This month's Featured Illustrator is Oxfordshire-based Soni Speight, this year's SCBWI Conference Illustration Coordinator. See more of her work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I hold my pencil wrong, or at least so I have regularly been told, but it has never stopped me from drawing. One of my earliest memories is being about three years old and drawing a large hen on my parent’s wall, in glorious red wax crayon. We had just moved in so they were decorating, and I liked the colour red (still do) … and who doesn’t love a big happy chicken?

Sorry mum & dad

After a few words from my ever supportive parents I concentrated on drawing on paper, and years later gained my Masters in Illustration, from BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art & Design). I now have a sketchbook addiction, I just keep buying them, but happily it is within their pages that my moments of fantasy and scribbling now live.

Early work

My earliest illustration work was editorial and punk band artwork, which was fun but very different to how I work now. My first true children's illustration work was for Warwickshire Schools Library Service, where I worked for a while. I loved that job – it gave me great insight into children's books and their readers. I particularly loved the Greenaway Award shadowing, which is where I rediscovered my love for picture books.

Warwickshire schools library service

Around that time I also worked on a series of easy readers aimed at teenagers, but I won’t share those here as they are dramatic ink drawings and not quite in keeping with the rest of my work.

Tonight you’ll find me amongst the stars

I like to make stuff up, to tell tall tales and invent characters. I enjoy daft and silly stories but also ones where you get the sense of something bigger – like Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I have always drawn animals, birds and plants. I love to draw twisty foliage and woodlands. Stars crop up a lot too. I long for my work to look energetic and spontaneous, and yet I obsess over details and worry about things not looking good enough.


I have experimented with lots of ways of working – I love messy line qualities and texture. I work a lot in pencil, in sketchbooks and drawing from life. I got a bit obsessed with trying to find my perfect pencil – it has to be dark, black, crumbly but not too waxy. At the moment I’m loving Faber-Castell’s Pitt Oil Base Extra Soft.


I start with really sketchy thumbnails, then redraw until I’m happy with the outline. Once I have the lines, I scan into Photoshop and use collected textures to build up the effects I want. Sometimes, I do this in black and white first and then add colour, other times, I go straight to adding colour digitally. I just have to make sure I don’t fall down the rabbit hole of infinite possibilities that undo and colour pickers allow.

Lucy and Aslan

My advice to other illustrators is to not give yourself a hard time. It is perfectly common to have a side job or another source of income alongside illustration work. I do a lot of digital design and marketing, which I see as a strong point – it means I’m organised and have skills that I can use for myself, as well as collaborating on other projects.

There are so many illustrators I admire it’s an ever growing list – Oliver Jeffers, Sara Fanelli, David Roberts, Alex T Smith, Emily Gravett, Chris Riddell, Jim Field, Beatrice Alemanga, Karl J Mountford, Marta Altes, David Lichfield, Kate Alizadeh, Chris Chatterton, Chris Haughton, Lauren Ellen Anderson, Emily Hughes… Right now I’m loving Luke Pearson’s Hilda series and Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez, they combine stories of magical wildness and nature with brilliant characters and composition – dreamy!

I'm a member of the #PicturesMeanBusiness team with Sarah McIntyre, James Mayhew and Woodrow Phoenix, I built the website and help to champion crediting illustrators for their work – especially in the children's book industry where illustration plays such a massive role in the reader's experience.

Pictures Mean Business
I have found that children’s illustrators are generally THE LOVELIEST PEOPLE. I always feel my most productive and fired up after socialising with them. This is why I joined SCBWI, when I first went to the conference it was just so good to talk with people who geek out over picture books as much as I do. I can’t wait for this year's with the amazing Mini Grey. If you see me, say hi.

Image credits: Soni Speight


See more of Soni's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Her personal website is here, follow her on Instagram and Twitter

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