This month's Featured Illustrator is Shannon Ell. Shannon is a non-binary illustrator, animator and designer based in Edinburgh. They graduated in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art in 2021. Some of their work is based on their cat, Miles, which has been featured as comics in Words & Pictures.

Young Shannon was very interested in cartoons such as The "Powerpuff Girls" by Cartoon Network and "Rugrats" by Nickelodeon. I also held focus on books such as Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and enjoyed looking through my elder brother’s (Troy) comic books that he collected. I remember being interested mostly in the line work not the grim stories they told. 

I grew up by the sea and this was a beautiful escape from home life. I would sit on the beach drawing or climb rocks to clear my head. A lot of what drove my creativity after the age of eight was music and skateboarding, my art was secondary but I learned how to hyper focus on facial features and portraiture became my sector that I enjoyed and I was great at it. I used to write a lot too, mostly MG horror, stories about ghosts in schools mostly. When I hit the age of 13 my stories got more focused on the fantastical idea that a boy would come save the girl who has a hard life. I think I mostly read older vampire stories like the ones by Anne Rice back then — not really age appropriate but fascinating nonetheless. 

I always wanted to do something creative and thought that acting, writing or tattooing would be my long path. It was only after I had the tattoo apprenticeship that I realised it wasn’t for me and I honed my focus on more illustrative and narrative arts. Living in Glasgow and studying there I had a tutor tell me I couldn’t illustrate and would do better in fine art. This was not my plan and it made me furious to be told I couldn’t do something that would make me happy. I moved back to Edinburgh and studied there instead. I collected many kids books and design books, did so much practice and tried new mediums and techniques. 

The way I work has always been a bit chaotic, not just in illustration either. I tend to work things out in my head and go straight in with little planning. This has been something that can be a setback as people love to see the thought process, so currently I try a bit more planning with thumbnails and sketches, character sheets with poses and expressions. I’d like to do more in the way of characters communicating with each other and some more scenery to complement that. I mostly work digitally using Procreate and my go-to brush is 6B as it’s just got such a traditional texture and easily edited. 

My illustration influences have only really come into focus during and after uni — I graduated last year. 
I really love Jim Kay, Owen Davey and John Bond. These three have given me the most influence and made me really strive for that sort of structure within my work. 

When starting out as an illustrator I think it’s good to have one thing that you can really focus on, in my instance, Miles the Cat became that very thing. I can illustrate him in any situation and have him ready for kids stories or relatable comics and his main claim to fame would be the public service announcements over lockdown to help people have hope and feel good in such a hard time. He’s now available as stickers, Pins and other things and one day I hope to have the book I’ve written and illustrated about him published, to have a long series that resonates with children and helps them laugh and learn. 

Being non-binary and part of social media gives me a platform to help young people who struggle with gender much like I did. I wish as a child when going through all of these strange and confusing feelings, not knowing if I was broken or not, that I'd had someone to help me through that. I've had people message me, thanking me for giving them that safe space and helping them feel seen and not alone. I think this is incredibly important not just in illustration but within writing too. I think people need to know it is not abnormal or bad to feel that way at all, to have an escape that includes them within it. 

Since coming out in 2020 I've felt prouder and able to show that in my illustration more than before. I hope that one day I can have books that will help children feel safe and help them understand that everything they may be feeling about gender is normal and it's okay to experiment.

My advice for anyone would be to listen to your peers, take on any critique with a pinch of salt and trust the people you look up to. Allow people to help you learn. Also be kind to yourself and enjoy other people's work instead of comparing yourself. 

*All images: Shannon Ell

See more of Shannon's work here. Follow them on Instagram and on Twitter.

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

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