Every illustrator and writer has grown up with inspirations from a variety of sources.
This week illustrator Rekha Salin wanted to find out what gives illustrator
Naomi Jan the most inspiration.

Tell us a bit about yourself


I live in Durham in the North East of England with my two daughters Nina and Zara. I was a landscape artist for many years, exhibiting in galleries, before I turned my attention to illustration. I had a solo exhibition in Durham Cathedral itself one year which was rather special. During lockdown I started writing stories, something I hadn’t done for a long time but quickly remembered how much I enjoyed it. Then I began to learn how to illustrate them. For the past four years I’ve been writing, drawing, gradually finding my style and learning from all the fellow creatives at the SCBWI events and from my recent master’s degree in illustration.


Naomi Jane with her daughters

Which genre do you write/illustrate for?


I write and illustrate for picture books but I would like to try my hand at chapter books soon. I usually write in rhyme. I keep meaning to try prose but when I sit down to write it always comes out of my head in rhyme. I’m not sure what genre really — I’ve written historical stories based on myths, stories about friendship, bullying, magic and I’ve written fairytale retellings. So a little bit of everything.


What inspires you to pick up or buy a book from the library/bookstore or buy online?

Most of the books I’ve bought over the last two years have been academic textbooks about children’s literature and a few books about specific topics such as gender stereotypes or challenging books for children. Because my chosen story for my final MA project was a Red Riding Hood reimagining, I also bought several books about fairytales including the collection of Grimm’s fairy tales as well as the Perrault versions.


Many of the picture books I have were originally bought for my two girls. I generally chose books with strong female characters and that challenged gender stereotypes. I also chose books with excellent stories or fabulous illustrations. Now that they are a little older, I do the same with chapter books and novels. Below is a small selection of our favourite picture books.


As an illustrator I am often drawn to the illustrations of a book first. If I’m not keen on the illustrations I’m unlikely to buy the book which demonstrates how important they are to the buyer. I’m not sure I could describe the style I look for — it’s a bit like music — I either like it or I don’t and I’m never entirely sure why. For example I love the soft inkiness of Catherine Rayner’s illustrations in The Go Away Bird but I also adore Jim Field’s sharp and colourful illustrations in Rich Witch Poor Witch. We love the vibrant colours in A Patch of Black, the muted tones in The Girl and the Dinosaur and the sketchiness of The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight. They are all very different but each have qualities that I love, including an excellent story.

Are you inspired by books from multiple genres written/illustrated by the same author/illustrator? Do you bring your inspirations into your work?


The first picture books I bought for my children were by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. My children love rhyming stories and Axel’s illustrations are colourful and humorous. A key aspect of success seems to be the consistency of their style across multiple books so that they are instantly recognisable. This has really helped me to focus on what my style is and to work on consistency across my writing and illustrations. One of the favourites in our house is Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson because, in addition to the story, there are lots of things to read, spot and compare. We spend a long time with this book picking out repeated characters hidden in the pages and reading the many articles as in the page pictured here.


Spread from Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

During my MA, I did an exercise where I redrew one of my characters in someone else’s style. This was a really interesting exercise that taught me a lot about how other artists create their work. I picked up several tips about things like line weight, use of colour and mood. Below you can see my attempts at Axel Scheffler, Nick Sharratt, Raymond Briggs and Lauren Child. I’d encourage everyone to have a go!



I have recently been buying chapter books for my girls as they get older. I’ve had a couple of agents tell me that my illustration style suits this slightly older category, so as soon as I get a spare moment I’d like to try and create a section in my portfolio for this. For inspiration I have been buying books like The Rabbit and Bear books, The Claude Books and the Squishy McFluff books.


In the book I created for my MA, I used a lot of what I learned from books like Charlie Cook and tried to add interesting information into the end pages, and I also hid pigs in every page like in the scene here.


Illustration from a Red Riding Hood retelling by Naomi Jane

I also get inspiration about colour palettes and I particularly notice other illustrators’ use of light and shade which can dramatically change the mood of a piece.


How do you keep your work fresh, original and unique and avoid looking like your inspiration?


The best way to ensure a picture doesn’t resemble someone else’s is to keep drawing and redrawing without using anyone’s work as inspiration beyond an initial sketch of ideas. Inspiration taken from multiple sources rather than just one also helps to ensure you adopt ideas or techniques rather than style or specific shapes.


I’m still learning every day and developing my style. Each picture I create and every verse I write feels like I’m getting a little closer to my goal. This picture is a character study for a story I’m working on at the moment.


Character study by Naomi Jane

Does your bookshelf have all the books that you love or inspired you?


Absolutely not. At the Picture Book Retreat, and other events I’ve been to, attendees bring along a book or two to share. I always write a list as long as my arm of books I would like to go out and buy but alas, if I did this, my house would be full!


Which are the main books that have inspired your work and yet are not on your bookshelf?


I keep meaning to buy I Want My Hat Back by John Klassen. I first saw it at the Picture Book Retreat and loved it — especially because Pippa Goodhart read it aloud. It’s subtle humour in both the text and illustrations is truly inspirational. I really want to buy the Whale Who Wanted More by Rachel Bright and Jim Field, as well as Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers — just beautiful. They are all on my ever-growing list of books to buy.


Are there any books that have inspired you and that you wish you'd thought of first?


I love Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett which is a book which describes each of the mouse’s fears. The style of the pages is unique with sections that are torn and scribbled on, fold out maps and a hole in the cover. The journey through the book is an experience rather than just a bedtime story.


Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

I also love the Rabbit and Bear books written by Julian Gough and illustrated by Jim Field. I love the story and would like to write prose in a similarly engaging way. The illustrations are something extra special with a unique use of pantone colour, and Jim’s ability to bring out the character’s personalities in poses and facial expressions is incredible.

Rabbit and Bear by Julian Gough and illustrated by Jim Field

You can see more of Naomi's work here and her instagram, twitter & substack.

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo;
other images courtesy of Naomi Jane


Rekha Salin is part of the Words & Pictures' editorial team and has three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books, one in 2020 and the other in 2022, and also a recipe book for adults published in 2022 by ABV Publishing. She is currently working with Gnome Road Publishing and this will be available in 2024.

See more of Rekha's work here. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter


Ell Rose is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Find their work at Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at

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

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