Featured Illustrator: Julia Woolf

This month's Featured artist is London based Julia Woolf. Major studio film animator, illustrator and picture book creator, Julia has a richly experienced career spanning both sides of the Atlantic. See more of Julia's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

When I was five I received my first letter and from that day on, I knew when I grew up I would be an artist.

Coming from a family of artists and actors, it all felt very possible to pursue a career in art.
I went to Canterbury Art College where I did a four year course in graphic design.

During the course I made a short animated film, which was terrible, but it had given me a taste of seeing my images move and it was suggested by the tutors that I should consider a career in animation.

A few months after leaving college I went up and knocked on the doors of a load of animation studios. Three weeks later I got a call and started working solidly for the next 20 years.

From 1984 I steadily worked my way up through the many departments that make up the animation process. During those 20 years I have worked on TV shorts, commercials, short films and feature films.

Trix commercial ‘Uncle Harry’ Pizazz Pictures, early 1990’s. This is a commercial where I did colour design, layouts, finished backgrounds and assistant animation.

The Village’ a short oscar nominated film by Mark Baker.
Pizazz Pictures 1993
I worked as an animator and assistant animator.

In 1995 I was relocated to LA to work for Dreamworks Animation.

‘The Hieroglyphic Nightmare Sequence’, ‘The Prince of Egypt’ Dreamworks 1998
I co-ordinated the clean-up animation and did the clean-up layouts for this sequence.
‘El Dorado’ Dreamworks 1999, I worked in the layout department on this film and this is one of my clean-up layouts.

‘Shrek’ Dreamworks/PDI 2001, I worked in the art department on this film and illustrated the storybook at the beginning of Shrek and Shrek 2.
Madagascar’ Dreamworks/PDI 2003, I worked in visual development on this film
I have found the knowledge I have acquired from working in animation has been invaluable to me for my career as an illustrator and now author/illustrator.

‘Shrek’, Seq 110, ‘Escape from The Keep’. These are some colour keys I did for a sequence in Shrek.

I still use this way of working when dealing with the colour for a book. It helps me keep a more cohesive look throughout.

Five Black Cats’, Caterpillar Books, Tiger Tales.

‘Five Black Cats’ Cover



Colour and design are extremely important and a huge influence on me is the Fauve Movement from the early 1900’s, especially the paintings of Andre Derain.


Thames Embankment’ Andre Derain
In what would be a relatively grey view of the London scene in winter, it is amazing to see the colours that Derain could find within these elements. It taught me to really search for colours in an everyday scene.

two sketches I did of the same scene at the local allotments, winter and early spring.
Mary Blair is another big influence on me, not just for her use of colour but her design too. She worked as a visual development artist at Walt Disney Studios from the 1940’s-50’s and then returned in the 1960’s. She is one of the most influential artists to have worked in animation.

‘i’, Mary Blair.
She was also equally successful with her children’s books.

The cover for the ‘Golden Book’ ‘I Can Fly’ by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Mary Blair.


Animator to Illustrator

I was still working on ‘Shrek 2’ up to four weeks before I had my daughter and when I left Dreamworks for maternity leave I started to build up my illustration portfolio. I entered the SCBWI New York Illustration Showcase at the Winter Conference 2003 and became a top ten finalist.
Little Red Riding Hood’, NY Showcase Top Ten finalist 2003.
By the summer of the same year I entered the Portfolio Award at the SCBWI Los Angeles Summer Conference and became a runner up. All this gave me the confidence to make the move into illustration and leave animation, giving me the chance to work from home and be with my daughter. I was fortunate enough to get steady work, doing lots of educational illustration, reading books, sticker books and merchandise.

I returned to the UK in late 2006.

In 2009 I had an illustration selected for the Society of Illustrators 51st Annual of American Illustration.

Illustration selected for 51st Annual. Done for the Totoro Project.

In 2010 I won the portfolio award at the SCBWI Winchester Conference.
In 2011 I entered Images 35, Best of British Illustration, AOI and had two pieces selected.

Christmas Card, personal work.

The Chicken Song’, reading book for Korean publishers.

Even though I was busy with lots of work, it wasn’t always the kind of work I wanted and I never had time to develop my own ideas. I took a short course in illustration at Chelsea Art College, which was terrific and gave me the chance to work on my own stuff.
Returning to illustration jobs and working in a very digital way that I didn’t enjoy, helped me make up my mind to apply for the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge.

The encouragement on the course to experiment with print, combined with all the knowledge I had accumulated over the years, has resulted in a way of working which I find exciting with endless possibilities. I can now produce work that has the evidence of the human hand and yet I’m still able to apply that to all the possibilities that Photoshop provides.

Bicycle, shortlisted for the AOI Illustration Awards 2014.

With the course having a stand at the Bologna Book Fair, where students display their book dummies, it resulted in me getting my first author/illustrator book deal with Macmillan. My book ‘Giraffe on a Bicycle’ will be out early next year.


See more
of Julia's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.  
Julia is represented by Helen Mackenzie-Smith at Bell Lomax MoretonHer portfolio site can be found here 
She's also on Facebook and on Twitter



  1. Brilliant pictures - in every sense of the word. It's fascinating to see how your early work impacts on what you're doing today. Good luck for a busy and successful future!

  2. Completely stunning work! Soz about the adverb; couldn't resist!

  3. Thanks Julia - so interesting to see snippets of your earlier career, sketches and the Shrek storybook that I recall seeing in the films. Love your colour and early Derain and Mary Blair too!


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