This month's Featured Illustrator is Rachel HudsonBased in Hampshire, she is known for her lively natural history illustrations, children’s books and editorial work. Rachel has a First Class degree in the Anthropology of Art and is currently studying for a Masters in Illustration from Falmouth University. See more of her work here.

Personal path

I started my creative life in early childhood being curious about the natural world – feeding the birds, watching pond skaters, writing poems and making sketches. I went on to art college for Foundation Studies but read the Anthropology of Art at university, learning about societies and cultures that live more closely with the natural world. 


After a Master of Philosophy, I worked in art galleries in America, Ireland and Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art. Frustrated creatively, and wanting to reconnect with the natural world, I changed tack, designing and writing for a nature conservation organisation. I gradually picked up small illustration jobs as a freelance, starting with BirdLife International and the RSPB, illustrating one bird at a time. I found that I enjoyed illustrating above all. 


It’s been a round-about route, but I’ve been a full-time freelance illustrator for the last seven years, working with BBC Wildlife, Bloomsbury Publishing and many of the leading wildlife conservation organisations in the UK. In 2021, my first children’s book,
100 Endangered Species, was published in the UK and US. I now regularly illustrate double-page spreads for the nature magazine I once read as a child. 

100 Endangered Species, 2021


Having fallen into illustration, I’m only just beginning to realise how much there is to learn. To this end, I’m currently half-way through a Masters in Illustration at Falmouth School of Art (taught online), studying Process and Practice, Visual Language, Narrative and Storytelling, among other modules.  One of the most interesting ideas I’ve been introduced to is the Polymath Principle, that an illustrator should engage with their subject matter at a deeper, more authorial level. 


 I grew up with the Ladybird book series on the seasons, What to Look For…, illustrated by Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe (1901-1979). Rather than stiff, scientific studies, his paintings showed animals in their natural environments, capturing their movement and behaviour.


As a young adult I came across the work of Charley Harper (1922–2007) and his ground-breaking Modernist animal art. In Harper’s eye-catching illustrations, shape, colour, texture, pattern and behaviour are of primary importance. Instead of trying to put everything in when I paint, I try to leave everything out. I distil reality. I reduce the subject to the simplest possible visual terms without losing identity, thereby enhancing identity” (Harper, 2016). I’ve since collected many of Harper’s children’s non-fiction books, my favourite, Birds and Words (1974), is accompanied by his witty commentary on each species. Harper has influenced so many contemporary children’s book illustrators, including Dieter Braun and Owen Davey.


Although Tunnicliffe and Harper adopt different stylistic approaches, they both painstakingly researched their animal subjects and shared the same understanding that all living things are connected.  They never lost their wonder of the natural world and their work appealed to both adults and children. They are the biggest influences on my approach to illustration and observing the natural world, which is a totally immersive experience.


I work in my dedicated home studio, in a cottage that was once the village stores, on the edge of the South Downs National Park in Hampshire. The walls are lined with books: children’s picture books, natural history reference books and nature writing, a few of which I inherited from my grandmother and great grandmother - a designer for William Morris & Co. Over the last year, these books have been joined by others on semiotics, colour theory and narrative structure. Discovering the wordless books of Frans Masereel, Stuart Kolakovic and Nick Hayes has been particularly exciting!

My studio is split between a messy workbench for painting, inking and cutting, and a cleaner desk with my mac, scanner and printer. For a change, I sometimes chase the sun through the cottage, sketching in the kitchen (morning light), or the dining room (early afternoon). I start every day by walking my dog, Rosie, along the lanes into my local woods. What I see, often feeds into my subject matter. 


All my illustrations begin with scruffy thumbnail drawings to work out shapes, flow and composition. I’ll then create my marks and textures through analogue print-making and mark making, generally residing in mess, until something interesting emerges. I then bring everything together in Adobe Illustrator. There’s been a shift in attitude towards working digitally and I’m learning to embrace the hybrid nature of my process and practice. There is no right or wrong way of creating illustrations.


Observations and Advice

 I’m beginning to understand why some illustrators rent studio space with others. Being at home all day, every day, is an isolating experience. Yet I struggle to get away from my studio, plagued by a sense of guilt that I should be sitting at my desk. It’s not necessarily a productive or sustainable way to live and work.  Illustrators who achieve a better life/work balance, often create richer images too.



Social media is great. Several commissioners have offered me work having seen my illustrations on Instagram, or elsewhere online.  However, it is also a platform of comparison. On a bad day, it’s probably the worst place to find yourself scrolling through and reading about new book contracts and amazing commissions that others have just landed or proudly present to the world. This is why I now actively seek the creative work of non-illustrators – weavers, potters, musicians and philosophers, etc. Encouraged by our tutors at Falmouth, I’m looking beyond natural history illustration and children’s picture books, to other, exciting spheres, including cinematography, animation and music. I’ve been experimenting with sequential narratives and translating my visual language into 3D artefacts and moving images.


I always thought that a bona fide illustrator primarily worked on children’s books, but there is a much wider illustration world out there and it’s definitely worth exploring too.

*Feature photo: Rachel Hudson


See more of Rachel's work here. Follow her on Instagram. Her contact is rhudsonillustration@gmail.com

See previous Featured Illustrators in our Showcase Gallery.

Tita Berredo is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. 

Find her work at www.titaberredo.com Follow her on Instagram and Twitter

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.