With two illustration awards already under her belt and her debut picture book Wolf and Bear only just out in the world, illustrator/author Kate Rolfe invited Deputy Editor Francoise Price into her studio to talk about her art practice.

Kate Rolfe

How did you get into illustration?


I've had a lifelong, serious passion for picture books. I still have many of the picture books I loved as a child and I have carried them around the country with me over the years, with my collection now taking up several bookcases. I think it was inevitable that eventually I would end up making my own picture books!  

And how would you describe your style?


My visual style is led by my characters’ emotions. The feeling or meaning I want to convey on the page often dictates the media I choose, and the composition, shapes and mark-making too. I tend towards more abstract landscapes and environments which are intended as a manifestation of the character’s internal world, rather than a representation of reality.

Bear’s mountain grows and changes over time to echo his deepening melancholy
 and isolation


In Wolf and Bear the landscape reflects the characters’ mood, with Bear’s mountain growing and changing over time to echo his deepening melancholy and isolation. When he climbs his mountain at the end and finds his way back to Wolf, it can be seen as Bear having conquered some of his inner obstacles. The shadow is still present at the end, so Bear’s sadness has not completely disappeared, but Wolf and Bear are able to snuggle together at the shadow’s edges.


Can you describe your studio space?


Because I often work in cyanotype (a light sensitive medium) I need both a dark area, and a spot in full sun. In the summer I love to work in my garage, as it’s really dark in there, and then I can pop out into the garden sunshine to expose my prints.

'Mostly I work in my cosy indoor studio where I can draw or paint at my desk'

Most of the time though I work in my cosy indoor studio where I can draw or paint at my desk. I also do quite a lot of my work on an iPad, and tend to do that on the sofa with my wobbly cat, Pip, on my lap!


What are your favourite tools of the trade?


I created the illustrations for Wolf and Bear using cyanotype printmaking — a technique using light and shadow to create shapes and textures on sun-sensitive ink. Wherever you block the sun, the paper stays white, and where the sun hits it, it turns dark blue.

Kate practices cyanotype printmaking, a technique using light and 
shadow to create shapes and textures on sun-sensitive ink 

The metaphor in Wolf and Bear uses light and shadow to describe mood and mental health, so I couldn’t resist finding a way to use cyanotype printmaking for the illustrations, since it physically harnesses sunshine and shadow to create images! As far as I know it is one of the very first picture books to use cyanotype as the main illustration technique.


Is there a particular artist/illustrator who has inspired you?


Oh gosh, so many! I really adore the work of Olivia Lomenech Gill, Violeta Lopiz, Corinna Luyken, and Suzy Lee. And I grew up on Brian Wildsmith and John Burningham — whose influences I think can occasionally be spotted in my work.


I also think that as characters, Wolf and Bear are a bit like Tigger and Eeyore! They share a warm and gentle humour as well as the more poignant moments between them.


Do you have a favourite children’s book and what draws you to it?


When I was young one of my favourite books was The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. I have always adored that gentle blend of warmth, magic and joy, with a touch of seriousness and gravity of message. The Snowman is such a joyful story of friendship and yet gives us a taste of loss and grief at the end which is ever such a useful experience within the safe space of a bedtime story.


Is there a project you have particularly enjoyed working on and why?


My first book, Wolf and Bear has been a labour of devotion really. I first had the idea for it in March 2019 on a writing weekend run by the amazing writing tutor, Lou Kuenzler. At the end of Day 1 these two characters scampered onto my page and I scribbled out the first scraps of their story in the pouring rain while I waited for my train home. The dynamic between them was very clear from the start, and the theme of Bear in the shadow of the mountain was immediately present. I stayed up extremely late that night working on it, and a good deal of the story arrived in those first few hours. I have since reworked and developed it an unfathomable number of times. I developed it further as a project on my Masters in Children’s Book Illustration art Cambridge School of Art (Anglia Ruskin), and now four and a half years later, I can finally introduce Wolf and Bear to the world!


Have you got any tips for when you get stuck on a project?


I like to have two projects on the go at the same time, and I often discover the solution for an issue with one project while working on the other one. I find I always have a flow of ideas when I have more than one project to hop between and don’t tend to get stuck as much as if I am staring at one single book!


What tips do you have for artists who are starting out and interested in focusing on picturebooks?


Hard work. I’m not kidding. It takes a lot of learning, experimentation, and practice to learn a craft like illustration. I personally don't believe that there is such a thing as innate talent in any art form. Which is actually a very reassuring thing! I strongly believe that anyone can make a creative career with enough passion and drive. You just need to want it enough, be willing to adapt and grow, and put in tireless practice. Honing your illustration voice is no different from learning a musical instrument really.


What's next for you? Anything exciting you’d like to share? 

I am running lots of Wolf and Bear workshops and school visits where the children are guided to explore the themes in the book, through a series of creative exercises. I love teaching illustration and I am so excited that Wolf and Bear has offered me the opportunity to share drawing exercises that get children thinking about their friendships and emotions too. It’s powerful stuff!


In 2022, Kate won the World Illustration Awards and V&A student illustrator of the year 

*Header image: in-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo; 

all other images: Copyright Kate Rolfe 2023.


Kate Rolfe is an illustrator, author, and printmaker who enjoys stories that ask important and difficult questions, but in a warm and accessible way.
 In 2022, Kate was the winner of the World Illustration Award for New Talent in Children’s Publishing, was named V&A Student Illustrator of the Year, and was runner-up in the Batsford Prize, Macmillan Prize, and the Sebastian Walker Prize. Her debut picture book Wolf and Bear is published with Two Hoots Publishing. Kate is supporting Ottie and the Bea, her local children’s bookshop, and will be personalising and signing every copy bought from there. 
Instagram: katerolfeart 
Twitter: katerolfeart 


Francoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact



Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact them at:

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at:

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