Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 9, 2017

Illustator Saturday – Laura Hughes

Laura Hughes is the illustrator of Daddy’s Sandwich, written by Pip Jones (Faber&Faber), and River Rose and The Magical Lullaby, written by Grammy award winner Kelly Clarkson (HarperCollins US).

In 2015 she received the runner up prize in The Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards for Daddy’s Sandwich. The book also earned a Kate Greenaway nomination in 2016.

As well as illustrating books for children, I have licensed over 200 designs for greetings cards, wrapping paper, product packaging, calendars and more.

When not drawing, she loves to curate art exhibitions and invite all my favourite artists to take part. My most recent shows include 100 Cats and Call of the Wild, both at Hackney Downs Studios in London. I’m a big music fan and currently play guitar in a punk band called Thee Dinner Ladies.

She studied illustration at Kingston University and graduated in 2005. She now lives and work in East London, UK and is represented by Arabella Stein at The Bright Agency.

Her client list includes: Bloomsbury Books (UK), Faber&Faber (UK), Harper Collins (USA), Quire Cards (Holland),  Waitrose (UK), Blue Rabbit Publishing (Korea) and American Greetings (USA).


Here’s a bit about the process of illustrating a book. These images are all from Daddy’s Sandwich, written by Pip Jones and published by Faber & Faber.

When I get a text I usually start by sketching the main characters. I’ll really immerse myself in drawing them over and over again in a variety of poses and styles. This is the fun stage where I can try out new things and let loose before nailing down style and tone in the main roughs. I’ll often send a whole sheet of possible characters to the publisher such as the one shown here.

The art director will then pick one or two that they really like and give some feedback for further development.

These initial sketches are then worked up into colour, and I usually play around with different outfit and hair combinations at this stage too.

Credit must also go to the designer of the book Ness Wood, who gave me lots of brilliant feedback and really helped whittle down all my ideas into the final character that you can see here.

The next stage is thumbnails – which are very small and simple first sketches.  These are all done very quickly in pencil and aim to provide the publisher with an idea of the content and pace of the illustrations. Here is a thumbnail of the “Daddy loves biscuits” page,

which shows just how rough these first drawings can be! Ness provides me with a pdf of the text laid out on each page, which helps me to see how much space I need to leave for the words.

Once the client is happy with these initial thumbnail sketches I start on more detailed roughs.

You can see here how much the rough has developed from thumbnail stage! I often use black ink to try and make these look as much as possible like final colour art (I create my finals using coloured inks), as it gives the publisher a better idea of the vision in my head, and keeps revisions at final art stage to a minimum.

I create all my colour art traditionally, with just a tiny bit of Photoshop tweaking, and work at a slightly smaller scale than the size of the book, usually at 75%. This book had a few collage elements such as these biscuits (insert image 6)

that were added later, but pretty much everything else in the image was created as one image in ink wash and with a dip pen.

And here’s the finished colour art! (Insert image 7)


Interview Questions for Laura Hughes

How long have you been illustrating?

I graduated from University in 2005 and got my first illustration job a year later, so I’ve been working professionally for 11 years.  


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

My first paid for job was for a UK magazine called ‘Arthritis News’ and I had to illustrate comfortable sexual positions for people suffering from Arthritis. It was quite an odd first commission as you can imagine, but I think it’s good to take on unusual subject matter when you start your career – it gets you out of your comfort zone.

Do you feel playing guitar in your punk band, Thee Dinner Ladies is ever reflected in your artwork?

No, not at all! While my illustration work is very commercial and ‘child friendly’ I’ve always had a love for heavy music and horror films. I like those two contradictions: the cute side and the scary side of me!

Why did you choose to attend Kingston University?

I was desperate to study in London with all the excitement and opportunity it has to offer, so I went to look at a few universities in the city and liked the work being produced there the most. I come from the countryside so I didn’t realize that Kingston (upon Thames) was in the suburbs and technically not part of London – it all seemed so big!


What did you study there?

I studied a BA in Illustration, although there was some animation included in the course too. When creating characters I think it is important to consider how they might move, or be animated especially when creating children’s books, as you might be drawing the main character 20, 30 times in a variety of poses. Combined courses can be helpful in giving art students a wider perspective on their work and the industry.

Do you think art school influenced your style?

Definitely. At Kingston we did a lot of conceptual and editorial illustration which is something I initially focused on when I graduated. I was creating all sorts of odd, dark and political images, none of which really worked for me in terms of getting work. It took a while for me to shake off the influence of university and find my own approach and voice.


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

I worked a succession of jobs, starting with bar work, then retail, before landing a role at The Bright Agency, a London-based illustration agency. It was 7 years before I could quit my ‘day job’ to do illustration full time.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I guess I never really decided I wanted to illustrate specifically for children. About 5 years ago I was creating a lot of animal based illustrations for greetings cards, so making the transition into character-led picture books seemed natural. Although I’d call myself a children’s illustrator I don’t really like the idea that my work is only for a certain group of people – I hope that everyone can enjoy it at any stage in their life.


How did you get the job to Daddy’s Sandwich?

Pip Jones’ text for Daddy’s Sandwich came to me via my agent, and I loved it straight away! Having a text that you’re passionate about definitely makes the job much easier. The publishers, Faber&Faber required me to do some character samples before I was confirmed as illustrator, but I find initial development work really helps flesh out the characters and makes things quicker when it comes to rough stage. Daddys Sandwich was one of the first picture books that I illustrated but it’s still among my favourites.

I see you runner up for The Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards. Can you tell us about that award?

Sainsbury’s is a large supermarket chain and a big player children’s book retailing in the UK. Daddy’s Sandwich was runner up in the picture book category in 2015, which was a huge honour, especially as they are so many amazing picture books out there.  


How did you get the job to illustrate River Rose and The Magical Lullaby, written by Grammy award winner Kelly Clarkson?

The editor at Harper Collins, got in touch with my agent to see if I’d be able to create some sample artwork and pitch for the project. They wanted to see character samples and a full colour spread before choosing the artist, so there was a fair bit of pressure to create something impressive for them. Luckily both Kelly and Harper Collins liked my samples and I was chosen as illustrator (hooray!).


How long did the publisher give you to illustrate the books?

If I remember correctly, they gave me about 4 months from starting roughs to finishing artwork, so it was needed fairly quickly but not impossibly so! I’m fairly firm with clients with regards to how long I need to complete a book and try to never over-promise when it comes to deadlines.

You earned a Kate Greenaway nomination in 2016 for Daddy’s Sandwich. Is that the award librarians in the UK pick?

It is indeed! Librarians are the best, so I was delighted to have been nominated for the award.

How did you get the job as Artwork Manager for The Bright Agency – a London based illustration agency with a focus on children’s publishing?  

A few years ago I was really struggling with my illustration work and was not sure how to progress, so I applied to a few agencies asking for work experience in the hope I might gain some insights into the industry through being there. The Bright Agency responded and after I completed the internship they offered me a full-time job as artwork manager, which involved ov

erseeing the portfolios of the 200+ artists on their books and designing all promotional material, as well as scouting out and recruiting new talent. The position at Bright really helped me to understand what made an illustration ‘work’, and gave me a knowledge of what clients look for when commissioning.

Do they represent your work?

They do! When I commenced employment with Bright my illustration work really wasn’t ready for representation as it simply wasn’t commercial enough, so I spent a good few years revising my portfolio and developing my style in my spare time – just putting all the things I was learning on the job into practice. Eventually all the hard work and late nights paid off and they (very kindly) agreed to take me onto their books, and it’s been a fantastic journey ever since.

Do you feel the art exhibits do you bring in new jobs?

I think any kind of communal or public event is good for getting your name ‘out there’ as a professional illustrator. Being visible to the people that commission is really important, because you’ll only get work if art directors know you exist. Illustrators need to seek out creative and clever ways to expand their network and be seen, rather than just putting work up on Instagram and giving it a few hashtags! Exhibitions can be a fun and inclusive way of bringing both artists and clients together in a friendly environment. Everyone loves being invited to art shows!! If you are interested in reading more on this subject I wrote an article on ‘collective creativity’ and the power of taking part, which you can find here:

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own children’s book?

I would love to, yes. I’m just waiting for the right idea to come to me in the shower!

Have you illustrated a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

I haven’t illustrated a self-published book yet. In the publishing world illustrators are often commissioned based on their sales history, therefore it’s really important that our books sell in significant numbers. While there are some really great self-published works out there, individuals often don’t have the distribution and reach that an established publisher does, so it’s very hard to compete with them. Self publishing authors who approach illustrators need to be prepared to pay the going rate for an artist’s time and expertise – all too often I’m asked if I can create work on a royalty only basis, and sometimes even for free.

Do you still illustrate greeting cards?

Yes. I tend to do a few designs in between book projects which often helps plug the gap between payments.


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Yes, I occasionally work with educational publishers. I’m about to start a small job with Pearson in fact, but most of my work is with trade publishing houses.

What do consider is your biggest success?

I know it’s not an especially exciting thing to say, but making the transition from student to professional, and managing to maintain this as a full-time job has to be my biggest success. Illustration is so competitive and difficult to break into I feel so lucky each time I start a new commission.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I always use inks – mainly Daler Rowney acrylic and Dr Ph.Martin’s watercolour inks. Occasionally I’ll use some colouring pencils, or gouache for texture.

Has that changed over time?

I use paints less than I used to, especially oils. I love the colour and texture of oil paint, but they take so long to dry it isn’t feasible to use them for illustration projects as they’re usually quick turnaround jobs.

Do you have a studio set up in your home, plus belong to a co-op

I recently moved house, so I currently work from a spare room at home. Prior to that I was a part of ‘Mama Wolf Studio’, an illustration collective (@studiomamawolf on Instagram) with three other illustrators. Mama Wolf is a public facing studio with a fully functioning shop located in London that sells prints, cards and other goods, but also serves as a space where visitors can ask questions about illustration and talk through difficulties they might be having in their own practice. It’s quite odd to now be working alone but I think I could work anywhere if needs be.

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

I really should do because I believe decent preliminary research can really benefit a project, but I generally don’t get given enough time to make this a possibility. In addition, I’m often working on seasonal themes at the wrong time of year, for example: I’ve recently finished a Christmas book that features lots of snowy landscapes which I had to work on during the Spring and Summer months so there was no way I could have taken my own photos or sketches! The bulk of the scenes in the book are totally imagined, with a small amount of Google reference (but I never directly copy any photographs). The great thing about illustrating for a very young age is that you don’t need to be too detailed or accurate in what you draw, so there is a fair amount of leeway in that respect.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

When I was finishing university most artists didn’t have a website and one of the things that terrified me most about becoming a professional illustrator was the idea that I’d have to call a busy, stressed art director and beg them to look over my terrible graduate portfolio! The internet has been revolutionary for illustrators because for the first time we can build a following and show that there is a market for our work or style, before a client even commissions us. It’s still just as important for us to make contact with art directors but conversely a client, can also seek us out in ways they were not able to before.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop for re-touching and those inevitable changes. A knowledge of photoshop gives you greater flexibility and makes small tweaks much easier and quicker.

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

I have a basic Wacom tablet that I use for all my computer work. It replaced my mouse, which I find totally unwieldy and impossibly slow to use now, plus I have repetitive strain injury so using the tablet and pen feels much more comfortable and natural.

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

Just to write a book as well as illustrate it. It would be nice to create something that was entirely my own vision.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a book called ‘Quick Barney…Run!’ which is written by Pip Jones, the author of Daddy’s Sandwich. It will hopefully be out next March 2018 in the U.K, later in the U.S.

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.

I think art materials are incredibly subjective, and what works for one artist doesn’t work for others, so I always tell people to experiment. I have recently re-kindled my love of Parker Quink Ink – although it is essentially black ink it separates when added to water creating some interesting colour tones.

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

Don’t be afraid, take chances and be prepared to make mistakes. Also, treat each commission as if it’s your first: if you put the level of energy and enthusiasm into every job that you did your very first you’ll have a fantastic career ahead of you.

Thank you Laura 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 Laura’s work, you can visit her at her website:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I really enjoyed seeing Laura’s adorable illustrations. I will look at her books in the bookshops. 😊


  2. Really sweet illustrations. Thank you for sharing with us!


  3. Laura, your work has that wonderful “child-like” quality to it. SO appealing 😀 Thanks so much for sharing. I NEVER tire of hearing about artists’ journey and process!


  4. I echo Dona’s comments – I enjoy hearing about the process and journey too. And your colors and details in your spreads keep the readers finding more items that they didn’t notice through many reads.


  5. I love the energy and sense of fun in Laura’s illustrations!


  6. Such great energy and fun in your art. Love all the characters. Very inspirational!


  7. What an absolutely delightful style! My favorite piece is the animals selfie one. Thank you for sharing your work, Laura!


  8. I love Laura’s style! 👏


  9. to cool kathy


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