With a delicate style honed through wide experience in illustration, this month's showcased artist Suzanna Hubbard draws inspiration for her books from the Dorset coast, where she now lives and works. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery


One of my earliest memories was riding in the back seat carriage of my Mum’s bicycle to the town square library a mile or so away before my Mum was brave enough to take a driving test.


Some of my earliest picture books memories made a huge emotional impression on me at just four years old. I was sensitively-natured as a child and can remember tears shed over a prawn that I felt should be put back in the sea. 


Me and my brothers

I was drawn to stories where the central character had typically lost their way or had to overcome some personal battle against the odds, triumph over tragedy would always win my heart. In Elizabeth and Gerald Rose’s Old Winkle And The Seagulls, Old Winkle demonstrates this beautifully, a sad old fisherman who can’t catch a fish for toffee, saves the day when there is a great fish shortage in the local seafaring town.

Old Winkle and The Seagulls


I also loved the folk tale of The Old Woman who Lived in Vinegar Bottle by Rumer Godden and Mairi Hedderwick, a rag to riches tale about the dangers of greed. Picture books were often written with a particular moral message then, but have moved a long way in terms of the breath of diversity and imaginative forms in which they are commissioned today. 


I think looking back I lived rather sleepily and dreamily in other worlds. A yew tree became a hideaway to live in, the old railway halt close by where the trains jolted on to Marylebone Station was without a doubt haunted. An old carpenters' bench became a horse. I remember being given an illustrated paper peep diorama at around seven years old and the magical feeling of climbing into a story in 3D. 


Later on at school, I spent most of my time in the art department. I had an excellent teacher called Mrs Bennett, who alway allowed complete creative freedom, the art room was a place for self-expression and, being a shy and rather serious self-conscious teen, art and drama were my saving grace.

I grew up with two brothers and mostly older boy cousins; they along with my parents influenced my musical taste. Mum and Dad had all The Beatles albums, and it was part of the fabric of our weekends enjoying these together. The first record I bought was Ian Dury and The Blockheads Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick; I was as much swayed I think by the cover art (which later I found out was by Bush Hollyhead) as I was by Ian Dury’s idiosyncratic lyrics. 



My first brush with art school was seeing the brightly lit studios of the old Central St Martins School of Art at dusk in Covent Garden which was situated next door to where my Dad worked. Punk had arrived a few years earlier, and this was the dawn of the New Wave 80’s of big hair do’s, goth, funk, rap, preppies, anything was possible, but at odds with all this was the rise in conservatism and Thatcher. 


I took a Foundation in Art & Design at CCAT (Cambridge Anglia Ruskin) and spent many drawing hours at Kettles Yard, The Fitzwilliam and The Archeology Museum. Whilst I was living there I discovered the house of the writer Lucy Boston which was looked after by her daughter-in-law Diana. I was introduced by Diana to the painter Elizabeth Vellacott who was elderly by then and still painting every day. Her quiet ethereal paintings have always remained very personal to me from that time. 


After my Foundation I worked for Cambridge City Council re-issuing driving licenses to reformed heavy goods lorry drivers. I had several jobs, another was working nights for Royal Mail in the sorting office. I managed to save up enough to travel to Japan where I taught English for a few months, I travelled light but had packed a sketchbook and some materials with the intention of applying to art school when I returned. 


Back home I was told about a small art school in London that specialised in printmaking. I hadn’t quite decided at that stage if I wanted to specialise in illustration but this seemed to offer a multifarious approach. I was lucky to a get grant to study there and I was even luckier to be taught by artists and illustrators that I greatly admired, Richard Bawden, Charles Shearer, Sarah Van Niekerk, Chris Brown, Carolyn Gowdy and Tabitha Salmon. Joan Firmin took book-binding classes and I always remember a visit from the art director Martin Collier, who later commissioned me at The Readers Digest. I muddled through with various jobs outside of art school to support myself, one of which was at Dillons Book Store in Gower Street (now Waterstones). 



After a small traditional London art school experience, I was to my amazement offered a place at the age of 23 at The University of Brighton to do an MA in Narrative Illustration & Editorial Design under the tutorship of Chris Mullen, John Vernon Lord and George Hardie (who I later found out was a contemporary of Bush Hollyhead) The MA was a much more cerebral experience where visual language across film, graphics, fine art and illustration were decoded at depth. Graphics scared me to be honest, I greatly admired and respected that way of thinking in others and still do. 


I worked for many magazines after leaving art college, work wasn’t difficult to come by then, I shared a flat in Brighton with my partner, the illustrator Paul Blow where we both worked from different studios at the time. I remember buying myself one of the first iMacs after a book commission I had done and before the real advancement of the digital age had got going. I illustrated both other authors' text and then got my first authored text with The Lady Who Lived in A Car (Pavilion Books) which was nominated for an Early Years Book Trust Award. 


The Lady who Lived In A Car

After a long and happy stint we moved away from Brighton to start a family. Life moved in a different direction for a while, family became my priority as well as a new teaching post that I had decided to take at The University of Bournemouth. Time was well and truly filled but I kept drawing through that period.


Sketchbook of Grenville boys

In 2016 I was able to return to my own practice, it was the start of a new and exciting adventure for me. When I look back I can see how much I had been enriched by real life experiences I lived through and that they added to and shaped my work. 


I now work using both analogue and digital media, sometimes I combine the two. 

Dacha House

I also keep my own personal love of painting going if anything for myself, as I love the relaxation that working instinctively with brush and canvas or paper brings. My recent book with Cicada Books, The Problem with Pierre, was recently given a Kirkus Star review. 



Top Tips

Make sure you have periods to reflect and absorb as an illustrator, it may sound obvious but it is all too easy to burn out. Fill your cup with other interests that help you grow.


Experiment widely with materials, they don’t have to be expensive. Digital work often gets a negative bias and yet it is just another tool. It doesn’t mean you abandon drawing from life or making an edition series of screen prints. 


Get connected and especially if loneliness comes knocking. The illustrator/picture book maker’s life can be a solitary one, but there is so much on offer. Join events, groups, workshops and organisations like SCBWI or Orange Beak, where there is an opportunity to learn from others around you.


See more of Suzanna's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

Her personal website is here.

Follow Suzanna on Instagram @zanna_hubbard

Her agent is Caroline Walsh at David Higham Associates



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