Our concluding highlighted illustrator for this year is Bonnie Helen Hawkins. With a background in fine arts, a fortuitous encounter with a bestselling author opened the door to book illustration. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I am mildly dyslexic which means as a child I had problems with reading and writing. It also meant that as a child I was ignored by my teachers, who thought I was lazy, and bullied by my classmates, who thought I was an idiot. As a result I spent much of my early school life sitting in a corner drawing pictures and left very much to my own devices. It’s not surprising that pictures were always more important to me than the words in books and books themselves became objects of mystery. To my young mind, books and pictures were magic, so I decided to become an artist and, half a lifetime later, books and pictures are still magic.

I come from a very large working class family so we never had very many books in the house; the library was my greatest source for art and books as I grew up. Now that I am older I collect books, combing though second hand and charity shops for anything turn-of-the-century. My best find is a copy of A Midsummer Nights Dream illustrated by W. Heath Robinson, but I also love Aubrey Beardsley, William Morris and collect the work of contemporaries like Alan Lee, Kit Williams and Ann Yvonne Gilbert. 

But I did not become an illustrator straight away. I dropped out of art college after only a year. I don’t have a degree, but I never stopped painting. Making pictures in a variety of styles and media has been the consuming passion of my life.

The natural world always finds its way into my work, I collect odd things that might be easily overlooked like pebbles, shells, feathers, etc. I don’t keep these oddments in the studio, instead they are scattered all over the house so everywhere I look I see something natural. 

I met my husband at an art exhibition, we married and opened an art gallery featuring my paintings. For many years I have been a professional fine artist with collectors all over the world, so surprisingly I fell into illustration by accident. Usually an expressive oil painter, I was ill a few years ago and decided during recuperation to start drawing again, something I hadn’t done since my college days. One of my first drawings was ODIN. To this day I have no idea why I decided to draw this picture, it just seemed to be waiting for me to pick up the pencil.

ODIN - Published in A Pocketful of Crows

Around this time my daughter insisted I listen to TED Talks, a series of online lectures designed to inspire and encourage young people. Only half listening while drawing, I was not really concentrating on the talks until Joanne Harris (internationally famous author of Chocolat) appeared on stage. At this point I must admit I had never heard of her, nor had I read any of her books, but I was very impressed by her lecture and wanted to thank her for being part of TED Talks (a more detailed blog about the encounter can be found here). Having recently finished the ODIN drawing and having four prints of it I promptly rolled one up and stuck it in the post to Joanne with a short note. 


Little did I know that Joanne had just finished writing her first folklore novella A Pocketful of Crows and was looking for an illustrator. After a few false starts (I originally thought the first email from the publisher was a scam enticing me to self publish for a huge fee) I agreed to create 25 b&w pencil drawings in about 12 weeks – an incredible amount of work to entrust to a novice illustrator – but I hit the deadline with just one day to spare (no hot dinners or much sleep for those 12 weeks) and the ODIN drawing became the end pages for that first book.

Since that time I have illustrated for Joanne Harris The Blue Salt Road and, to be released in September 2020, Orfeia, all published by Gollancz. All these books were written for adults but they can certainly be read by middle grade or young adult audiences.

Orfeia has allowed me to venture into horror which is an area I would like to explore further. 

Since that chance encounter with Joanne Harris I am now dividing my time between illustration and fine art. Amongst current projects in development are Fin and the Giant Book of Monsters also a modern reworking of The Little Mermaid, both of which are top secret so I can’t talk too much about them.

I like to start with a relatively detailed, but light pencil drawing so that I know where I’m going.

My current project is a full-colour children’s book for an independent American publisher that I met entirely because of SCBWI. The author saw my work on my SCBWI illustrators page and invited me to collaborate. Apart from the time difference the US team have been great to work with a real flow of ideas. For contractual reasons I can’t tell you the title, but I can say it’s about a group of four young friends and an underwater adventure. The book requires 16 double-page spreads including a wraparound cover and a hand full of spot illustrations. The illustrations are mainly watercolour but with coloured pencil and ink.

Sometimes I start with an allover colour wash, but not always, it depends on how intense I want the finished colours to be. My main medium is watercolour, but I will use anything to get the required finish, including ink, coloured pencil and even felt tips.

This illustration is huge, over 4 ft long its one of the largest watercolours I have ever done, but I needed it to be big because of the detail and the eventual use as a foldout poster - still not finished!

I often draw on slightly coloured paper as I find it much easier on the eyes - not so much glare. My preferred paper is Stonehenge, it's lovely and soft but not too smooth, so the pencil glides on the surface rather than slips.

I now live in the beautiful Wye Valley and as I look around my home I have three oil paintings in the living room waiting to be varnished, a large watercolour painting has taken up residency on the kitchen table, a b&w pencil drawing is demanding attention on my computer desk, books line the stairs to bed and my first manuscript lies under the bed waiting for me like a guilty pleasure.


Best piece of advice – never take anyone else’s advice; any advice people give you is based upon their own experiences and perception of the situation which can’t possibly be the same as yours, instead just follow your gut, be passionate about what you do. Do what you believe in and not what other people tell you they believe in.


See more of Bonnie's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery! Her personal website is here. Follow her on social media through Twitter and Instagram.


  1. I am in awe of you doing a watercolour 4 feet long!! It's magnificent!! I wouldn't dare.

  2. Thanks for a fascinating account and I look forward to hearing about the book when it is due out in the US - and power to you for your manuscript and art! What amazing technique and vision! (I opened Safari specially in hopes my comment will get through this time round, as it didn't in Chrome.)


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