Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 10, 2016

Illustrator Saturday – Hanna McCaffery


Hanna has always had a passion for Illustration. Even from an early age she would doodle on the back of envelopes or paper napkins. She grew up in a seaside town and studied Illustration for Children’s Publishing at the North Wales School of Art & Design.

She is inspiration by her pets Sammy the Dog and Lily the chubby Cat (as well as dozens of other cats that seem to congregate on her street these days) and often uses them as models for other characters. Hanna mainly loves to use her illustrations to evoke humour but she also enjoy creating illustrations with depth and beauty.

She mainly works traditionally using watercolours and watercolour inks with a few digital touches here and there.

Here is Hanna discussing her process:


I always start my illustrations with rough sketches in my sketchbook, and then sketch them again in a bit more detail onto my tablet and set the layer to ‘Multiply’ and turn the opacity down to about 20%.


I use Kyle T Webster Photoshop brushes to block in the base colours of the illustration to see if they all work well together.


Next, I slowly start to add texture and shading to each section to give the character more detail, for some reason I really love adding detail to fur! As you can see in the girls skirt, if I didn’t add any shading then the skirt would look flat and lifeless, and maybe ruin the overall look of the final illustration.


Finally I add all the extra little touches, such as bows, fabric pattern, paint splatters, etc. to complete the illustration!


Final illustration


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I was a young child, before the days of iPads and games consoles, it was how I spent most of my time and my love for it carried on through the years and throughout school. However, I’ve been illustrating professionally since I graduated in 2013, so I’m still relatively new to the industry.


Where do you live?

I live in a small seaside town in North Wales, UK.


What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

I completed a painting of a fairy on a toadstool when I was 16 for part of my Art coursework and it ended up being showcased in a local Art Gallery which someone approached me and asked if they could buy it! I don’t think I sold it for very much at all, but I always remember it as I loved the piece so much that I was quite sad to let it go!


What made you chose to attend North Wales School of Art & Design?

I had already attended a big, scary University the year before and it turned out to be the worst year of my life! I didn’t fit in and I completely lost my passion for illustration which led to me getting quite poor marks, so I decided to leave and look at other Universities closer to my home – which led me to looking into North Wales School of Art & Design. I felt more at home there and it wasn’t a big University so it was less intimidating and more personal.


What made you chose to study Children’s Illustration there?

I’ve always known that I wanted to illustrate for children, so when I discovered the course that specialised in that area, it just seemed perfect!


Did college help develop your style?

Yes, definitely! When I started there,  I’d lost all direction in which way I should take my style but over the first year my tutors really helped to teach you how to understand yourself as an illustrator by experimenting and slowly my style emerged from there.


What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

After University, I worked as an in house Illustrator for a web design company for a few months and also part time in retail. But I always kept my own freelance work going on the side and after a while I decided to give it a go at being freelance full time!


Did they help you get work after you graduated?

Towards  the end of my final year, all the illustration students attended the New Designers conference in London where we were able to showcase our work to hundreds of different publishers and agents. I was lucky enough to have had some interest from a couple of agencies, and I ended up choosing The Organisation to represent me. So my first paid work was a series of illustrations for a Korean education book! It was over 70 illustrations in such a short deadline, so was incredibly hard but it threw me in the deep end and taught me a lot which I’m very grateful for.


Have you seen your work change since you graduated?

Yes, I’m a little bit more precious with my work than I was at University, as there’s a more pressure to earn a living now, but I’m teaching myself to relax and enjoy it a bit more and not to worry if it goes wrong, after all that’s the beauty of being an artist! I’ve always been a traditional illustrator but over the last 6 months I have been digital illustration and I absolutely love it.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own books?

That is my career goal, I’d absolutely love to write and illustrate my own books and I have hundreds of story ideas, it’s just finding that determination and courage to actually sit down and write! I write a few short poems now and then which I’d love to make into a book one day too.


Have you ever tried to do a wordless picture book?

Not as yet, although they do fascinate me! One of my favourite picture books is ‘Tuesday’ by David Wiesner, and is about  a swarm of frogs travelling around on floating lily pads, so I’d love to create something like that one day!


How did you connect with The Organisation for representation? How long have you been with them?

When I was attending the New Designers conference in London back in 2013, Lorraine from the agency approached me and we had a chat about my work. I remember being extremely nervous but she was so lovely and encouraging and expressed her interest in representing me. Over 3 years later, here we are!


Do you do art exhibits?

Not really no, it’s never really been any interest to me, but my plan is to start doing a couple once I’ve developed a bigger digital illustration portfolio.


Do you illustrate full time?

Unfortunately not at the moment, I’m currently working full time as a 2D artist at a Technology company, but I did illustrate full time for about 18 months before that and I hope to do it again one day.


Do you belong to an illustrating or writing critique group?

No, but I do take part in a few collective illustration groups on Twitter where we all creative artwork on the same theme/colour/letter and post on the same day. It’s great to see so many artists work and we can all discuss together, the most popular ones are Colour Collective (@Clr_Collective) and Animal Alphabets (@AnimalAlphabets).


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I love using my Ecoline watercolour inks and Caran D’ache colouring pencils, but recently I’ve moved to digital illustration but I’ll always love creating traditional work no matter what.


Have you done other types of art to help pay the bills?

I’ve done quite a few commissions for people lately and worked with a few companies to create competition pieces and promotional work for them, but I mainly focus on creating work for books. I still sometimes do a bit of freelance work for the web design company I worked for a few years ago, but that’s only on an as and when basis.


Have you had the opportunity to illustrate a picture book? Any book covers?

Not yet, but I’m working on it! Over the last few years I’ve been working on a series of educational books for a US publisher, and I’ve just been given the last book so that will be quite sad to see them end. So hopefully the next job will be a picture book or book cover!


Are you open to working with a picture book writer who wants to self-publish?

If the story grabs me and I think it has potential then yes!


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

Not that much anymore no, unless its for an animal I don’t draw that often or a position of the body that’s hard to picture in your mind, or a certain location.  I used to use reference pictures all the time, but then the pictures just stick in your mind so you can draw them from memory.


Have you worked with any educational publishers? If yes, is there any difference working with them?

Yes I have been illustrating a series of books over the last few years for Heinemann publishers, but I don’t really have anything to compare it to. But I imagine when working on a picture book there would be more freedom with the illustrations, whereas with educational books they have to provide certain guidelines and requirements for the artwork so you’re quite limited with how imaginative you can be.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Now that I’m practicing digital illustration, I just use Photoshop.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes I recently bought myself a Wacom Cintiq and its fantastic!


Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

No, hopefully one day!


Do you have a studio in your house?

I have a part studio part bedroom, but it’s lovely and cozy and when I’m tired after illustrating all day I can just collapse in bed!


Is there anything in your studio you couldn’t live without?

Probably my sketchbook.


Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

Not really no, I just make sure that I keep producing work that I find exciting to add to my portfolio, and I also like to make sure that I stay active on social media to promote my work so that I can gain more followers and hopefully having my work seen by some authors or publishers.


What do you think is your biggest success? 

I’d say there hasn’t been one individual success as yet, but lots of little personal achievements which I’ve been proud of and have helped me to become the illustrator that I am today. Probably my first success would be gaining a 1st from University with a portfolio that I worked hard to achieve,  choosing The Organisation to represent me and helping to launch my career as an illustrator, working with a web design company, having steady freelance work since I graduated and getting the job that I have now! At the moment, my biggest success would be to illustrate a picture book, whether it’s my own or written by someone else.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I’m currently reworking my portfolio from traditional to digital work, so I’m hopefully going to build up lots of exciting pieces that will bring more opportunities.


Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Definitely! Not only has it helped me to get my work noticed and gain quite a few commissioned pieces, but it is also my biggest source of inspiration. If i’m having Artist’s Block, all I have to do is look at some of my favourite illustrators’ work and I feel inspired and motivated again, and then I can produce better work.


What are your career goals?

My ultimate goal would be to produce books for children that would let their imaginations run free! I want to write and illustrate stories that make children feel like children again, like how I feel when I read certain books from my childhood. I’m being quite precious with my story ideas because I want to get them just right so that they become a part of children’s lives and not just a part of their bookshelves.


What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on some new pieces for my portfolio and working on the last book in a educational series that I’ve been illustrating for the last couple of years!


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

If you’re traditional I really recommend investing in some professional watercolours or watercolour inks like the Ecoline brand, as they are a lot more vibrant so make your illustrations really stand out, the inks do take some getting used to as they dry quite quickly. Also the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, they produce some beautiful colours and really compliment your painted illustrations.

Technique wise, it’s just practice practice practice! When I’m illustrating a scene, I always try my hardest to capture the atmosphere, so if it’s a woodland scene and something scary is happening then I really think about the colours I’m using, the composition of the trees & the character, and the shapes the trees are making. It might not seem that important, but it really compliments the story if you get the atmosphere and emotion into the illustrations as well.


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

As a fellow illustrator trying to make it into the big wide world of illustration, I think my only words of wisdom would be to just keep drawing and experiment! Each day you sit and draw you become just a little bit better and more experienced, and if you keep experimenting with styles and media etc. then you discover so many other potential directions in which you can take your work!

Like most artists, I get days where I feel rubbish and hate ALL of my work, but I use those days to try even harder and then the next day I’ve found a slightly new way of illustrating – even if it’s only how I draw noses!

Encourage constructive criticism from the important people, like agents/publishers/other artists etc., and don’t take it to heart, you may find that you produce some of your best work on the advice of other people when you couldn’t see it yourself.


Thank you Hanna for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Hanna’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Hanna. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Lovely work!


  2. Hanna, your art is delightful. 👍


  3. Very nice work! I really like your style! 😀


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: