This month's Featured Illustrator is Jill Calder. One of Scotland's most prominent upcoming illustrators, Jill's interests range from classic linear illustrators to contemporary digital art. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

My studio desk, August 2018

I left Glasgow School of Art in 1992, after 5 years of study, very determined to be an illustrator but had absolutely no interest in being a children’s book illustrator. Instead I focused on getting work in newspapers, magazines and then advertising and design. Eventually I was illustrating for clients like Visa, The Guardian, Neiman Marcus and Billabong - I also became a lecturer in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art.

Then, around 9 years ago, I was asked by the National Museums of Scotland to create large scale illustrations for their big summer show Garden Detectives, which was aimed at getting children more actively engaged in their natural environment. This project was the start of my interest in creating work specifically for children and I was hooked... but still not thinking about books!

Garden Detectives at the National Museum of Scotland, 2009

In 2012 the Royal Brompton Hospital in London invited me to work with the young patients, parents and clinical staff to create large scale wall installations for their new Children’s Sleep and Ventilation Unit. This was a game changer for me as I was working directly with the children, and their beautiful writing and stories were the inspiration behind the artwork I created for the walls and ceilings throughout the whole unit.

Nurses Station artwork by Jill Calder, Royal Brompton Hospital

That same year, Jim Hutcheson, the creative director at Birlinn Books in Edinburgh asked me to illustrate a picture book about the 14th Century Scottish icon, Robert the Bruce. I was nervous as I didn’t know the story well and had never tackled a book before, never mind a 64 page historical one for children! Writer James Robertson cleverly adapted this complex and quite violent tale and I soon found my self lost in a world of Medieval art, architecture, weaponry and calligraphy as I researched everything thoroughly. It took me over a year and a half to illustrate but Robert the Bruce, King of Scots was published in September 2014 and was short-listed for the World Illustration Awards Children’s Book category in 2015. Most importantly, I had now illustrated my first children’s book and I had loved every minute of it, even when I was tearing my hair out drawing horses!

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots’ by James Robertson and Jill Calder - new paperback edition cover, publishes October 2018.

One of my Robert the Bruce sketchbook pages

In the middle of working on The Bruce, Walker Books got in touch and asked if I’d like to illustrate Michael Rosen’s What is Poetry (omg! MICHAEL ROSEN!). Of course I said yes and so created the cover and a set of scratchy, whimsical b/w drawings for inside. It was mind blowing for that lovely little book to then be nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal last year.

What is Poetry?’ by Michael Rosen - cover and some inside illustrations

After illustrating The Bruce and What is Poetry? I made the decision to shift my illustration career over to children’s books and so started to find out more about working in this field. It is different in so many ways to being a commercial illustrator, even though I still work with designers and art directors! I was already a long standing member of the Association of Illustrators but I then joined SCBWI a couple of years ago and also the Society of Authors. It’s fantastic being a Scoobie - so much support, advice along with great workshops and events. My regional group, South East Scotland, is an absolute cracker and I have made new friends and learned so much from the writers and illustrators in that group alone, never mind attending events like the Picture Book Retreat this July (epic!).
My sketchbook: an illustration exercise about location set by Orange Beak Studios at The SCBWI Picture Book Retreat, July 2018)

Last September, my third book was published by Bloomsbury - The Picture Atlas by Simon Holland was a book I almost said no to doing because I didn’t much like drawing maps! Luckily I changed my mind and became part of Bloomsbury’s new children’s non-fiction picture book list. It really was like illustrating everything and my then editor, Claire Grace, gave me a lot of freedom to add to and play with the content. Simon and I were so thrilled that our book was shortlisted for the Edward Stanton Children’s Travel Book Award this year!

The Picture Atlas by Simon Holland and Jill Calder, 2017
The Picture Atlas sketchbook drawings

In April this year I completed illustrating my second book for Bloomsbury (The Sea, written by Miranda Krestovnikoff and due to publish in April 2019) and really feel I am finding my groove in more narrative non-fiction picture books. I love the research, planning and working with editors and am finally learning to work to longer deadlines!

The Sea’ by Miranda Krestovnikoff and Jill Calder, sketchbook and research drawings (publishes April 2019, Bloomsbury)
It’s important for me to keep learning though, so last year I attended Cambridge School of Art’s Children’s Illustration Summer School, being tutored by Pam Smy, Jo Williamson and Dave Barrow to name but a few and during that one week I wrote and produced my first ever dummy picture book. It was a very enjoyable but intense experience but I managed it! It was the breakthrough I needed to gave me the confidence to finally start developing my own stories for children, both fiction and non-fiction. Of course, it helps to be inspired and I collect far too many picture books myself. A few of my favourite artists include Charles Keeping...

Richard’ by Charles Keeping, 1973 - probably my favourite illustrator.

… Brian Wildsmith, the Scottish painter Joan Eardley, Tomi Ungerer...

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls’ by William Cole and Tomi Ungerer, 1964
... the Spanish designer and illustrator Javier Mariscal, Sarah Ogilvie (we were teaching colleagues at Edinburgh College of Art) and Laura Carlin.
Just some of my favourite books and illustrators.

Next up is to approach agents and publishers with my book ideas and I know that being part of SCBWI will help me every step of the way!

Next step: Become an author/illustrator!


See more of Jill's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.

Her personal website is here, also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram


  1. Brilliant work Jill and so nice to be able to put a face , and a person, to the artwork. great to have met you at the Retreat. keep up the great work.

  2. Great piece Jill. You are terrific--both as an illustrator and as a human being. And you giv great teas. (All that chocolate! I will be back for more. Oh--and work on more books with you!--Jane Yolen

  3. Lovely to see you being deservedly celebrated, Jill.

  4. Love your work Jill, especially your picture atlas. I've added it to my shelves for inspiration!


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