This month's Featured Illustrator is Olivia Holden, who is based in Lancashire, and studied Fine Art, Textiles and English Literature. She incorporates handmade textures using various printing techniques, like collage and creating surface patterns. See more of her work here.

I grew up in a small coastal town in the North of England. As a child I was always drawing, reading or running around outside. It was a fairly rural place to live and I spent a lot of my childhood helping out at a local horse stables in exchange for riding lessons. I loved being around animals and in the fresh air, even now I still remember riding my bike everywhere imagining it was a horse of my own. When the weather was too miserable for outdoor activities and I was of the age that I could read chapter books, my head was usually in one, and I spent many holidays sat in the shade reading the next Jacqueline Wilson or Roald Dahl.

As I got older, I followed my creative nose studying Fine Art, Textile Design and English Literature at college. At the age of 17 I didn’t fully know where I wanted my career to go or that picture book illustration was even an option for me.

I chose to follow my interest in surface design and pursued a degree in Fashion and Textiles in Yorkshire. This was my first time living away from home and I loved the bustle of city life, spending a lot of time observing scenes and sketching. I took life drawing classes and, as well as exploring interesting surface textures on my course, I started to practice drawing from real life and study figures. My third year at University was a placement year, working in the industry. During this time I lived in London and Leeds on various work placements, including working as a costume designer and an assistant in a Textile Screen Printing studio. It was in this year that I decided a direct career in the Fashion Industry wasn’t what I wanted or felt passionate about. Throughout my course it was the illustration, sketching figures and creating textures through traditional printing methods that I thrived off. I completed my degree with first class BA honours and started to assess what direction I wanted to head in after graduation.

I knew that creating illustrations excited me and was something I loved to do. I moved down to live in Falmouth, Cornwall, straight after University. It was here that I learnt more about picture books and illustration and was surrounded by constant inspiration in the fishing ports and beaches. I lived with a friend who was also a past pupil of Falmouth’s Illustration course and now a working illustrator. I felt very inspired by the job she did, and fascinated by the narratives and worlds created inside children’s picture books. I worked part time to support myself whilst building up my portfolio and exploring my illustration style.

I tried to immerse myself entirely into the world of children’s illustration, attending the degree shows, drawing from life as much as possible, constantly experimenting with different mediums and developing my own style and technique.

I found starting out as an illustrator a little daunting and I tried to take on as much work as I could. I entered many competitions in an effort to get noticed and ended up being a runner up in the Hallmark Cards competition in association with New Designers. They offered me a month's paid placement, which turned into a permanent freelance role. I then moved back to Yorkshire to work as an in house freelance illustrator at Hallmark in Saltaire.

After a while I sought representation and signed up to an illustration agency. I worked on a range of different illustration jobs including picture books, editorial features and licenses for a wide variation of clients alongside my role at Hallmark. The experience I gained during this time was invaluable, and the wide variation of narratives and projects I did really helped me start to grow as an illustrator. I decided to take a leap and step away from designing cards to put more focus into the children’s book work as that was inevitably what I loved the most and wanted to pursue.

I worked for five years taking on several jobs in the book world, including illustrated covers and educational texts, all the while working on personal projects and continuing to develop. I think illustrators naturally evolve as they work at their craft, and throughout this time my work and confidence in my process and style grew. During this time I had the privilege to illustrate Ernest Shackleton’s story in Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegera’s Little People Big Dreams series, which was a joy to work on. 

I have recently been awarded funding from Arts Council England to develop my practice further and support myself as I venture into writing my own children’s fictional picture book. So far, I have attended different printing workshops with a view to incorporating traditional printing methods and textures into my painted work. I also enrolled and completed a six week writing course for children’s narratives and am now working further on the text. My work was recently shortlisted as a finalist for the Illustrator’s Exhibition at Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I visited the fair in March, which was an incredible experience, opening my eyes to the full world of illustration, and listening to the inspiring talks and events showcased.


That leads me to where I am today, continuing to explore my illustrative process, developing and learning all the time. I am currently working on an illustrated non-fiction children’s book with Spanish publisher Mosquito and continuing to develop my own written work for children’s fiction. 

My journey hasn’t been a direct route into children’s illustration, but I do believe my topsy turvy path has impacted the way I work today and helped me to carve out my own style naturally. In my work, I seek to find interesting handmade textures that are found through exploration and play, which stems from my surface design background. I think painting can translate a certain energy and mood onto the page, something I try to capture for the children reading the book. This is influenced by some of my favourite illustrators including Eric Carle, Jacqueline Ayer, Brian Wildsmith, Stepan Zavrel, Miroslav Sasek, etc. I could go on and on, my list of inspirational illustrators is extensive. Overall my aim is to produce illustrations that spark creativity and imagination in the child’s eye and capture an evocative emotion or memory when telling a story.

My advice to pass on would be to persevere, it can sometimes seem like a long and difficult road but perseverance to learn, grow and develop is what leads to improvement. I’d also say there are so many incredible illustrators out there creating wonderful work, but don’t compare yourself. The day I stopped looking at other people’s work and wishing mine was like that, was the day my work got better. I started to source inspiration from other means, looking at real life studies, people watching, taking photographs in busy cities, finding colour combinations of buildings, silhouettes of leaves and the shadows they make on the ground. When I started to look beyond the illustrators around me and started to experiment on my own, I found my own voice and started to see myself in the illustrations I did before.

Finally, when starting out it might seem hard to say no to a project, but don’t let people take advantage of you. I learnt the hard way and ended up working on many early projects that paid very little for the work and time involved, don’t undervalue the time and dedication you put in. 

*All images: Olivia Holden


See more of Olivia's work
 here. Follow her on Instagram, and Twitter.

See previous Featured Illustrators on 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.

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