This month's featured illustrator is author/illustrator, Rebecca Tonks. She has 6 published books, 2 of which she both wrote and illustrated. Rebecca studied Contour Fashion at De Montfort University, graduating with First Class honours.

Hi, I’m Rebecca Tonks (Bec) and this is me from the early days:

I grew up as the middle child in a loving home in the West Midlands; a home I most likely took for granted as a child but now realise was special.

My constant need to draw and tell stories was never squashed even when, to my mom’s horror, I drew ornate square windows onto the hood of a gorgeous new velvet toy pram (of course I needed the pram to be a house instead!), or when I transformed the slabbed driveway into a chalked bunny rabbit masterpiece. My dad performed joy in seeing it and then dedicated half an hour to scrubbing it away after I had gone to bed. Back then were long days for my dad with his daily work commute to and from Manchester from the Midlands.

I was always given the freedom to draw and make up stories and I could often be found putting on plays where my younger brother would be coaxed to take the role of a fully costumed character. I was not shy in dragging members of the family into my creative play.

My grandparents were also a great influence. My grandmother especially embraced my love for drawing. She would often recall how she had been given the chance as a teenager to go to art college but had not been able to accept the course place. This was something she regretted.

A creative education was something I knew I wanted to pursue. However, I wobbled a little with my first attempt at university. I chose the wrong course and location and after just a couple of weeks of being away, my dad drove the two hundred-plus miles to pack me up and bring me home without judgment.

I took a year out and then finally found my feet in Leicester studying Contour Fashion at De Montfort University. I loved it and achieved a First Class Honours which assisted me in landing my first job as a designer at Next. I worked in the high street fashion industry for several years but even though I felt happy there was still something off-kilter.

It wasn’t until my children came along and I returned to more creative hobbies that I realised how much I missed storytelling. Combining both the visual and the written word was just magical and gave me a deeper fulfilment.

In 2019, Kay Scott Jarvis asked if I would help bring her dream to life by illustrating A Long Journey Home. Together we self-published and it was a pivotal point on my path to doing what I do today. I have since published six picture books with two of these as author/illustrator. 

Rebecca illustrates both stories written by other authors and stories she has written herself

Self-publishing has enabled me to visit schools offering book readings and creative workshops which I adore. The children on these visits are an unfiltered and wonderful form of inspiration.

Since 2019 I feel my work has evolved greatly and style growth is something that I believe to be important. I love experimenting and try to push my work in ways that are sometimes out of my comfort zone, but this can often lead to something creatively exciting. 

Observing the world around me is a big part of this and having three children at home certainly helps with that. I always have a sketchbook close to hand to capture little moments with speedy life drawing. 

I am a big fan of Pinterest and like to collect reference photos for doodling. Deciding what to draw can be a real motivational killer, so having a folder to go to for a quick 5-minute sketch means I can create daily without too much pressure. 

Drawing and illustrating is like any skill, the more you do it, the bolder and closer you become to the creative you strive to be.

I am inspired by the natural world, particularly animals and trees. I find the colours and textures of plants, furs, and feathers fascinating. It is great to combine movement found through life drawing with interesting animals.

I feel a strong pull to the sea having spent many summers at the Welsh coastline for family holidays. I see this thread through my picture book work especially when I focus on stories of the heart. One of my current projects Grandad’s Shimmer is a perfect example of this and shows how I love to mix pencil work, guache-painted textures, and digital collage with layered painting in Procreate.

I find there are recurring themes in my work too. These include magic, the moon, and love. Particularly the last which can bring a powerful message when woven into a story.

In addition, I take pleasure in creating older children’s fiction and have other projects I am currently pulling together. I am particularly enjoying more sketch work for Chapter Books. Here’s a mischievous duo including a ghost dog that features in one of my stories.

Playing with different mediums is my go-to when I am feeling creatively stumped. I find daily drawing tasks help. I track these across social media for accountability. 

There are some brilliant collectives and challenges on Instagram including Folktale Week and more recently the Pinocchio Book Series. I must admit that sometimes these bring with them the dreaded imposter syndrome, but I use it as a good way to check in with myself. Developing and pushing forward is key and I try to view other artists as inspiration and a motivation boost.

My journey to where I am today has been less than direct, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be a children’s book author/illustrator. My focus now is to pursue the traditional route into publishing, and I plan to continue developing my work for older children's fiction too. I am eagerly seeking representation.

*All images: Rebecca Tonks


Find Bec Tonks on her website
Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter
Contact her at bectonksillustrator@yahoo.com


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
Find their work at fourfooteleven.com 
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this. So proud of Rebecca, but as her Mom I forget how far she has come since I first sang nursery rhymes to her as a baby. Her journey to her career is amazing!


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