Featured Illustrator - Heather Kilgour

As Featured Illustrator this month we welcome Heather Kilgour, who many will recognise as a familiar face on SCBWI's Illustration Committee. Originally from New Zealand, Heather has been an SCBWI member since settling in the UK, and recently completed an MA in Children's Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

Banner Art

My banner picture is one I did for myself. I have always illustrated and painted, and the oak trees in our back yard turned me into a colourist as a teenager. I followed Monet’s example, never used black and mixed my own secondary colours for years. So painting a garden is a return to one of my favourite subjects.

My Journey

Ironically, I failed painting in my first year at art school and ended up majoring in my least favourite subject, sculpture. Despite our tutor setting his overalls on fire in the demonstration, I took up metal work as a medium, eventually completing my MA in Fine Arts.

It has led to a Bob the Builder complex – can I build it? Yes I can: an ironing board – I’ve designed the perfect one; a sofa – no problems; a house – I’d love to. It’s an attitude I have to rein in if I want to get any actual work done. 

Sculpting led to work as a film sculptor on The Lord of the Rings and I exchanged my hammers for knives. 

It was an inspiring field to work in because you were surrounded by amazingly talented people and it was meeting Freya Blackwood and Virginia Lee that led me to try children’s book illustration.

I left both the hammers and knives behind on moving to the UK in 2007. Not only were they too heavy but I’d never have made it through security. On arrival, I joined SCBWI to find a picture book critique group. I’m still in the group though it has changed a lot with Layn Marlow and Anne-Marie Perks being the only original members left. I have just completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Anglia Ruskin which was a great place to explore and experiment. 

This is part of an animatic I did for my second term project.

SCBWI is a fabulous group, it’s so supportive and provides invaluable opportunities to meet industry people, and to make new friends. 

A group of lovely SCBWI friends who turned up for my final MA exhibition;
from left to right Amanda Lillywhite, Peter Bunzl, Candy Gourlay,
Layn Marlow and Sally Kindberg.
I’m part of an illustration blog group with six other SCBWI members at biglittletale.tumblr.com


I usually start with an image search of my subject matter and then work from a picture that expresses an emotion, movement, or form that inspires me. I experiment with composition at thumbnail size, and then I scale it up and trace the image twice. I have recently started painting the colour and the shading on separate sheets. I mainly use water colour but with the shift to working in layers I now compile and adjust them in Photoshop. 

Sometimes if I can’t get a character right, I still use sculpture to make a small character study. 

I always felt like I should have a sketch book. This has resulted in a large pile of different shaped black books that are all empty aside from one small drawing on the front page. It wasn’t until I bought one that I promised myself no one else would ever see that I felt relaxed enough to use it. Now it’s one of my favourite things, I love opening it; it fills me with anticipation and the confidence I will find a perfect solution. 


Find a good critique group. You’ll find out what your work is communicating, it gets you used to the pain of criticism, helps you to distinguish useful criticism from individual opinions and gives you a good place to experiment with ideas. If something isn’t working, start again – it will be better next time. If you’re avoiding something you feel you should do, it could end up being the best thing that ever happened.

See more of Heather's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery
Heather's website is www.heatherkilgour.com


  1. Fascinating to see the range of your work from 2D - to 4D even with the animatic and film of your process of layering. Feels like a thread of enchantment / mystery linking it all...

  2. What an exciting range of experience Heather! It's really wonderful to see a glimpse of your sculpture work too, the girl with the flowing hair is absolutely terrific.

  3. There is such wonderful movement in your banner illustration, Heather - and what an amazing experience to have created sculptures for LoTR - I love those films. To have the ability to create a character in 3D, well - that's something I would dearly like to be able to do. Thank you!

  4. Thank you Bridget, John, and Nancy! My journey has been somewhat circuitous but hopefully it adds to what I’m doing now.

  5. Excellent stuff Heather. I've always enjoyed seeing your work and now want to see more and learn about your MA course next time we meet up.

    1. Thanks John, maybe I'll make the conference this year.

  6. Wow, your sculptures are amazing! and I love the bright colours on your banner artwork.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks Melany! The colour in your work is gorgeous too. I think my favourite piece of yours is the enormous lion.

  7. Wonderful atmospheric banner and love the sculpture of the girl, Heather! Have you ever tried to combine painting & sculpture in some way? I tried out drawing/carving into clay slips and taking photos - and then tweaking in photoshop - but it was quite time-consuming!

    1. Thanks Anna. I have tried merging colour drawings onto 3D figures which is fun, but it takes so long to sculpt things I don't think I would want to do much more than character studies.


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