Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 11, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Sam Rennocks

Sam Rennocks is an Illustrator currently based in Loughborough and I’ve always loved being creative. I used to annoy my dad as a child by making sound effects of the things I was drawing. He wanted me to be a Footballer.

Sam graduated from The University of Plymouth with a degree in BA Hons: Illustration in September 2010.

Some of his clients are: URBAN GRAPHIC – OKIDO Magazine –  The NHS – Bubblemoon Personal Hygiene – Plymouth Press – The University of Plymouth – Spider Magazine –  Ladybug Magazine.


This image was for a personal project of mine called ‘ABC Under the Sea.’ My process is quite quick, so I’ll run through it as in depth as I can. I hate to say it, but there isn’t actually that much to it!  First I’ll start off with a sketch of the scene. Sometimes it changes a lot from the sketch to the final image, but for this one it was quite simple and straightforward.

Once I’ve got the image scanned and set up in photoshop, I’ll start by dropping the opacity of the image to about 20-30% so that I can draw on top of it without it the sketch being too distracting.

Next, I’ll block in all of the base colours that exist in the foreground. Usually this is characters or objects. As you can see in this image, sometimes I’ll move around the sketch image beneath the base colours to get a better crop of the image and how I want it to sit in the frame.

When that’s finished up, I’ll start to add in the background and the first layer of shading. I do this by putting this layer of colour on multiply. Usually at about 75% .

Next, I’ll add another multiply later for the finer details. This is usually creases in clothes, facial features and textures.

Again, this layer is about 75% .

At this stage, I’m nearly finished with the image. So I’ll add in any finer points that I may have missed. In this case, it’s texture and detail to the shark itself, since it looked too smooth in the previous stage. Also, I’ve added in the sea background. I didn’t do this before, so that I could concentrate on getting the colours and shading right on the foreground characters without getting too distracted by the colours around them.

Almost there! I’ll add in any text that needs to be in the image.

Finally, once the text is in place, I’ll add anything else that needs to sit in the background. In this case, it’s the clouds. Since I know where the text is going to sit, I can place the clouds as such that they don’t interfere with the text. That’s all there is to it! I hope I haven’t destroyed all of the mystique! As you can see, I’ll experiment a little bit with objects and features that don’t appear in the sketches. That’s the beauty of working digitally. You can experiment with trial and error much more freely.

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally I have been Illustrating for about 7 years. Work only started picking up a couple of years ago though, so it doesn’t feel that long!

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first paid commission came to me right after I graduated from University in 2010. I was asked to illustrate a brochure for children with diabetes for the NHS (The UK’s National Health service) It paid very well and was a lot of fun!

Why did you decide to attend The University of Plymouth for illustration?

Honestly, I just wanted to move far away from home. I looked at a few Universities that offered an Illustration courses on the south coast and luckily I was accepted at Plymouth. They were moving the faculty to a brand new building and I really enjoyed my interview with Ashley Potter, who was the head of the course. So It was a no brainer.

What were your favorite classes?

I really enjoyed screen printing and book making. Book making was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Stitching the spines of books was horrific for me, since I’d always end up stabbing myself with the needle, but the end product was so satisfying to look at!

Do you think art school influenced your style?

Without a doubt. We had some fantastic tutors at Plymouth and their knowledge helped steer me in a direction that was right for me. Before I went to Plymouth I didn’t really know what Illustration was or could be, so learning from people with such diverse backgrounds really helped me figure out which direction I wanted to steer myself towards. One of my tutors, Tom Barwick, opened me up to the world of comic books/graphic literature which really influenced my style at the time.

What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

As I mentioned before, it was a project with the NHS. It dropped into my lap, really. I hadn’t even graduated and I was approached by a big company! I was so lucky! After that, I found it hard to get Illustration work, so I took a job at Waterstones, which is the UK’s leading book store, whilst trying to drum up freelance work.

Have you always lived in England? Can you tell us a little bit about Loughborough? Is it an artistic community?

I’ve always lived in the UK, yes. Loughborough is quite a small town, so there isn’t much of an artistic community. The university of Loughborough has a fantastic Illustration course though, so there are a lot of successful Illustrators that emerge from here. All in all, it’s a quiet little town, but a close knit one. The council is always putting on events in the market square, so there’s always a lot going on.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but I never really knew where I wanted to be. It wasn’t until my Foundation course at Leicester DMU that I became attracted to the idea of illustrating for the children’s market. Before that I wanted to work in games design, perhaps as a concept artist or character designer.

Do you illustrate full time? If not, what type of job do you have while advancing your illustrating career?

I would love to Illustrate full time, but unfortunately I haven’t built up a large enough client base to do that just yet. I work full time at a children’s publishing house at the moment. I’ve been getting a lot of commissions recently, which is fantastic. So I may have to scale back my hours or look for a part time job, because juggling the two is very time consuming.

Do you do art exhibits? Do you think they help your career?

I haven’t taken part in an art exhibition for a long time now. The last time I did I was still studying at university, so I wouldn’t be able to say if it helps your career or not. I’m sure it does though.

What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

Well, I have my illustration agency, Lemonade, who get me a fair amount of work without much effort on my part. Otherwise I’ll send out emails to book publishers and magazines with samples attached to see if they’ll give me any work. I try to keep my social media up to date as well. This includes Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. It’s key to make sure that people are always aware that you’re constantly creating things and moving forward.

What did you do to win the Earl Richards Narrative award in 2010?

During my time at Plymouth, I really pushed myself towards narrative driven work. For every project we were given there, I would be illustrating stories. A lot of my work was to do with history and myths, so I would self published little comic books or children’s books for those projects. I think this is why I won the award. A lot of passion and hard work, I think.

Do you have an illustrator that you admire?

There are quite a few, but one of my favourite Illustrators is Jordan Crane. He publishes graphic novels, mini comics and illustrates book covers. His style is fantastic! It was his work that got me into self publishing comics and zines. My favourite children’s book Illustrator is Jon Klassen. I don’t see a lot of influence in the way I create my images, but his work is so beautiful and humorous. He’s brilliant.

What did you do for Spider Magazine and Ladybug Magazine?

The Spider and Ladybug magazines are put out by the same publisher, Cricket media. They’re a client that keeps coming back to me whenever they have a slot to fill, which is fantastic for me because they’re so fun to work with and it pays the bills! For Spider magazine, which is for older children, I create comic strips which try to be funny. You’d have to tell me whether the jokes are good or not though! For Ladybug magazine, which is aimed at younger children, I made a ‘match them up’ activity page.

How did you get those jobs?

I got both of these jobs through my Agency.

Which one did you do first?

I think Spider magazine was the first one I was approached to do.

Have you done any book covers?

I haven’t made any book covers professionally. I’ve only ever created covers for my own work. It’s something that I would love to do in the future though.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Writing and Illustrating a children’s book would be a dream come true. I recently finished an ABC book called ‘ABC Under the Sea.’ It’s a personal project though, not a paid one. Since it doesn’t have a story, it wasn’t that challenging to make. Creating a children’s story book would be a big task, but something I’d love to do in the future.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Yes, of course! I would love to do that. As long as I made sure that everything was above board on the financial side of things.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I keep pre-answering questions! haha! Yes, I made an ABC book in my free time. It was a lot of fun, actually. Since you don’t really have to worry about pacing in an Alphabet book, it really lets you run wild with your Illustrations. I drew a lot of fish for that book!

Have you worked with educational publishers?

I haven’t yet, no. I would love to though. I love history, so I’d love to work on something to do with that. Usborne Books put out a lot of history books for children. I’d be a happy man if I got paid to illustrate one of their books about the Ancient Egyptians or the Native Americans.

How did you connect with the Lemonade Illustration Agency?

I had been working full time at Waterstones for a couple of years and Illustrating took a back seat during that time. I was talking to my best friend from University (James Loram. He’s a fantastic illustrator.) and he suggesting approaching agencies. I did a bit of research and sent off some samples to Lemonade, since I felt as though my style would be attractive to them. The rest is history!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I still love to work with pen and paper when I can. When I was at university I was creating a lot of comics, so almost 90% of the time I would be using pen and ink to create my work.

Has that changed over time?

My methods have changed a bit now in regards to the work I do for the children’s market. I’ll still sketch everything out in pencil, but it ends up getting scanned into the computer and coloured entirely in digital. I go back to brush and ink if the job requires that style.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

I have a little desk with my MacBook, tablet, drawing tools, printer and scanner. It isn’t very spacious though, but it’s just enough room to comfortably work in.

What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My MacBook. 100% Since I create most of my work digitally now, it’s like an extra limb!

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I’ll draw as much as my body will let me without shutting down! It’s hard to balance this with rest and my day job though. I’m always thinking of new ideas and techniques I’d like to try, it’s just finding the time to do them and how to incorporate them into my professional work.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Once I get a brief, I’ll get some reference images to work from if I really don’t know how to convey something into an image I’m making. I find that I’ll do this more thoroughly if it’s something I’m drawing that’s historical or uses a certain setting. It’s important to do your research then figure out how to convert that reference into your own style, rather than having the research take away the individuality of your style.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely. I don’t really take much notice to the amount of hits or likes my images get, but when they do get a lot of buzz, you certainly feel it.

James Loram and I made a tumblr a while back where we created images of video games that we grew up playing. After a few weeks, we noticed that some of our images were getting liked and reblogged thousands of times. They were being featured on various video game blogs and websites too. It was wild! Other than that, it’s a double edged sword, I think. In one respect, it’s so easy to get your work out there, but it’s also a lot harder to get noticed. In my experience it has helped me a lot and I don’t know if I could have made such a go of it without the internet.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use photoshop for almost everything that I create now. I’ll use InDesign for books or comics that I’m making too.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

Up until maybe 6 months ago, I didn’t use a tablet at all. So it has been a bit of a learning curve. It made sense for me to start using one, since it makes corrections so much quicker! I only have a basic tablet at the moment, but I’d love to buy a Cintiq once I can afford one.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I are a lot of things I’d love to do in my career. I would love to work on a picture book. Whether that’s one that I make entirely by myself or working with a writer. Also, I’d love to illustrate a history book for children! Other than that, I’m just happy to keep creating! I just want to make this into a full time career that I can make a living on.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on a few projects. I’ve just finished up another job with Spider magazine for an upcoming issue that should be out this summer. I’ve got a lovely project with a Korean publisher and another with a children’s publisher who creates fun activity books. I’m pretty busy at the moment, it’s great!

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

As far as materials go, I’ll draw on anything I can get my hands on. I find mechanical pencils are brilliant for sketching with if you’re going to be inking over the top of them, because they’re so light you can easily rub out the pencil without damaging the ink you put over the top. I use Windsor and Newton brushes for inking. They seem to get such smooth line work out of the ink. I love Kyle’s Brushes for my photoshop work. His dry media brushes are fantastic. I’ve only just started using those, so I’m still experimenting with them. If you’re using a tablet on a mac, you should 100% check out Hej Stylus. It’s a godsend. Basically, it helps you create smooth and precise strokes with your tablet. It has adjustable settings, so you can go from sketching to very precise and controlled. I don’t know how I coped without it!

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Keep creating. Every time you make something new, you develop your style and skill. Absorb as much knowledge as you can, try new things and for me, I’m always looking for new places to get inspiration.

Thank you Sam 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 Sam’s work, you can visit his website:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Lovely illustrations, so simple and touching. Thank you for sharing!


  2. Fun work, Sam! Thank you!


  3. Ooooh, so many of his pictures are of subjects I’d like to write stories about! Pirates, dragons, knights, explorers…I love it! Well done, Sam!


  4. Oh fun! I love the full picture tutorial in there. 😀


  5. What super fun illustrations! I cut my publishing teeth with the Cricket Magazine Group (formerly Carus), so I also love hearing about other people doing well with them. 🙂 Sam may say there’s not much to his method, but I enjoyed the step-by-step nonetheless. Thank you!


  6. Such beautiful work Sam- congratulations! I particularly love your sense of colour plus your characters’ expressions!


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