Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 16, 2018

Illustrator Sunday – Helen Hill

Helen N. Hill is an artist who from a young age loved to draw colorful characters and, much to the despair of her mother, made lavish cooking experiments. Having grown up in Belgium, there is something about the display of pastries in most bakeries that makes her kiss the tips of her fingers and say, “Oh la la!” She also spent her formative years in England where she was inspired by Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl. Helen went to St. Michael’s College, Vermont and was influenced by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. After a rewarding career in marketing, she is now dedicated to writing and illustrating picture books, comics and short stories. Helen works in watercolors, gouache, acrylics and ink and is also known to experiment with spices and poems. 


At first I felt these images from Helen were more sketches than finished pieces, and I wasn’t sure quite how to critique them. But as I looked at them several more times, I began to see the light, sophisticated cartoon-ness of them, and rather did see them as possibly finished pieces with a charm of their own.  I read she has a fascination with food and that might explain this odd little story about a daughter who is suddenly turned into a artichoke!  OH MY!

Without the benefit of the ms itself I will not talk about the viability of this story idea much.  I just want to point out that the believability of the story in itself is very important. Children love to put reality aside however! I think this one WILL depend a lot on the fun and mood of the illustrations for the laughs and success.  One thing to keep in mind is that publishers are very interested in the probable chances that an audience will return over and over any story.  Parents aren’t apt to buy a book that they don’t feel will hold their young audience’s attention for more than the one telling.  And publishers are all about the BUYING of books.

So on to the artistic elements of these three pieces:  The first and only full color spread, sets the story idea.  I like the breezy line work that suggests motion.  I would remind artists however that ‘good drawing’ is always necessary for believability …even in cartooning.  Right away I noted the legs of the mother particularly…her right one is/could not be attached to the pelvis in this drawing, The left leg has a very long thigh but it is possible perhaps.  Drawing correctness IS important again in all forms of illustration. One can distort and play, but that too has to be consistent.  I’d redraw these legs to make them work more as they actually would instead of distracting the viewer.  Then I am drawn to the little green things falling from the table where the ‘daughter’ was sitting.

Now there is a sad and surprised little artichoke standing in the chair!  I have NO idea what those green shapes are, but suspect the ms would enlighten us?  One does not want to leave the viewer questioning what they are looking at.  It can be stylized and funny but recognizable, or that too distracts. The expressions of the artichoke and the mother are quite good…beginning of good character development.

Before moving on however, I wanted to mention the ‘background’ treatment.  The paint splatters fit the mood and action of the spread very well, but the white space left around the chairs and table seem to separate them out rather than incorporate and work with the background. This looks very intentional, but it makes the background look like an afterthought a bit.  Perhaps that could use some reworking. The more intense brown of the chairs very much draws my eye to the two characters and their actions, and because they are separated by a table this works well I feel.

On to the next vignettes of the Mom driving the ‘daughter’ to the Docs.   Again there is a sense of motion and light, fast line work, which, though sketchy, is perhaps appropriate with a speeding car and fast action concern.  The red dots across the page and heavier on the sides do not seem to reinforce this motion or play a significant part in the story flow.  They continue into the next (3rd) image as well and seem to not be an important element there either.  I wonder if some light paint spattering more like in the first piece might be worked in with more effect?

The character of the Dr. seems ok here….and our little artichoke is further expressed in the cute ‘facial’ responses to care. Funny and something all kids can relate to.  I like hand lettering and it fits with the sketchy style of the artwork here nicely. It too could be more incorporated into the  background flow as I mentioned before.  Not having a real background does work best probably in order to have 4 vignettes on this same page, but I still feel a need for a connection with the ‘design’ of the background and it’s implied movement.  I’d suggest playing with this more.

Thank you for the chance to take a more time with this style to ‘mull’ with me and bring it’s charm to the surface!  Often a fast connection with the audience is essential to get that book picked up and read! But a sketchy hand can be just as attention getting when done with a sure hand and great style.

Thank you, Chris for taking the time to review Anne’s illustrations. Your thoughts were very informative.

Below is a little bit about The CAT Agency:

The CAT Agency, Inc. is the first mother/daughter agency in the business! A trained artist herself with a BA in Fine Art, Chris Tugeau has been a pioneer in the children’s illustration industry for over 25 years. Since opening her own agency in 1994, Chris has enjoyed representing many talented artists, and has been an active part of the illustration community; writing and presenting for SCBWI regions around the country. She is also the author of SCBWI Illustrator Guidelines. A veteran artist and rep, Chris is an advocate for ethical fairness and the bright future of children’s publishing. She’s also a mother of 3, a grandmother to 8, and best friend to husband, Bill.

Daughter, Christy Tugeau Ewers, has been rooted in the children’s literature industry since Chris started the agency in 1994, and she has been surrounded by artists her entire life. Aside from her mother, her brother, Jeremy Tugeau is an exceptional fine art and children’s illustrator, represented by his wife, Nicole, at Tugeau 2. Christy’s husband, Chris Ewers, is an artist too, as a talented cinematographer and film-maker.

With a degree in English/Journalism and over a decade of experience in various creative fields, Christy offers a different perspective to the agency, while maintaining the enthusiasm and love that her mother brings to the industry. Aside from writing, her interests include seaside escapes, very hot coffee and pitbulls named Gertie.

And of course, grandchildren/children, Billie & Finnegan, are The CAT Agency’s resident experts and critics. Billie has over 5 years of experience in the world, and has formed a deep love of unicorn literature and all things Pink/Purple/anything-licious. Finn boasts a robust background in cars and trucks, with a specific expertise in MR. TIGER GOES WILD. Billie currently enjoys using every crayon in the box, while Finn likes to spend his free time dancing to The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme).

Here is the link to The Cat Agency:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Hi Helen, It’s fun to see the little artichoke again! Helen was in my writers group. The green leaves are from the artichoke the little girl had eaten (it would be in the text previous to this illustration). I really like the four vingettes–poor little artichoke. I agree about the red dots—they compete with the action. So happy to see you are hard at work!! Mary


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