POST CONFERENCE Illustration News


Illustration organiser Paul Morton reflects on what happened at this year's conference. Plus, the thoughts and processes of illustrators chosen for the live feedback panel with designer Ness Wood & editors Emma Layfield and Tiffany Leeson.

The annual SCBWI BI Isles conference rolled into Manchester for the 2nd successive year bringing with it an extra fizz and pizzazz to a city already buzzing with culture.

Just highlighting the illustration side of what the busy programme has to offer makes you realise the sheer amount of planning and organising logistics that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to deliver this ever popular weekend of children’s books celebration. How fitting that the actual events kicked off early at the City Art Galleries. Around 20 or so eager illustrators, and writers, arrived in time to enjoy a stimulating Sketch Crawl around the exhibitions led by Illustrator Coordinator Tita Berredo. Fun, short prompts took us around paintings and sculpture, landings and showcases where we settled into the forthcoming events by exercising our drawing and observation skills. It’s a great place to meet others and I feel it is especially fun and helpful for those new to Conference, to help ease their way into the weekend’s packed programme.

Not that the illustration interests started there. Some two months earlier the call went out for illustration entries — sketches leading to finished artwork — to feature in the Conference Exhibition. And over 50 SCBWI illustrators from across the world responded with a magnificent 200 plus submissions. These were pared down to a final 130 exhibition pieces with everyone who entered having at least one piece on display.  The successful images were formatted onto A3 prints and hung, pre-conference early on Friday morning, by Paul and Mike Brownlow. The Nine large panels running through the North Atrium at the business school at MMU, coupled with the portfolio display and a dynamic  ‘illustrators flyer’ area, made a stunning eye catching showcase. It became a focal point for the whole weekend.

Busy illustration exhibition

The keynote illustrator was award-winning picture book creator 
Ed Vere. He didn’t disappoint — a captivating presenter, enormously generous with his time, information, prepared slides, demonstrations of drawing and shared industry anecdotes. His latest book The Artist tells what it is like ‘to be an artist’ and took Ed over four years to complete. He shared the process of how he dealt with this book, experiencing a creative block and the hard work he put in to overcome this and bring the idea to publication. Following his keynote presentation there were two further ‘hands on’ practical sessions. This meant we got time to share in Ed’s creative process, his journey to the present day and try out our skills at portrait sketching among other things.

Ed Vere's keynote

There’s never enough time to attend all that Conference has on offer which is what makes the weekend so busy, fun and enjoyable. Buddying-up with a partner and sharing feedback is a great way to cover more of the sessions.

Other sessions of interest to illustrators included…

  • A lively discussion panel, led by designer Ness Wood with editors Emma Layfield and Tiffany Leeson. ‘What it takes to make a stand out portfolio’ culminating with live feedback on 6 illustrators’ portfolios.
  • A focus on Graphic Novels, with illustrator and writer Neill Cameron, Mega Robot Bros, and editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton, Bunny vs Monkey.
  • The Hook pitch-off competition.
  • Mass book Launch with, as always, an impressive number of books published in the last 12 months.
  • Agent keynote with Hilary Delamere looking back at her career.
  • Creating Picture Books with Rocketbird Books publisher Libby Hamilton.
  • Marketing your books for success
  • Picture Book focus, playing with ideas from successful author Clare Helen Welsh

A lively discussion panel, led by designer Ness Wood,
with editors Emma Layfield and Tiffany Leeson

Post Conference, as always, there is now lots of great feedback, reflections and reports, such as this one, for attendees to look back over. There are hundreds of photographs and videos to enjoy and tons of inspiration from the event to help take your children’s book career onwards and upwards.

Ed Vere with Paul Morton
Tita Berredo, Paul, Mike Brownlow and Ell Rose
 illustrations from Ed Vere's illustration workshop


Let's now take a look at what the illustrators from the live feedback session with designer Ness Wood and editors Emma Layfield and Tiffany Leeson have to say about their process and illustration work. You can watch the video to listen to the feedback given.

Sunnu Rebecca Choi

I am Sunnu Rebecca Choi, a Korean/Canadian illustrator and printmaker based in London. 

My artistic journey has been focused on editorials, non-fiction, and various books tailored to different age groups — ranging from children to young adults and adults. As an illustrator and printmaker, I've developed my style using traditional mediums and printmaking methods with digital to play with textures, bringing my artistic visions to life in unique ways. This project marks a departure from my comfort zone, introducing fictional animal characters into my portfolio and expanding my artistic horizons.

The heart of this venture is a whimsical tale featuring a character close to my heart — Antoine, a bird with an undeniable love for cheese. The narrative unfolds as Antoine endeavours to share the joys of cheese with his friend Robin, embarking on an adventure that takes them to a charming cheese shop and culminates in a delightful fondue party.

In this exploration of the children's book market, I'm excited to infuse my distinctive style into a narrative that promises to captivate readers of all ages. This shift in focus not only showcases my versatility as an artist but also allows me to bring a new level of joy and imagination to the world of storytelling.

Antoine & Robin purchasing cheese

Walking home with the cheese & baguette

Enjoying a feast

Gizem Gozde Ucar

I am Gizem Gozde Ucar, a children’s book writer and illustrator based in London. My artwork “Wonder” is about the magic of storytelling. I wanted to show that feeling of being immersed in a good book. When you are reading a story your sense of time and space alters, you move with the story, not with the time.  The little girl is lying on the big blue grass, she is transparent. I did this to show that she is one with the story. You can see that grass is growing out of her body, she is becoming one with the grass and the story. Also, there are beautiful flowers blooming from her heart. This is to show how inspired she is. New ideas and feelings are blooming.

The idea started with that blue colour. I wanted it to be blue, like the sea; something that you can get lost in. But I didn’t want it to be the sea because I wanted to have the relaxing feeling of lying on the grass. 

After finishing a good book (or after a good meal 😊) you get a serene moment. I wanted to have this relaxing aspect of it. She is comfortably part of the story. She is looking at the magical elements of the story: the fish are flying, birdhouses on the ground, the red sun...  This is a magical world and she is in it, one with it. And she is inspired. She is not just transported to that world but also transformed.

This work is a digital illustration. I used Procreate and Photoshop. I used several brushes and layered on each other to get different textures. I like using paper textures and collages of patterns in my artwork as you can see with the lined paper in the background. This was also done to underline the fact that this is inside of a story, inside of the pages of a book.

As I was drawing this illustration, I got so inspired that one illustration turned into a couple more. And now I am turning these illustrations into a picture book. So, be on the lookout for more!

layout & character practice

more character and layout design

final composition


Emily Yearsley

My work starts as hand drawn linework, which I scan into photoshop to colour. Sometimes I use other mediums as well depending on what I feel is right for the image — in the piece reviewed for the conference I used crayons for the children’s drawings. I love making my own patterns and put them into my work wherever I can, so drawing clothing and fabrics is really appealing to me. I’m also a little bit obsessed with drawing anthropomorphised animals doing weird and wonderful things, preferably ones with long fur! 


The piece reviewed at the conference was from a dummy picture book I’m working on about the joy of drawing for pleasure and the power it has to give children a voice and bring them together. I wanted to illustrate this scene in colour because it is one of the busiest spreads, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. The feedback from the panel was so encouraging and helpful. I’ve started working on edits to it already and can see a really positive impact from the advice given. As a self-taught illustrator I’m always looking for opportunities to put my work in front of people and get feedback — it is what has gotten me this far and who knows where it’ll take me next. This was a really amazing opportunity, thank you SCBWI! 

Character studies

Character development

Illustration submitted for live feedback

Illustration revised after feedback


Emma Latham

This illustration is from a story I wrote last year about a magpie who loves nothing more than being the centre of attention. She collects shiny things to use in her outrageous outfits as she struts outside her tree-house. Each day, she has something new to show the other animals. But one day, a fellow feathered creature swoops into the woods and steals Maggie’s limelight. She has to try hard to claim back her spotlight, but she learns a few lessons along the way about friendship and how being your self is always the best.

The idea behind Maggie came about on a spring walk last year. I’ve always been obsessed with crows, magpies and corvids in general, and in our local woodland park, there are a lot of magpies in particular. I love how they look kind-of sassy, like they are voguing on a catwalk somehow. The idea seed was planted that day, and I imagined the story behind Maggie the Magnificent Magpie.


I initially researched and drew lots of woodland animals and then began characterising them to fit into the story. After settling on a sketch, I started to apply the background. For this, I like to create water colour washes and scan them. I love playing with the colours to get the palette and overall vibe I like.


I then build up the image in layers in Photoshop. In this case I did some simple tree shapes, followed by the characters. I block in the shapes first and then work into them with low tones, mid tones followed by texture. Once the texture is in, I gradually work in the lighter tones to give shape and dimension. The final stage involves highlights, outlines, shadows and small details such as hairs, grasses, leaves and patterns.

Magpie character sketches

Layout for final piece

Submitted illustration for live feedback

Sally Walker

My badger family illustrations originated from an idea I had for the Picturehooks illustration competition, which required two illustrations with the same characters — one on the theme of ‘Loud’ the other on the theme of ‘Quiet’.

I started thinking of a domestic scene and how babies fitted this brief so well, with the moments of complete peace as they sleep, which can be interrupted abruptly when then wake and start crying. I also wanted to experiment more with animal characters for my portfolio. 

I drew some character sketches on procreate initially of Billy and daddy badger. From those, it felt like Daddy badger could be an interesting character to experiment with. So I took to my sketchbook with acrylic paints, pencils and crayons. I then made stamps from craft foam and printed his body shape onto paper and built up layers of pencil and paint on top of that. 

At this point I was happy with some of the textures and shapes but wanted to be able to work on it further digitally, so I scanned those and took them into Procreate. In the past I’ve used photoshop for the digital part of my work when mixing with traditional techniques. So, this was also an opportunity to see how I could substitute that with Procreate. I choose a limited number of brushes and a limited colour palette and ended up just using the stamp prints of the characters and the chair as a base and then layered everything else up digitally. 

For the ‘Quiet’ illustration I composed the characters close to each other, still and quiet themselves focusing on this peaceful baby. And I made the background soft and warm. 

Then for the ‘Loud’ illustration which follows, I zoomed the scene out a bit and replaced the background with negative space, giving it a more stark feel and used colour to draw the attention to the now awake baby.

Initial sketches for characters and setting

Texture panels and characters

Character design

Quiet scene

Loud scene submitted for live feedback

Briony Dixon

It was such a joy that my artwork was selected for the Illustration Discussion Panel and the experience provided valuable feedback. 

The artwork I submitted was inspired by a childhood memory of a recurring bad dream about a giant coming to town, trampling and flattening everything in his path.  It got me thinking about ways to help children process bad dreams and using a 'rewriting' method.  Being safe in the arms of someone who cares and in the knowledge that they aren't real, bad dreams can be 'rewritten' and looked at with a sense of wonder.  So instead of a giant being a scary monster, he could become a friend, someone magical who can take you to imagined faraway lands. 

I started by sketching ideas for the child character.  At this stage in my process, I usually try lots of different ways of drawing characters, different head shapes, and eye shapes for example until I land on something that feels ‘right’ for who I want to portray. 

My next step was to draw my character from different angles, making different expressions so that I could get to know her better.  I wanted to use vignettes to show the stages of waking up from a bad dream through to the comfort given by her mum, so much of my exploration of expression was focused on this.   

For the giant character, I had a clear idea in my head about what I wanted him to look like and being a magical character there is more scope for being playful with features and proportions. 

Wanting to keep the colour palette minimal, I did some colour tests before painting and inking papers to create the textures I needed.  I then used Photoshop to assemble and create the final pieces.   

This was a great opportunity that I was very pleased to be part of.  Thank you to everyone involved! 

Character emotion sheet

Character designs

Giant design sketches

Layout sketch

Illustration submitted for live feedback



Live feedback video

[Double click to view in wide. Video Credit: Tita Berredo]

*Header: Ed Vere


Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL, and a background in social communications, marketing and publicity.

Follow @titaberredo on Instagram and Twitter



Ell Rose
 is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.

Find their work at

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