Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 27, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Anni Betts

Anni Betts is a professional illustrator. She creates vibrant, cheerful drawings for books, magazines, advertising, greeting cards, calendars and more. She loves making the world a more colorful place, and specialize in drawing animals, plants, people, and lettering.

Originally from Illinois, Anni received a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After several years as a graphic designer, she segued into full-time illustration and working for herself. She now lives in the United Kingdom, in the beautiful and historic city of Durham, England. Working from her cozy home office with a lovely view of the scenery of the North East, full of rolling hills and fluffy sheep.

When not illustrating, Anni can be found going for long walks and exploring the UK with my archaeologist husband Kamal, adorable son Emmett, and her super dog Logan. She also enjoys reading, entertaining, and sewing her own colorful clothes.


To describe my process, I’ll use the example of one of the illustrations from my recent Narwhal Nation calendar:

First I draw little tiny thumbnails to get the composition of a drawing right. I find that I need to be able to see the whole composition in one look in order for it to work right.

Then I scan that, and print it out larger. Then I put that on a lightbox with another piece of paper taped on top, and draw a very tight sketch over the initial thumbnail.

Then this is what I usually send to a client, and they can ask for any changes at this point. Once the sketch is finalized, then I scan that in, print it out, and put it on the lightbox again with a piece of bleedproof paper taped on top. Then I ink the lines using Micron pens. It’s a little bit tedious and mindless, so I often save this step for when I’m somewhat braindead at the end of a day, or in the evening with the TV on in the background.

Then I scan that inked drawing in, and do all of the color digitally. I make the inked drawing its own layer that is a layer mask, so that I can make the lines colored. Then I have layers below that for the fill and for shading and highlights and any textures that I want to add. In the end I flatten it all down and send clients the final artwork that way.


And that’s pretty much it! Fairly simple.

Book Covers: 


How long have you been illustrating?

I started working for myself as an illustrator in 2006, so it’s been almost 13 years. Before that I was a graphic designer and always found excuses to illustrate the things I was designing, so if you count that it’s been longer!

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

The first official, professional illustration job I had was doing a lot of textbook illustrations for Loyola Press in Chicago. It was a great introduction to working as an illustrator and made me realize I wanted to do that full time, and that if I got enough work I could make a living at it.

What made you choose to get your Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?

I always wanted to make a living doing something art-related, and I felt like graphic design was a good way to do that and still have a full-time job. I picked the University of Illinois partly because it had a good graphic design department, and partly because I’m from Champaign, and my parents were both employed by the university, so tuition was half off! Hard to argue with that. Luckily it did give me a really good grounding in design concepts that I think still influences me today.

Do you feel that is where you developed your style?

That is definitely where my style started to develop. Although I was officially learning graphic design, I had a couple of teachers who encouraged my illustration and my working it into my design projects. I also was initially influenced a lot by the Arts and Crafts movement and art nouveau, all of which I studied in design history, so that contributed too.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I’ve always wanted to illustrate for children, I guess because it’s a genre where so much is illustrated, and where things can be extra colorful, fun, happy and whimsical.

What caused you to move to England?

My husband is an archaeologist, so as an academic he has to move where the jobs are. He found his dream position here in Durham, England, fortunately got the job, and since we both had always thought it would be fun to live abroad, we made the move! It’s very nice that because I work for myself, and can do what I do anywhere, it was an easy move to make.

Did you start out creating greeting card and expanding to advertising, magazines and books?

Actually it was kind of the opposite — I started out doing textbooks, ads, and magazines mostly, and eventually got to the point where now I’m doing greeting cards, children’s books and products, which are more what I always wanted to do.

Was The BabyFiles your first illustrated book?

No actually the first book I illustrated the entirety of was for Loyola Press way back when I was starting out — a little book called the Christmas Play by Carol Lynn Pearson. It was in a different style than what I do now, which was more driven by the art director’s vision for the book, but it was a great experience with illustrating a whole book.

How did that come your way?

The Baby Files was created by a woman named Alisa Yikngling, who wanted to fill a gap in the baby book market by making one that would be appropriate for same-sex parents and adoptive parents, as well as everyone else. She found my work online and got in touch and I ended up designing the book as well as providing the illustrations. Funnily enough, she happens to be another person originally from Illinois who now lives in the UK!

I love the socks you designed. How did you think of doing that?

Thanks! I wish I could take credit but I didn’t invent the idea — they are the brainchild of Hannah Lavon, who started Pals Socks which are mismatched socks that look like animals who might normally be foes but are now friends. She contacted me to do the first “Artist Series” of socks, and then I got to illustrate several pairs. It was a really fun challenge to turn my usual style into something that could be woven into a sock and to adapt to the shape of socks.

How did you get to illustrate Breathe Like a Bear with Rodale books?

The art director for Rodale Kids, Eric Wight, contacted me about illustrating Breathe Like a Bear because he and the author, Kira Willey, felt my style would be a good match for the book. At the time I was in the middle of maternity leave for my first baby, but they were nice enough to wait until I was back at work to start the book. It was definitely one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on, Kira’s writing is great for kids and Eric was such an easy-going and positive client. I feel lucky to have worked on that one!

How did you connect with Lisa Diffenbaugh to illustrate her book, Little Lamb: The First Christmas? 

Lisa found me online, and felt that my style would work well with her story since I draw so many animals and the main character of her book is a little lamb. She was my first experience illustrating for a self-publishing author, and it went really well because she had a good vision for her book but at the same time wanted me to bring my style to it. Not only was it a nice book to illustrate, but last Christmas when it came out my son was very into lambs and sheep, so he really enjoyed me reading it to him! It’s so fun to be able to read my kids something that I illustrated.

What types of things are you doing to get your children’s illustrations noticed?

Not as much as I should! I mostly rely on the advertising I do on various portfolio websites like Workbook, the iSpot, and Directory of Illustration. I also find that new work comes to me through Pinterest and especially my Etsy shop. And then I try to update my blog (though I should do it more often!) and send out e-blasts to past clients now and then.

Have you made a picture book dummy to show art directors?

I haven’t. I haven’t really sent out a bigger mailing like that in many years. It’s something I always think about doing, but lately I just haven’t had the time!

Do you have an artist rep. to represent your illustrations? If so, who and how long. I not, would you like to find one?

I worked with a rep for a few years, but then she retired and I decided to go back to being solo. It’s been going well enough so I haven’t really looked into getting a new rep.

Have you done any book covers?

Yes, I did the covers for a series of murder mystery novels by Denise Swanson, for Penguin, over the last several years, which has been fun. There was an element of “mystery” in each one, like a dagger plunged into something or a bullet hole in a window.

When did you decide to become a full-time freelance illustrator?

After I got my degree in illustration in 1998 (I can’t believe it’s been that long!), I worked for eight years as a graphic designer. I enjoyed the work, especially when I could illustrate what I was designing, but I started to get a little bored with it mainly because in design there are more restrictions like staying within corporate style guidelines, and the facts of readability and what’s trendy or not. It just started to feel a bit repetitive. I loved illustrating more because it’s a bit more of a challenge and I can invent anything I want in a picture. So by 2006 I had saved up enough money to live off of for about a year, so I quit my job and started working for myself as an illustrator. It took a while to get enough work where I was really making a living, but in the end I’m glad I did.

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

Yes, I’ve done a few books for self-publishing authors now. It’s mainly a matter of feeling like the story is a good fit for my illustration style, and of the author having a budget for professional illustrations. It’s a big outlay up front for someone just starting in children’s books, so a lot of authors might not have the money for illustrations, but for those who have the ability to invest in creating a very professional book it hopefully pays off for them.

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

Yes that’s always been my ultimate goal, but I haven’t done it yet! It used to be because I was waiting for the perfect idea to hit me like a bolt of lightning. Now I realize that’s not going to happen, I’ve just got to think really hard and come up with some good ideas, but now I’ve been so busy with commissioned work I don’t have the time to do that! But now that I have kids and am always reading them picture books and seeing what they like and don’t like, it’s definitely giving me ideas. Hopefully I can write something soon!

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes, I’ve worked with several. I started out doing textbook illustrations for Loyola Press, and then I’ve also done various illustrations for McGraw-Hill, National Geographic, Houghton Harcourt, Cambridge Press and recently I did a teacher planner for Scholastic which should be out for next year, I think.

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

A little, I’ve done a story for Storytime magazine here in the UK, and something for Spider magazine, but that’s about it so far. It’s something I should get more into!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes actually. I like the idea of pictures telling the story and that the person reading it can make up the narrative. A lot of times in the past when I was reading stories to my son (who is two now) I ended up paraphrasing or making up the narrative anyway, because his attention span used to be fairly short, sometimes too short for what’s actually written on the pages! So a wordless book could be fun in that the story could get more wordy as the audience gets older.

What do you think is your biggest success?

That’s a tough question! Maybe Breathe Like a Bear, because not only did I enjoy working on it, but when I read reviews of it it sounds like a lot of people have used the book to help calm down their children who have anxiety issues or other behavioral problems, and they say the book really made a difference for them. It feels really good to be a part of something that’s helping kids.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I’ve always been a drawer, and I like fairly precise lines, so I’ve always used mechanical pencils and technical-type felt tip pens for my drawings. I guess I’m just someone who doesn’t like the smooshiness of paint, and I also like doing drawings and digital coloring because it’s instant gratification. I don’t have the patience for letting paint dry or building up layers of other mediums!

Has that changed over time?

No it’s pretty much how I’ve always been.

Can you tell us a little about where you create your art?

I work from home, so up until recently I’ve had my office in the extra third bedroom in our house. All I really need is a desk and space for printers and a scanner, but I also have a lot of fun art supplies and all of the various papers and envelopes that I use in making my Etsy prints. There’s a nice view of some distant sheep-covered hills and it’s quite sunny too. However I just had to give the room up to be a baby room now that I had a second child, so at the moment my office is in my bedroom! It’s not ideal, though really I don’t use a ton of space for what I do, so it’s OK. We’re moving soon so eventually I will get my office back in the new house!

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

Not really. I should! I’ve just been so busy with commissioned work for the last couple of years, and then all of the extra time I used to have is taken up with having kids, so I haven’t had much time for doing purely personal, portfolio-expanding work. Luckily the jobs I’ve had in the last few years have all been fun and exciting, so they generate plenty of samples that I can use for my portfolio.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

I usually do a bit of image researching online, if it involves drawing things that I don’t usually draw. Sometimes if I’m drawing people and I need a certain pose, I take photos of myself in that pose. It means there are a lot of weird photos of me in the Photo Booth app on my mac!

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Oh definitely! I couldn’t do what I do without the internet. I can’t imagine how it would have been in the days of physically shopping a portfolio around to potential clients. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it from the northeast of England! Luckily I started as an illustrator after the internet was the go-to source for everything, so I’ve always advertised online and sent final art via email or uploads. And lately I find that clients are looking for illustrators outside of the official channels like portfolio sites, and instead finding me through social media or my Etsy shop. All of that is thanks to the internet!

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop to do all of the color work on my illustrations. I draw the lines by hand in ink, then scan them in and do all of the color digitally. I love that I can pick specific colors, that they can be very intense, and that editing is so much easier than with traditional media. I used to do all of my color work with watercolor and colored pencils, but I could never get the exact colors I wanted and it was so hard to make any changes later. I find that most clients expect to be able to ask for minor changes once the color art is done, so it’s good to be able to do that easily.

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

Yes I use a Wacom tablet for all of my color work.

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

Writing and illustrating my own series of children’s books is probably my biggest dream.

What are you working on now?

I’m just coming off of maternity leave, and luckily I have a few projects lined up — a calendar, a couple of board books and the next in a series of children’s books that I’ve been working on for a self-publishing author here in the UK. It should be a busy next few months!

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 can tell you the materials that I like to use. I always sketch on cheap standard printer paper, which I keep on a clipboard, using a mechanical #5 lead pencil.  There’s something sort of freeing about drawing on very inexpensive materials, because then I can just sketch lots of little thumbnails until something looks right. When I ink my drawings, I use Pigma micron pens, and I’ve always used Paris Bleedproof paper by Borden & Riley, although NO ONE seems to sell it here in the UK, so I will probably have to switch to something else. But it’s been really tough to find something that’s as bleedproof as that! And that’s about it since the rest of the process is digital!

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

One thing I think is important is to figure out what you really love drawing/painting/illustrating, and then create the best portfolio of that kind of work that you can, rather than worrying what other people are doing, or what you think maybe you “should” be doing stylistically. Then be prepared to work really hard and for a while to make it to a place where you’re successful — but if you love what you’re doing that journey shouldn’t be too bad!

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Beautiful work. I LOVE the socks! So cute.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I almost skipped this post because I was too busy. I’m so glad I had a chance to look. I absolutely love her work and her process. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anni, your work is so sweet and child friendly 🙂 I LOVE the way you use shapes and patterns. It’s like painting with fabric turned up a notch! I’m happy to know about the Paris paper, for sure. It must be WONderful living in the UK. And OH, those socks! Tanks for sharing, ladies 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really loved learning about your artistic process–and your work is beautiful! I’ve spent time in Durham and it is a lovely place to be. Thanks for sharing your work and process with us!


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