Featured Illustrator: Trish Phillips

This month Featured Illustrator celebrates paper engineering virtuoso Trish Phillips. A member of SCBWI for many years, Trish has built a reputation as a skillful creator of pop-up books that explore the boundaries of book design and character. She's also illustrated numerous other books for children in a range of styles. To see a wide selection of her work check the Featured Illustrator Gallery

Having always loved books as a child and then having children of my own, immersed me in children’s books until I was bursting with creativity, ideas and looking for a way to express myself. Starting off not knowing what I wanted to do, I meandered along for many years through foundation, a BA(hons) in graphic design and illustration courses.  Finally it all made sense: 

Illustration + 3 dimensional paper sculpture + paper engineering + storytelling + humour = children’s book industry.

Even then it didn’t suddenly ‘happen’. I collaborated as illustrator for some time with author friend Sheila May Bird on Sam and Tom. We were over the moon when finally one of our stories was accepted by Harper Collins in their Big Cat series in 2005.

By this time I had an agent, resulting in several pop-up books being published with Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Press). Creating the pop-ups themselves, along with the story and illustrating them, was the icing on the cake and a wonderful experience.  Since then I have published a couple of ‘How to’ books on making pop-up cards, books for The Child Bereavement Charity, and illustrations for Orion and Beanstalk. I would love to do more in the 5+ and 8+ genre where my ‘get-away-with-what-I-can’ sense of humour stubbornly sits.

How did I get my Agent?

During my time as a student, I entered pop-up books that I had designed to the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition, one of which was highly commended. Following this, I researched and targeted agents in the Writers and Artists Yearbook and checked out their websites to see which were suitable for me. After choosing those agents I wanted to approach, I wrote a brief, light-hearted letter including a small number of images and my details to see if the agent would be agreeable to see more of my work. She was! Bearing in mind this was a long time ago, I assume a lot more is done by e-mail now, but still feel it makes more of an impact to receive letters and hard copies by post.

What influenced/inspired me to get where I am today

Some of the childhood books I remember reading are Milly Molly Mandy, Little Old Mrs Pepperpot, Flat Stanley, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Just So stories, Aesop's Fables, A Book of Nonsense, Kidnapped, Uncle Remus Stories, Stig of the Dump and I just loved Peanuts, the comic.

Picture books are too distant a memory, but as an adult, a few of the children’s book illustrators that I admire are Quentin Blake, Shaun Tan, Anthony Browne, Jan Pienkowski, Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Beth Krommes and David Roberts. A must read is 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.

A never-ending source of inspiration and ideas I find are museums. I love going to local museums, whatever part of the country I am in: If you ever find yourself in North Yorkshire, Whitby Museum in Pannett Park is a must with its leech collection, Hand of Glory and Plesiosaurus Propinquus - what more could you possibly want?  Not far away is York Castle Museum with its cobblestone streets and olde worlde shops. A real influence on me is the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, sadly no longer in Covent Garden. However, you can find it online and also a touring exhibition. Pollocks – no, really! Pollocks Toy Museum in London is a must – every nook and cranny is crammed full of toys.  Then there’s always the V&A, Natural History Museum, Horniman, and Design Museum. 

Having joined SCBWI many years ago now, I have found it such a warm, encouraging society with so much to learn from the many masterclasses, workshops, conferences and the fact that it is international means that wherever you go you can check out the local goings-on. For example, when I visited Australia a couple of years back, it was fantastic to hook up with a member in Perth, Frané Lessac, for a coffee. So lovely of her to agree to meet up!

Process general/specific/tips

If you are an illustrator, one of the ways to build your portfolio is to find themes/add a twist to old tales/ illustrate one or two images from a favourite book.  Showcase your work using the genre of children’s books you enjoy the most. If your work is too broad you may end up being asked to do stuff you have no interest in but once did a lovely picture for. SCBWI holds an annual Portfolio Intensive in the spring – check out the website for details. It’s a great way to meet art directors, agents and other illustrators and get solid advice on your portfolio.

As an author/illustrator it is difficult to pin down the process, but ideas can come from sketches, or often a humorous incident; then you need to weave a story around it – what happened leading up to it?  What happened after? Is it a recurring theme throughout? A problem is always a good way to start in the same way as a humorous incident.

After the ideas come thumbnails. Squeezing your story into 12 double page spreads for a picture book can be tricky, or 7/8 spreads for a pop-up – not an easy task! I recommend lots of character sketches, keep it lively and loose. You could progress this on to a half size, rough dummy book, black and white with one or two colour spreads with text position indicated on the spreads.  (You can also show your text separately from the artwork.) 

To develop it too much at this stage is a mistake. It takes a lot of time and energy. Too much time spent going down an avenue that is just not publishable is a waste of your valuable time.  I hope this helps you on your way. 

For more of Trish's work see her Featured Illustrator Gallery
Trish's website is here. Her agent is Elizabeth Roy
She also participates with five other illustrators in the blog Big Little Tales


  1. Such great advice here and wonderful work. Thanks, Trish!

  2. Shana Nieberg-Suschitzky3 December 2015 at 09:15

    What a fabulous array of work you have & pop-ups are no easy feat! Thanks for sharing x


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