This month's Featured Illustrator is Elly Jahnz from Cornwall, whose vibrant illustrations for fashion, graphic design and and retail helped prepare for her break into children's publishing through Nosy Crow. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrated Gallery


I’m going to start by repeating what most illustrators will say when asked to talk about their career in the arts: 'I’ve loved drawing ever since I could first hold a crayon in my fist.' It’s true – although I haven’t always drawn as much as professional guilt tells me I should. Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate that I’ve been able to make a career out of scribbling things on bits of paper.

As a child, I drew constantly. I used to love creating comics and building worlds, and had a folder full of imaginary planets and places, which I filled with drawings of inhabitants, maps, lists of facts and stories. I had ambitions of turning it into a published galactic encyclopaedia, but I was ten years old and, honestly, it wasn’t very good... 

One of my first illustrations. I think I was drawing red paint.

I think I first realised that being paid to draw was a legitimate career move when I was 11 or 12. My brother and I got a PlayStation for Christmas and we used to spend hours on it. Seeing all the concept and character artwork in the games’ instruction manuals flicked a switch in my brain and it occurred to me that it was someone’s job to create them. Years of terrible fan art followed, and I started paying close attention in art lessons. 

During A-Levels, my art teacher mentioned that studying illustration could be a good fit for me. I decided (based on the uncoated paper in the prospectus) that I’d like to study Illustration at University College Falmouth. To do so, I’d need to do an art foundation course, which my local art college offered. The college was located in an empty car dealership on an industrial estate. I was in a class of eighteen, only five of whom were below the age of thirty. It wasn’t quite the college experience I was expecting, but it was really interesting being able to mix with a wide variety of people with different skills and backgrounds. Plus, the tutors were great and after a fun year I left with a distinction to study illustration at Falmouth. 

My studio, although not for much longer. As I type I'm packing it up and getting ready to move.


I loved studying at Falmouth. It was the polar opposite to my foundation experience – loads of students on a campus set in a subtropical garden, a short walk from the beach. I met some great people, learnt a lot and, in 2009, graduated with a 2:1, a varied portfolio and no idea of what to do next.

Working in my local pub as possibly the worst barmaid in existence, I saw a graphic design job advertised for a small organic clothing company called Seasalt, based back in Falmouth. It called for an illustration background, so I applied, and spent the next seven years working for them. This experience probably did more to shape my career than anything else. I realised on starting (maybe after an hour) that three years of university had not prepared me for the realities of office-based work in any way; I needed to learn a lot of new design-based skills pretty quickly. Luckily, one of my colleagues was Matt Johnson, a fantastic illustrator and human. He taught me pretty much everything I know about being a professional designer-illustrator; his patience through those early years is still much appreciated. Although tough at times, I found working in this environment let me refine my technical skills and taught me to work quickly to briefs. I developed a range of soft skills I didn’t know I needed: how to deal with stakeholders, attend meetings, write emails, ask questions, how not to fall asleep at your desk, etc.

A selection of some work I did while I was at Seasalt.

Eventually, after seven years, I got itchy feet. By this time, the company had grown massively and I was creating illustrations for their range of printed jute bags and designing all their packaging. I kept coming back to the idea of freelancing full time and, honestly, had struggled with feeling like a bit of a fraud for not ‘making it’ as a full-time freelancer straight after graduation. In 2016 I decided to take the plunge. In-between leaving my job and freelancing, I took a few months off to travel - backpacking across Japan and exploring Australia.

To date, my freelance career has been varied. Half of my work is design based, spanning product design, packaging, garment prints and general graphics. The rest is illustration, working for a mix of corporate and editorial clients and, also, books! From 2017 I’ve been working with Nosy Crow to illustrate a children’s nature almanac.


The 2021 edition of Nature Month by Month

Double page spread chapter opener from 2020: Nature Month by Month. The beach is based on Gylly Beach, Falmouth.

Written by the fabulous Anna Wilson, the third edition came out this year. I wasn’t especially looking for publishing work but the team at Nosy Crow saw an illustration I’d posted on Instagram and got in touch. It went to my junk folder and I almost missed it! The illustration was from my Grandma’s order of service from her funeral, as she had passed away a few months before. It was of her beautiful house and wild garden. I dedicated the first book in the series to her.


My Grandma’s beautiful house and garden.

That first book (2019: Nature Month by Month) had a very quick turnaround – around six months from contract to submitting finals! My years in the fast-paced world of fashion served me well, although I am grateful that subsequent editions have followed a more traditional pace.

I work mainly digitally – generally with Adobe Illustrator but more recently Procreate on the iPad Pro. I do love a good pencil doodle, but I’m terrible at maintaining sketchbooks. I prefer to work to a brief, so I find ‘free creative drawing time’ to be quite stressful. If I have time to work on my portfolio, I have to write myself a mini-brief and get someone to hold me to account…


Discovering Procreate was a gamechanger. It made the process of doing roughs so much faster. No more scanning!

I’m a member of the AOI and SCBWI – both of which I’ve found to be brilliantly helpful. I attended the SCBWI conference in 2019 and was blown away by how warm and friendly everyone was. The seminars and talks were top notch and I was thrilled to win the Best Portfolio award too. I’ve also been shortlisted for the AOI’s Poster prize for Illustration in 2017 and 2019 and the first edition of Nature Month by Month was shortlisted for an ALCS Educational Writers Award in 2019. 

Shortlisted Entry for 2019 AOI & TFL Poster Prize for Illustration

The advice I’d give any aspiring illustrator is that the path to a freelance career is a diverse one, so learn what you can from any creative (or non-creative) job and don’t sweat it if you don’t get freelance work straight out of uni. Never underestimate the importance of soft skills, like how to write emails and deal professionally with clients. I’d also say it’s so important to keep creating and putting your work out there. I'm aware of the irony of someone who updates their Instagram maybe once a month telling you this though…All my big jobs have come about as a result of putting some work out there, making a connection or in response to an email, so it’s worth doing. 

I love how working on an iPad has freed me up from spending all my time sat at a desk.

So that’s where I am right now. I’ve had three books published in the Nature Month by Month series and am working on the fourth. I’d love to undertake more non-fiction work, or do some cover art for middle grade/young adult books. I intend to keep producing work that makes me smile and interests me. 



See more of Elly's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery

Her website is here. Follow Elly on Instagram @ellyjahnz.



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