This month's Featured Illustrator Gabby Grant pursued a career in film and TV production design before returning to publishing. Now, with experience of several titles she's about to see the release of her first book as author/illustrator. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.


I think my family was built on books. My favourites, of course, were the ones with pictures in, and I particularly liked - still do - illustrations with lots of detail. I spent ages poring over my grandad’s Giles annuals, finding all the little comedies and dramas going on in the background, being spooked and charmed by Jan Pienkowski, and following Eloise through her (to me) wildly exotic life at the Plaza Hotel.

Despite that, I didn’t take a straightforward route to illustration, leaving art behind after GCSE and muddling along until I ended up with an art-history/cultural studies degree. And I didn’t know what to do afterwards; ‘proper’ jobs always felt a bit mysterious and unobtainable, and so I sort of fell into admin work although I wasn’t very good at it (I recently discovered I have ADHD which explains SO much). I was saved by taking Art A-Level on an evening course, which enabled me to run away from my sensible job to study illustration at Westminster University where I knew I wanted to specialise in children’s books.


After graduation, I married, and spent a few years doing graphics for a prop shop, putting together everything from Victorian posters to passports, as well as the occasional all-hands task such as sticking fake fur onto a eight-foot high nodding dog. This was mostly for TV such as Room 101 and Harry Hill’s TV Burp but also for films such as Nanny McPhee Returns, and the Brothers Bloom (which nobody else seems to have heard of, but is remembered by me because I made an illuminated manuscript page which was on screen for approximately 1.5 seconds, such is showbiz).


From the sublime…

...to the ridiculous

I also got my first picture book commission, The Big Bottom Hunt by Lari Don. I left work to have my first child, and joined SCBWI which has been a real boost to me. Even if I can’t always actively participate, it’s so good to know that community is there. Through their illustrator workshops, I gave my work an overhaul, and put together a picture book idea (I’ve always liked writing too). The picture book never got off the ground, but it did catch an agent’s eye at the SCBWI Agents’ Party, who signed me up. 

Over the next few years, I had more children, and have worked for the NSPCC, Polka Theatre, Firefly Press and Macmillan Educational. I also draw a lot of monster trucks, a series specially commissioned by my three sons, interspersed with the occasional monster and cartoon character. More recently, I’ve done pen-and-ink drawings for a lovely self-published book. And while lockdown’s been difficult, what with juggling work and children, it also brought the very exciting news that Tate Publishing bought Chasing Rainbows, the first book written and illustrated by me, and which should be coming out next autumn.



I don’t feel that I’ll ever stop learning and developing. I’d like to loosen up a bit while still keeping the detail I love, and I’m always looking around for inspiration. As well as spooky, spikey drawings, I like to see the little details that pin down characters or moods. I admire the wonderful drawing of David Gentleman, Charles Keeping and Ronald Searle, and Egon Schiele’s landscapes. I’m also fascinated by how Medieval illustrators represented their world (and the marginalia!), the precision of Carl Larsson, and Japanese print-makers such as Hasui Kawase. Also on my overstuffed bookshelves are Tove Jansson, Fritz Wegner, Shirley Hughes, Posy Simmonds, Emily Gravett, Joe Todd-Stanton, Sara Ogilvie and Alexis Deacon - the latter a particular favourite. I check in with a couple of webcomics as well - Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, and Stand Still Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg.

My roughs vary from fairly precise to unrecognisable squiggles (like my sketchbook drawings).



I sometimes get frustrated because I’m trying to make everything look ‘correct’, so what I do then is go back a step and work as quickly and roughly as I can, perhaps using a really chunky pencil or a fountain or dip pen - anything to get me me out of that rut.

This is my rough for one of the Chasing Rainbow images

 Once it’s going in a direction I’m happy with, I use a lightbox to make more detailed roughs in the hope of keeping as much of the looseness and joy of those first drawings as I can. I’ll make up stories about the characters as I draw, and that helps me decide how I’m going to picture them.

The scanned in drawing

 Colouring’s done on a computer for flexibility with colours and layers. And the ‘undo’ button.

And the final image

Any other advice? You’ll likely be running your own small business, so know your market and make sure you find out about gruesome yet important stuff like taxes and copyright.

Last thing: I went to a day of talks that featured Tony Ross, who said that one thing he noted about successful illustrators he knew was that they’d persevered and never stopped getting their work out there. Chasing Rainbows took months to put together, and even longer to sell, but it eventually found its home. It feels like such an uphill struggle sometimes, and it’s so easy to compare yourself to others who seem to be doing better, but keep building your skills and keep on going!



See more of Gabby's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery

Her website is here. Follow Gabby on Twitter and Instagram. She's represented by Hannah Whitty at Plum Pudding Illustration Agency


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