross and Richard Watson.

The style of illustration for my books published by Orion in 2016.
One or two of my rhyming picture book texts are in the pipeline with publishers too… I love picture books. My texts are usually a bit bonkers with a twist at the end.
I’ve always found books compelling. It’s their smell and texture, the pause between the pages, the way the illustrations add even more to each narrative. I get lost in details. I’d pore over Errol Le Cain’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Arthur Rackham’s Peter Pan. I remember reading Dahl’s The Magic Finger over and over and listening to James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine on my tape player so much that I’d have to wind the tangled tape back into the cassettes with a pencil. And then I’d spend hours drawing and painting at the dining room table, something my daughter Eliza loves doing now too. I’ve no idea where she gets it from… Rather than spreading out on the dining room table, I’ve now got a work station (which is strictly out of bounds to the cat and sticky-fingered children):

Here is my bubble.
It’s surrounded by my favourite authors and illustrators (such as Sally Gardner, Caryl Hart, John Boyne, Peter Bently, Tracey Corderoy, Oliver Jeffers, David Roberts, Alex T Smith, Nikki Dyson, Steven Lenton, Jim Field, Rebecca Cobb, Benji Davies, Leigh Hodgkinson, Steve Antony, Sara Ogilvie, Ed Vere, Kate Hindley, Becka Moor, Ella Bailey and Mei Matsuoka). I have lots of Moleskine sketch books to hand and I tend to draft and write initial story ideas on my phone.


Having a Twitter account and joining the SCBWI have made me realize how important it is to share your ideas and passion with other like-minded people. If you have a question about something, always ask. If there’s a conference or talk with your favourite authors and illustrators, go to it. Research. Contact people. Meet people. Act on advice. Read as much as you can – not only your favourite texts but also literature about publishing. Sketch then trace over using a lightbox. Overall, be flexible: people in the field know what they’re talking about.

Venturing into the world of children’s books has brought me one step closer to sitting on bookshelves for others to reach out and, hopefully, pore over. The help I’m enjoying along the way is due in no small part to the leg-up the SCBWI has given me.

Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, written by Sarah Forbes and illustrated by James Brown, is released in May 2015. It is available for pre-order now.


See more of James' work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Follow James on Twitter at: @jb_illustrates
He is represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents


  1. Lovely refreshing illustrations James, I love the pic of your daughter on your shoulder. Good luck with everything.

    1. Glad you like it! So sorry for the late reply!

  2. Well done James, great article! I'm not at all surprised you've been picked up by agents and publishers, things are looking very promising!

  3. What a wonderful SCBWI journey - it's easy to see why you've had success - your Father Christmas & reindeer are the cuddliest pair of fellows. I wish you all the very best.

  4. Fascinating story James. Lots of luck for 2015!

  5. I have read about her in the past but could not read any book her in this article a book is discussed and I also have read it a few days ago I want to say about her book that her point of view is easy to learn. I'm not at all surprised you've been picked up by agents and publishers, things are looking very promising! I wish you all the very best. Browns Game Live


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