In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features illustrator Ella Burfoot.

Ella has written and illustrated several picture books, including Recipe for a Story, and Darkness Slipped In, which was highly commended at the British book design and production awards, and nominated for the Kate Greenaway medal.

Miki and the Bear bookplate

Tell us about your creative space

I work in a converted caravan overlooking the vegetable patch with fields beyond. It has the original caravan sofas at one end, next to a large window, and this is where I do my writing. It helps me enormously to be able to stare out of the window when thinking. The other end of the caravan has a large oak trestle table where I do my storyboarding and drawing.

One Christmas my husband made me a beautiful lamp from an old angle poise, wooden planks and a large Cornish pebble, and this gives me a bit of extra light on dull days. The caravan has a wood-burner for when it’s chilly, and I find it to be a very cosy and peaceful space, away from my busy house (and the washing up!).

Ella Burfoot’s amazing caravan with the desk lamp on display

Why does this place work for you?

Because I have the headspace to work, it is quiet, relaxing and without distraction.

Do you need particular prompts to get started?

The best way to get started with writing and ideas is, for me, to go for a walk. The rhythm of my steps and the action of walking encourages my brain to get going.

Your creative tools — what are they?

I write on whatever I can find, with whatever is to hand. I draw on large paper, often with a propelling pencil, and then oil-based pencils. I then colour with watercolour and Karisma pencils (which I have a large stash of as they are hard to get hold of). I will often then collage onto my work, using origami paper or vintage wallpaper samples, I find this gives my work an element of spontaneity and adds texture and pattern, giving it an extra lift. I love pattern, so grab any excuse to get it into my images.

Do you have a routine?

When working, my daily routine is to put the children on the bus to school, then walk the dog … which also gives me valuable thinking time … then take a cuppa to the caravan and get working. I don’t tend to work for more than five hours, as I find I run out of creative energy and it doesn’t do my work any favours to work beyond this point.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given?

My grandma once said (when I was about eight and had produced a particularly wild and vivid picture of a sunset) “Don’t gild the lily”, meaning that you should know when to stop

What advice would you like to give to writers/illustrators who are trying to get established?

Embrace rejection; it is something that happens quite regularly (unless you are super lucky/talented) and you should look on it as an opportunity to improve. You will often be given advice and criticism and you should take this on board and act on it if (after the initial feelings of rejection/annoyance) you feel that it is valid.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Maggie B by Irene Haas.

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing and/or illustrating and why?

I don’t tend to go in for ‘how to’ books, but am always looking on the internet for interesting articles about picture books. I tend to get my inspiration on ‘how to’ write or illustrate from other authors/illustrators and artists. I get ideas from seeing how others have approached a problem or used a technique, and, often this inspiration comes from visiting exhibitions and seeing artworks which energise me and get me thinking about the direction of my own work.

What about food and drink — what must you have at hand in order to be able to create: coffee, biscuits, chocolate … 

A cup of tea. A biscuit is always welcome to join us too.

What image are you dying to use, but haven’t yet found room for?

 I have a character which I would love to use, but haven’t quite found the right story for yet … she is a sassy, grumpy girl with wild hair and a glint in her eyes.

Planner, pantser, or mixture of both?

Lots of planning. I am an ‘ideas’ person, so my favourite bit of story writing is the planning!

What inspired you to first start writing/illustrating?

I have always always written stories and drawn pictures and loved to make books when I was very small. My Grandma had a photocopier at her workplace (new technology!) and would take my books and make copies … so I had an early taste of publishing too!

Why writing for children?

Because I am one at heart.

What question do you most like being asked about your work?

How much money do you make? Hahaha!

Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter @writingdilemmas and at

The header image is by Emma Graham, a Hook finalist at the 2016 SCBWI BI conference and a finalist in The Stratford Literary Festival picture book competition 2017. Emma's first illustrated book, Symphony Hollow, was written by Jessica Reino and published by Spork. She is commissioned illustrator for The Children’s Appeal at Ipswich hospital creating illustrations for publicity, charity events and the refurbished children’s ward. 

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.