This month's showcase illustrator is London based Sarah Horne, whose quirky art style brings life to a wide range of illustration media, including many titles for children's book publishers. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery

I have been an Illustrator for twenty years, graduating from Falmouth College of Arts in 2001 and started commissioned work straight away as a post-graduate. We had a very rigorous training as young illustrators at Falmouth. Intensive life drawing classes in our first year really got the technical and academic aspects of drawing nailed down. There was first emphasis on learning the rules of perspective, composition, mark making etc, and then bending the rules- developing our own individual styles and voice. 

Photography played a very large part in my artistic development before art school, in my mid-teens my heart was set on being a photographer, but ultimately, when push came to shove, I chose to go with my first love, which was (and still is) drawing. I think nothing is ever wasted in creative development and exploring photography as a discipline seriously helped my skills in composition, lay-out and design, but ultimately whether working with paper or through a lense, we operate within the confines of a rectangle. 

I started my career working sporadically freelance for newspapers and magazines on editorial one-off pieces, which was great, although very unpredictable. So, to earn a regular wage, I worked as a picture framer part-time for many years.  

My first published piece was with a specialist climbing magazine called On the Edge commissioned shortly after graduating. I illustrated the tales of near-death experiences of extreme climbers for a couple of years after every month, which was a lot of fun. The pay was low, but the experience was invaluable, and getting things into print on live jobs was my priority.  

Early work covers of early readers

I then found illustration representation, they negotiated work for a handful of broadsheet newspapers and some advertising clients (IKEA, Nike, The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday etc). Over time, my agent then began to find me more and more work in educational publishing, on young readers and phonics books. (Oxford Reading Tree, Collins Big Cat series). Which was a great way to ‘cut my teeth’ in the world of children’s publishing. I then illustrated my first picture book with Hodder Children’s Books called Rhino? What Rhino? by Caryl Hart and the momentum began to build from there. I started to do regular black and white fiction work for middle grade titles, and over time was happily pigeon-holed into the humour bracket, which I have no complaints about as it really suits my style.

I think that naturally we progress and improve as creatives, the important thing is not to limit oneself as the scope for creativity is broad… I often paint on large canvas and write, I find these other ways of expression feed back into my illustration practice usefully.  

My illustration process has not changed enormously over the years, though I now do all of my sketches/roughs digitally, which makes work time much more efficient. My line-work is the most traditional thing about my work, I use Indian ink and a fine mapping pen, for colour pieces I will work more or less entirely digitally, but I am quite old-school when it comes to line. 

I am now represented by the amazing Jodie Hodges at United Agents for books, and I take on other work besides book illustration, often doing character design for animation and private commissions with the occasional editorial piece when it comes my way. I also sell art prints, and occasionally talk at universities on professional practice and the journey into a sustainable illustration career. 

I think one of the keys to success as an illustrator is to develop your own unique visual voice. Trends in illustration come and go. For example, illustrators will draw eyes in a particular way for a season, then it all changes, likewise with colour palettes. Vivid colours are suddenly ‘in’ and then it’s a far more knocked back colour palette. In terms of style, my advice is to try not to follow the trends, you would be forever playing catch up. Yes, be aware of and follow what is happening in the industry, but always seek to develop your own visual voice. This might sound like a hard thing to do, but it’s not really something to over-think, as it comes from your hand and your imagination, so naturally it will be you. Very important to play, experiment, and keep a sketchbook.  


I’ve had the privilege of working with most of the big UK publishers now. My most recent book is Uma And The Answer To Absolutely Everything by Sam Copeland, who is a wonderful comic talent. 

We worked together on the best selling Charlie Changes Into A Chicken series (published by Penguin Random House) which speaks into childhood anxiety in a very gentle and funny way, emphasising friendship, acceptance and empathy. I love how story can speak to these hard issues and somehow bring them into the open and usher in hope.  

Other titles include: Matt Lucas' Very Very Very Very Silly Joke Book (Egmont), Ask Oscar series (Egmont), Fizzlebert Stump (Bloomsbury), The Fleas Knees (forthcoming, Bloomsbury), Llama United (Pan Macmillan), Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (Guppy Books), Monster Doughnuts (Bonnier) 

A list of my most recent books is here.

My next book, Panda At The Door, publishes on May 6th with Chicken House. I am both author and illustrator on this title, I’m looking forward to sharing this with you very soon.  



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

Her personal website is here.  Follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram

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