In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon talks to writers and illustrators about their creative space. This month features Sally Walker.

Sally is a children’s picture book illustrator, who currently works part time as an Art Director for an e-learning comms company. She embarked on her illustration journey by studying on the renowned MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and hasn’t looked back since. Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle (words by Kelly Jordan) was published March 2021 by Page Street Kids, while Ruby and the Itsy-Bitsy Icky Bug (words by Allison Wortche) will be published in July by Alfred A. Knopf Books (Random House).

Cover of Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle

Cover of Ruby and the Itsy-Bitsy Icky Bug

Tell us about your creative space

Having recently moved house, I’m lucky enough to have been able to claim one of the bedrooms as my new studio. It’s such a lovely room as it has dual aspect windows, but I just need to make sure I spend time working rather than looking at the view! I love having a dedicated space where I can paint, print and work on my computer without having to endlessly tidy up. I’ve filled my room with artwork from some of my favourite artists, my picture book collection and some plants (which just make me happy). I work on my iPad quite a bit now too, which means I can work all around the house when I get a spare 10 minutes or so. I’ve been known to sit in the car drawing many a time when the children have fallen asleep in there after a car journey. Having small children means I have to work whenever and wherever I can.


Sally in her new studio

Your creative tools – what are they?

I work in lots of different ways and love combining prints and textures into my art. Some of my most frequented tools are acrylic paints, intaglio ink, and acrylic inks. I tend to only use a very limited palette and more often just black for creating textures to scan. For mono printing and stamps, I use a glass chopping board, foam sheets, brayer and a wooden spoon for transferring the ink. I often use a gelli plate to experiment with images too. I also use various household objects such as old toothbrushes, wooden skewers, old credit cards, forks, sponges, paint rollers... whatever can make an interesting texture. I use A3 recycled printing paper as it’s cheap and easy to work with, which will inevitably end up scanned anyway. For line work I love chinagraph pencils, 8b Faber-Castell jumbo pencils and batwing pearl pencils. And finally for my digital tools I tend to use a Drawing Tablet with Photoshop, or Procreate on my iPad.

Sally sketching on paper

Sally drawing with a digital tool

Do you have a routine?

My illustration routine works around my children and my 3-day-a-week job as an Art Director. Currently I have Wednesdays dedicated to illustration during school hours and Monday and Tuesday evenings, plus whenever I can find some time here and there. I’m in-between books at the moment, but when I am working on a book I will try to carve out at least another day to work too.


Do you need particular prompts to get you started?

I don’t really have a routine as such, but on my dedicated illustration days I will make myself a large coffee, put the radio on and just try and get to work. If I’m writing or working on a new idea though, I usually need silence to help me concentrate. My studio is full of picture books I’ve collected for inspiration if I get stuck, and a walk with my dog Poppet helps too. If I’m particularly tired (usually after a day at work) I do like to crash in front of the TV with something like The Bake Off on, and do tasks which don’t need as much concentration. When I’m not busy with books, I also love to take part in the colour collective prompt on Twitter. Each week, a colour is posted and then every Friday at 7.30pm, artists from all manner of backgrounds post their pieces inspired by that colour with the hashtag #colour_collective.


What is the best creative advice you’ve been given?

Draw from life. This was the most useful advice and practice we were given as students on the MA at Cambridge School of Art. Before I started the course I found I was trying to over-stylise everything, desperately trying to find a style. Going back to basics, to drawing from observation on a daily basis, gave me the reset I needed. I don’t do it as much now (although I am planning to go back to it more regularly soon) but the years of doing so have made me so much better at drawing from imagination.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I have different favourite books for different ages of my childhood, but one which I still pour over today is Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. I love so much about this book, the comic format, the framing, the details, the grumpy but lovable character, the sense of place, the extraordinary in a very ordinary setting... and it’s set at Christmas, the most magical time for any child.

Cover of Father Christmas

What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about illustrating?

Professor Martin Salisbury’s book Illustrating Children’s Books is the best 'how to' book that I’ve come across specifically aimed at Children’s Book Illustration. It’s actually like a mini version of the MA at Cambridge which Martin led for many years. There’s a big section on observational drawing, media and techniques, character development, different types of children’s books and advice on getting published. An all-round informative book which touches on a lot of bases.

Cover of Illustrating Children's Books


Planner or pantser?

When it comes to working on a commissioned picture book I do like to plan my time. I print off a monthly year planner and mark out all the timescales and then stick it to my wall. I also get an A3 sheet and map out all the spreads, which helps me to keep track of where I am and easily see what’s left to do. I’ve found this really useful to help me work out how long I usually need per spread, etc... When I’m not working on a book I’m much more seat of my pants, I may start working on a story idea, but then get side-tracked by just wanting to draw an otter or something.


What inspired you to first start illustrating?

I’ve always worked in a creative industry, and some form of illustration has always been part of my job. But the pathway into illustrating picture books really started when I worked alongside the illustrator Elana Mullaly on a gap year in Australia. We both worked at a small gifts company, I was the graphic designer putting together the catalogue and Elana was illustrating characters for the products. It was the first time that I started seeing illustration as a real career choice. When I got back to the UK I took an illustration evening class and, from there, heard about the MA and decided to apply.

To find out more about Sally's work, visit her website, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Illustration of children watching fireworks by Sally Walker

*Feature image courtesy of Sally Walker


Caroline Deacon
lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter @writingdilemmas and at

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.