Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 31, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Gillian Reid

Gillian is an illustrator/character designer from Belfast, UK currently living in Canada. She studied animation production at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, England and have been working as a character designer since graduating in 2008. Her work has taken me across the globe working with cients including: Sony Pictures Animation, Aardman, Passion Pictures, Nexus Productions, Tiger Aspect.

Now, she is trying to break into children’s book illustration! So she says, “Any advice and tips would be more than welcomed!” When she is not drawing, you will find her parked in front of Netlix with knitting in my hands, oreos stuffed in her mouth and a cat or two on her lap!

Here is Gillian sharing her process:

Thought I’d show you how I take my sketchbook doodles through to a final digital illustration.

First I begin in my sketchbook, drawing random things, hoping something interesting will come out. It’s quickly turned to winter where I live and everyone is flooding the coffee shops in their winter wear for the holiday drinks!

Next, I take it into photoshop and work out some more details and plan the layout a little more.

After my rough, I go over it once more with more detail and make some tweaks.

I then do a very loose colour key to work out my palette (but I deleted that layer by accident!

Based on the colourkey, I colour up the whole image, beginning with the characters and then the props and then the background. I am continuatlly making small changes as I go along to make sure the composition is at its best and the colour and tonal balance is right.

Final steps, I add some layer filters to capture the warmth of the scene. Et voilà! C’est fini!

Interview with Gillian Reid

 How long have you been illustrating? 

The first real steps into illustration I took were probably about 2 years ago. I have been working as character designer in the animation industry for almost a decade, so in a way I’ve been illustrating characters. However, when I relocated to Canada and suddenly had more time and space to take on illustration, that’s when I really started.

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

Last year, I submitted a piece to SCBWI for an Art Spot in their bulletin and it was chosen. I didn’t even realise until I got a cheque through the post for $25! I should have framed it, but I needed to buy cake.

What made you move from England to Canada? 

I had been living in London, UK for 4 years when my partner got a job offer in Canada. We felt we had been in England for a while and it was a good time for a change. We are coming up to our 2 year anniversary as Canadian residents!

What made you choose to study animation production at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, England? 

I knew I wanted to draw cartoons for a living but it took me a while to realise that was called ‘animation’ and you could actually study it! There were only a handful of schools in the UK that taught traditional 2D animation at the time and this one was on the sunny coast of southern England – a big contrast to the northern, rainy, gray city I grew up in. Easy decision!

Did the school present any opportunity to delve into children’s illustrating? 

Yes, the school also has a BA Illustration course, which a couple of my friends studied. I didn’t really know what illustration was at the time but looking back, it would be great to have the 2 courses overlap somehow. There are a lot of principles in both which would help animation and illustration artists alike.

Did the school help you find work? 

My first job in animation was actually in China, at a studio which had an exchange program with my animation course. They take a few students in their second year but when I graduated they were looking for artists to come over and work for 6 months. This is where I found my love for character design!

Do you feel studying animation has influenced your illustrating style? 

Oh yes, definitely! I tend to think of everything as scenes from a film rather than page turns and am always trying to show a sense of motion in my designs. It’s a bit of a battle sometimes, trying to bring a more illustrative quality to my work.

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

Initially, I worked for a British coffee chain called Caffe Nero. I actually really loved it. I got to study all the different characters that came into the shop and draw them during my lunch break. I worked there until I heard the news I was going to China, where I worked on a feature film called Back To The Sea. When I started there, I was a background designer. This is what I had specialised in at school but due to language barriers, all the British people were put onto character design. Suddenly, I realised I enjoyed characters much more than background design and haven’t looked back since!

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children? 

Having worked in the animation industry for a long time, I was beginning to get a little tired of the more technical aspects of character design, like turnaround, expressions sheets, prop design. Illustration appealed to me because it seems to be all the fun bits! Posing the characters and telling the story. I don’t need to know what each character looks like for 8 different angles and 25 different facial expressions.

Have you done any illustrations for books? 

It is still very early in my illustration career, so I have not illustrated any books yet, but fingers crossed something will come my way soon!

How did you find representation with the CAT Agency? 

Christy Ewers from the CAT Agency saw my work on the SCBWI website, for a competition I won and kindly reached out to me to share some thoughts and pointers on my portfolio. We corresponded back and forth for a few months as I tried to improve my illustration based on her notes, until she finally gave in invited me to join her agency!

How long have they represented you? 

Just over one month now, so still brand new!

Have you done any book covers? 

Not so far, but I’m looking forward to my first cover opportunity!


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

Yes! I’ve been working on my own children’s book idea for over a year now. I’m currently taking a storytelling course to help make the story stronger.


Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish? 

Self-publishing is not something I’m very familiar with. I would have to take the advice of my agent on how this works and if it would be a good fit for me.

Were you surprised to see you were a SCBWI Draw This winner last October? 

Yes! That was a very cool moment for me! It’s strange to suddenly just see your work on the homepage of such a huge site! It was the contributing factor to me finding representation, so I’m very grateful to have been chosen as one of the winners.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones? 

Not yet!

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones? 

Also, not yet!


Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book? 

This is something I am definitely interested in. My own children’s book I a developing often goes through revisions being wordless. I feel I can tell stories more clearly with pictures than words.

What do you think is your biggest success? 

My biggest success was in 2013 when I did character designs for a major Nike commercial that was advertised during all of the World Cup 2014. It had a worldwide audience and it brought me lots of jobs as a result.

What is your favorite medium to use? 

Pencil and paper is probably my favourite to use. I mostly use it when I’m out sketching from life in my sketchbook or in life drawing classes. I can work very quickly and naturally with a pencil but when I want to refine a drawing, I like to photograph it and take it into Photoshop to work it up digitally.

Has that changed over time? 

No, I think I’ve always kept a sketchbook. I feel it is the best place get out your ideas. It may not be where I do my best drawings but it’s where I get my best ideas.


Do you have a studio set up in your home? 

Yes. When I lived in London, I lived in a small 1 bed flat with my partner and my cat, so my studio was the desk crammed into the corner of the living room/dining room. Now, here in Canada, my place is a bit bigger, so I have a dedicated studio. One half has a desk with my Cintiq set up surrounded by prints by some of my favourite artists and toys. The other half has a craft table set up for sewing.

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

I don’t have a set requirement that I try to meet. I usually just do it when I feel inspired to do it. Between professional jobs, my book development and my personal work, I probably draw something everyday. Even if I’m out and about, I will have my sketchbook with me incase there’s an interesting character I spot to draw!

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

When I begin a project I try to let my own mind do all the thinking and when it is exhausted, then I will turn to google, youtube or pinterest for inspiration.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you? 

Definitely! I grew up in the age of the internet and by the time I graduated, most networking is done online. From having an online portfolio, to meeting and sharing work with other artists on social media, the internet is probably my one source of work.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations? 

Yes. I use Photoshop for everything! It took a lot of practise to get comfortable with it and I only use a tiny percentage of its actual ability but it works well for what I need it for.

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

Yes, I use a Cintiq 21UX. I got it about 6 years ago, I would be lost without it! It’s a pricey piece of equipment but it is an essential investment, along with a good computer.

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

As I get older, I really put less time into ‘dreams’. Over the years I’ve learned that all I need to be happy is to work on jobs that are enjoyable with people who are great to work with, preferably with a cat nearby and cup of tea in my hand. Although, I would love to spend some time living in LA, working for one of the big guys, like Disney or Dreamworks.


What are you working on now? 

Currently, I am working on a character design job for the UK, as well as teaching character design and life drawing at a local college.

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. 

My favourite pencil to use is Faber-Castell Polychromos in Schwarz Black. I love the pens from Muji and for my sketchbooks, I like to use the small 3 pack paperback Moleskines because they are light and easy to carry around.

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

Whatever you want to do, immerse yourself in it and try to do to everyday if you can. Make it for yourself and forget what other people say. You do you.

Thank you Gillian for sharing your talent, process, and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Gillian’s work, you can visit her at her website:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Magnificent work, the conversations between your cast of characters inside your mind must be quite fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful, vibrant work! Thanks for sharing (and love the “you do you” reminder)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your lively and fun work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gillian, Thank you for sharing and your work. I very much enjoyed reading about you and your work. I am not an illustrator but I love learning about illustrators and how they work. Your illustrations are captivating. Best of luck to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great work!!! Love the feel of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Totally amazing art style! Some of the artworks look like concept arts from the Disney movie 😀 Good luck! You have great skills, you sure will end up at Pixar or Disney(or a similar company) 😀


  7. Love ALL of this, Gillian! I tell ya—animators make SUCH great children’s book illustrators 😀


  8. I loved looking through all your work Gillian! Brilliant use of details that add story and personality to each character.


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