This month's Featured Illustrator is Shaw Davidson. Based in Bristol, Shaw graduated with BA Hons Illustration at Falmouth University and is now a freelance illustrator specialising in children's books. Her illustrations are often inspired by people, history, colour and nature, and she enjoys a mixture of traditional and digital techniques. See more of her work here.

Growing up I definitely felt most confident being creative, and any chance I got I would be drawing and painting. My favourite school projects were when we did book reviews and I have a very strong memory of drawing the characters and scenes from Charlotte's Web and just being so thrilled with how they looked, I think that’s probably when I caught the illustrating bug!

I had only ever done Fine Art at school so didn’t fully realise illustration was a career path I could take. I joined the foundation course at Falmouth University, where we were encouraged to try a wide variety of creative disciplines. I always loved animated movies and considered going down that route for a time. One of my all time favourite artists is Mary Blair, who was a concept artist for the classic Disney movies such as Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. I definitely think her work influenced me a lot in those days, particularly her incredible sense of colour and use of strong shapes!

Concept art by Mary Blair  (creditMary Blair/Disney)

Eventually I decided to do a degree in Illustration and immediately knew I wanted to specialise in children’s books. During my third year at university, my passion for picture books really flourished. We had brilliant lectures that explored the vast world of picture books I never really knew existed before! For my final major project I was hugely inspired by picture books about artists, and I was especially fond of Cloth Lullaby, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault and Picasso and Lump, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna

I chose to base my picture book project on the esteemed children’s book author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter. I had also written my dissertation about Beatrix Potter’s life and work so I already had a wealth of research to draw upon. The project was such a fun experience and I loved diving into her world and thinking about ways to create illustrations relevant to her work but still felt very different, fresh and me!

Sample spreads and dummy book for my final year project.

I took my my Beatrix dummy book to the Bologna Book Fair and emailed a bunch of publishing art directors to get feedback on my work. I wasn’t very confident at the time, so I’m not sure I would have pushed myself forward as much if it hadn’t been required of me for my professional practice class at university. When starting out in the illustration world, it can be very scary to share your work publicly, or feel ready to send things to publishers. I would really encourage anyone feeling that way to put your work out there  you never know what kind of feedback you could get. I got some great advice from these meetings and emails and ended up getting my first picture book commission!

The Secret Garden published by Puffin Books

Before I had graduated, I was on my way to London for a meeting with Penguin Random House who commissioned me to illustrate a new picture book version of the children’s classic The Secret Garden. They told me that they commissioned me based on my Beatrix dummy book, as they both had a similar setting and time period. My love of drawing Victorian and vintage aesthetics really paid off, and it only goes to show that making personal work based on things you’re passionate about can lead to that dream book project! 

I was very nervous taking on such a big commission straight out of university, but I learnt a huge amount in the process and I’m really looking forward to working on more books in the future. The Secret Garden also led to me being featured in the Puffin Book of Big Dreams, a celebration of Puffin's 80th anniversary, and it was a huge honour to see my work in a book amongst so many other incredible authors and illustrators.

In terms of process, I had always worked solely traditionally until fairly recently. I used primarily gouache paint, coloured pencil and wax pastels. I now use a mixture of traditional and digital mediums which I really enjoy. I never thought I would be making some final pieces completely digitally, but my approach is very similar to using paint and pencil and I always enjoy experimenting with texture and colour. I love using Procreate, you can get so many incredible brushes that give a painterly effect which is so fun to play around with.

Illustration of a snowy scene (credit: Shaw Ellis)

It's still early days in my career but I think the advice I would give is to really utilise social media platforms to get your name out there. You don’t need to be posting everyday, but regularly popping up on Instagram or Twitter is a great way to stay in the minds of people who may hire you in the future. It’s also a fantastic way to connect with other illustrators and learn lots about the publishing world. Last year I joined a virtual drawing club with five incredible illustrators and I have learnt so much from them! It really helps to know others working in the same industry, often as illustrators we spend many hours working alone without any input from others, and this can feel quite isolating at times. Luckily there are so many ways to reach out to others in the illustration community, whether that is in person in your town or city; or online through social media!

A selection of illustrations by Shaw Davidson

*All images: Shaw Ellis

See more of Shaw's work here. Follow her on Instagram, contact her at shaw.ellis@davidson.ac

See previous Featured Illustrators on our Showcase Gallery


Tita Berredo is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her at illustrators@britishscbwi.org. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or find her work at www.titaberredo.com

1 comment:

  1. Great illustrations Shaw, really enjoyed looking through these. good luck.


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