Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 2, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Stephen Waterhouse

Stephen graduated from Loughborough University in 1998 and has been working as a freelance Illustrator and Author for 20 years. He lives in North Yorkshire, England and passionate about creating colourful artwork for children’s books, cards, jigsaws, posters, magazines and Advent Calendars for clients in the UK, Europe and the USA.

He has illustrated the Divine Chocolate Advent Calendar for 11 years and it’s one of his favourite jobs to work on. He is also very proud of the three Pop-Up Atlas’s which he illustrated for Templar Children’s Publishing called ‘My Pop-Up World Atlas’, ‘My Pop-Up City Atlas’ and ‘My Pop-Up Atlas of People’. These are non-fiction books aimed at 6 to 12 year olds. He loves to create artwork which involves drawing and painting buildings, landscapes and characters….usually with bright, vibrant colours and a sense of fun and imagination and creates large pieces of artwork for schools and communities for both indoor and outdoor spaces/environments.

Stephen has taught Illustration and Visual Communication at Loughborough University School of the Arts for 18 years and also visits schools, libraries and Literature Festivals all over the UK to deliver talks and workshops. His talks are based around how he became an Illustrator & Author and what inspired him when he was very young. Plus, he offers Character Design, Storyboarding, Book making and Pop-Up Building workshops/projects. 

Below is Stephen explaining his process for a Divine Chocolate Advent calendar:

Here are some sketches for the Advent Calendar design process

The early rough sketch before the final drawing.

I start off with ’thumbnail’ sketches to try and establish a composition which works for both myself and the team at Divine.

Then through the process of art direction and several more sketches I end up with the final drawing.

I scan my final drawing in and then paint it using my digital Wacom tablet and pen and I use Corel Painter and Photoshop to create the colour artwork.

The whole process can take a few weeks for the roughs and then a few more weeks for the colour artwork.


Interview Questions with Stephen Waterhouse

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been working as an Illustrator since 1998, so 21 years now!

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

My first job as an Illustrator was for Cambridge University Press and it was to illustrate ‘The Runaway Chapati’. This was a huge deal for me and was so much fun to do.  It was an educational big book which was an alternative version of ‘The Gingerbread Man’.

Have you always live in England?

Yes I’ve always live in Yorkshire, England. I currently live in North Yorkshire.

How did you decide to attend Loughborough University? Did you study while there?

I was half way through my Art & Design Foundation course after leaving high school and I knew I wanted to study illustration, so I spent a few days travelling the country looking at a few Universities. But it was the new Illustration Degree course at Loughborough which caught my interest and stood out for me. The staff and the students were very enthusiastic and the work looked very exciting indeed. I saw students creating amazing characters, storyboards and children’s books. Loughborough felt like a small town surrounded by countryside and within a couple of hours of been there I had made up my mind, it just felt right! So I did my degree there from 1995-1998 and I’ve been teaching part-time there for almost 21 years now. So it certainly has had an impact on my life, both on my illustrating career and also teaching too.

What types of classes did you enjoy the most?

My favourite classes were the Character projects with Ian Newsham who is a children’s book illustrator. He made the whole project designing characters for children’s books so interesting and exciting and Ian was just full of enthusiasm. I also enjoyed a project called 160 where we had to create 160 images made out of different materials and media…..this really helped to exercise and stretch my visual language or style.

Do you feel school helped you develop you style?

Yes, the main emphasis at Loughborough was that you should develop your own individual drawing / visual language. So we were encouraged to draw as much as possible and personalize our artwork and make it our own and different from what everyone else was creating.

Did Loughborough University help you find work using your art skills?

Yes the course had very good links with people in the industry and art directors and publishers visited to do talks and look through our portfolios and offer advice which was so valuable to us students and it was like gold dust. At the end of our 3rd year we had a final degree show and also exhibited at the New Designers Exhibition in London.  I met quite a lot of people in the children’s book industry and also the Greetings Card industry at these two exhibitions which opened the door to my first commissions.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

It was during my illustration degree, about half way through my second year when I thought that creating artwork for children’s books was the right path for me. I really enjoyed inventing characters and creating colourful landscapes with atmosphere, detail and a sense of narrative.

Was ENGINE, ENGINE your first book?

Almost, ‘Engines, Engines’ was my first children’s picture book and my first book with Bloomsbury. But ‘The Runaway Chapati’ was my first ever book.

How did you get that contract?

I had just finished the artwork for ‘The Runaway Chapati’ when Bloomsbury in London got in touch and said that they really liked my style and the bright colours which I had used for the Indian theme in ‘The Runaway Chapati’. They said that my style would be perfect for ‘Engines, Engines’ which is an Indian counting rhyme book.

Which Pop-up book was your first?

‘My Pop-Up World Atlas’ was my first pop-up book with Templar publishing in the UK.

How did you get the contract for that book?

I had a meeting with Templar in 2010 and they said they would like to work with me but need to find the right project. They asked me what would be my dream job and I said a pop-up book! A few weeks later they said that they’ve found that dream job and would I like to illustrate a pop-up world atlas!  Obviously I said yes and jumped at the opportunity. Then over the next couple of years this was followed by ‘My Pop-Up City Atlas’ and ‘My Pop-Up Atlas of People’. Each book took 10 months to illustrate……there was a huge amount of research, drawing and painting involved……a real technical challenge but hugely exciting and fun to work on.

Do you have to do the construction for the pop-up books or is it just the artwork?

I was asked to create the artwork as they had a pop-up engineer who created all the extremely clever pop-up bits and pieces.

Was GET BUSY THIS CHRISTMAS the first book that you wrote and illustrated?

Yes it was, my first book and as soon as they commissioned it I sat down to write the second and then the third books in the series.

How did that happen? Did you have the idea or did the publisher suggest the story and ask you to write and illustrate it?

After finishing ‘Engines, Engines’ Bloomsbury said that they would like me to write and illustrate my own story. I had done some illustrations of penguins dancing around at Christmas and made them into cards for my 3rd year degree work. So I started to develop those and soon realized I had enough sketches and ideas for 12 double page spreads.

They were published by Bloomsbury. Was this your first chance to work with a US Publisher?

Yes I was working with Bloomsbury UK but I visited New York and met all the staff at Bloomsbury USA when ‘Get Busy This Christmas’ was realeased. It was amazing as I got to go to Barnes and Noble and a few other book stores to sign my own books! A dream come true indeed! I also worked with Penguin USA in 2002 when they asked me to illustrate ‘When The Stars Came Out At Christmas’.

How many books have you published?

I’ve worked on about 30 children’s books over the last 21 years, although a couple of those have been collaborations, for example poetry anthologies.

The Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars you have done look fantastic. They must think so, too, since you have been working with them for eleven years. How did they find you? Do they send you yummy chocolates, too?

I count myself to have been incredibly lucky to have been working with Divine Chocolate since 2006 on the Advent Calendars. They just found my work by chance, I think by looking on my website. Yes I am also lucky as they do send me some of their amazing chocolate bars from time to time. They are a really great company to work for!

How long have you been making a living from illustrating?

Just over 21 years now.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how did you connect? If not, would you be interested in finding one?

No I don’t have an agent at the moment. But I am open to finding the right one as I feel that it’s time to find representation…..I’ve done 21 years representing myself so it would be amazing to be part of a successful and exciting illustration agency.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes I’ve worked with Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press & Longman / Pearson Education.

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

I did some illustrations for a couple of BBC children’s magazines a good few years ago, they were called ‘Number Time’ and ‘Learning is Fun’. I would really like to do more magazine work in the future.

Have you illustrate a book for a self-published author. Is that something you would do now?

No I haven’t and I’m not sure as I’m used to having a contract in place and fees for illustrating a book for a publisher. I would consider self-publishing myself though in the future.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes I always think about it as that would be such a great project. To have a whole story and narrative told through a sequence of images…..where children and parents could read the pictures and almost imagine their own words! I always have a lot of ideas on the go but I haven’t quite found the right one to start developing for this yet.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I think the series of Pop-Up books I illustrated for Templar Publishing have been successful. So the three books are ‘My Pop-Up World Atlas’, ‘My Pop-Up City Atlas’ and ‘My Pop-Up Atlas of People’.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I work both digitally and also traditionally with Acrylics, mixed with some screen printing.  All my roughs are done with pencil. It’s difficult to say which is my favourite as both have there merits and strengths. It depends what kind of project I’m working on.

Has that changed over time?

Yes I solely worked traditionally for the first 7 years of my career until I illustrated ‘Raju’s Ride’ for ‘Oxford University Press’ back in 2005 and the ‘Around The World Jigsaw’ for UNICEF during the same year.

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

Yes I used a Wacom tablet and pen in combination with Corel Painter and Photoshop.  I have used this kind of technology since 2001.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

Pencil, tracing paper, acrylics, screen printing, scanner, computer, Wacom tablet and digital pen.

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

Yes, I aim to exercise my drawing and painting almost daily, I don’t like feeling rusty so I try and keep busy even at weekends too….and sometimes nights!

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

Yes, for example ‘My Pop-Up World Atlas’ involved more research than any project I have ever worked on. But this is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, because you are learning so much all the time.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes for sure,  I receive enquiries through my website and through Instagram and Twitter.

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

I would love to write and illustrate more books as I enjoyed creating the ‘Get Busy’ series of 3 books for Bloomsbury UK so much. I would also love to see my artwork on the London underground and also in Times Square!

What are you working on now?

I am actually working on next years Divine Chocolate Advent Calendar designs this week, always a year ahead! Here’s my final drawing for last years Calendar.

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

Never give up! If you want to do something so much then keep working at it and sending your stories or illustrations to lots of publishers. You have to try and find ways to get your work seen and in front of the Art Directors and Editors!

Thank you Stephen for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us.

To see more of Stephen’s work, you can visit him at:

Instagram: stephenwaterhouseillustrator

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Such vibrant, beautiful artwork! How fun to do the covers for chocolate advent calendars! Yum. Great interview.


  2. Love the happy colors! Congrats! 🙂


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