Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 30, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Jessica Courtney-Tickle

Jessica Courtney Tickle​ is an illustrator who graduated from Kingston University in July 2014. Her absolute favorite thing to draw or paint is nature, finding a focus on foliage of any kind as well as children’s stories about adventure and exploration. She also has a penchant for drawing theater from music makers to dancers and even singing animals. Jessica is most influenced by vintage picture books, travel posters, and folk art as well as numerous painters and printmakers.

Jessica currently is based in Cambridgeshire, England. She makes her work using a combination of scanned watercolour washes and Photoshop, sometimes throwing in the odd pencil mark too! She has worked with several clients, most recently Hachette, Frances Lincoln and Walker Books. Jessica also sells her own work through her online shop and at markets across the UK.


My working process is usually same for every project. I’ll start by reading the text through again and again to get a feel for the book and the rhythm of the story.  Then I’ll collate a mood board (see above) of the colours, textures, imagery that I think goes with the ‘feeling’ or atmosphere of the words. For Kelly’s text my board was filled with old travel posters, picture book illustrations from the 1950’s, paintings of the sea and research into American houses (they are quite different here in the UK). I wanted the spreads to feel retro and almost sun bleached to reflect the wistful, summertime mood of the story.

Once I’ve got a feel for the direction of the illustrations, I’ll start roughing out the pages in black and white. This stage takes quite a long time as myself and the designer have to make sure each page feels organic, as though text and image were made together, not separately. I come up with lots of different sketches during this time but many of them are discarded and redrawn.

During this time I’ll also colour one spread as an experiment to demonstrate to the publishers and the author how I envisage the book to look at the end. This first spread took me quite a while to get right as I kept changing the colours on the left hand side. As you can see- I don’t always stick to my rough and the perspective changes quite a lot!

Eventually after lots of back and forth emailing, we come to a place where the text and the sketches blend together and feel secure, that’s when my favourite part comes in and I get the go ahead to move to full colour spreads. This part is usually straightforward, though I do often add in little, unplanned details and swap things around if they aren’t working.

This stage usually takes around three to four months to complete depending on the level of detail the book requires. The very final stage of working on The Little Blue Cottage was the front cover. Depending which publisher you’re working with this stage can be at the very beginning of the project, through the middle or at the end. I quite liked that we worked on this last as I had the interiors of the book to inform the cover which made it much easier to visualize. I was really lucky with this cover in that I only had to draw a few cover ideas before we all agreed on one; the image of the cottage from far away, taking in the landscape and the ocean surrounding it.

My working process is usually same for every project. I’ll start by reading the text through again and again to get a feel for the book and the rhythm of the story.  Then I’ll collate a mood board of the colours, textures, imagery that I think goes with the ‘feeling’ or atmosphere of the words. For Kelly’s text my board was filled with old travel posters, picture book illustrations from the 1950’s, paintings of the sea and research into American houses (they are quite different here in the UK). I wanted the spreads to feel retro and almost sun bleached to reflect the wistful, summertime mood of the story.

Interview with Jessica Courtney-Tickle

How long have you been illustrating?

Almost five years in August.

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

It was a cover job for Grimms Fairy Tales, published by Puffin classics. It was my very first job and I remember spending hours and hours fine tuning it, I wanted to impress the designer so much!

What did you study at Kingston University?

I studied Illustration and Animation in the first year and then I focused on Illustration for the remaining two years.

What types of classes did you enjoy the most?

I really loved printmaking. I’m a big fan of using texture and grains in images so that was a really interesting module for me.

Did the school help you find work when you graduated?

Mostly the university helped us before graduation, they showed us how to fill our portfolios and encouraged us to reach out to potential clients early on. After graduation it was a case of putting those skills into practice and being very, very brave!

What type of art were you doing after you graduated?

Following graduation I spent a year working in childcare and experimented with my work in my spare time. I’d heard it would be quicker to find paid work if you could work digitally so I got to grips with Photoshop, bought a graphics tablet and started posting my work on Twitter. It was in that year that I discovered I loved the combination of traditional watercolour painting and digital drawing. The Photoshop work adds a sense of movement and magic to my drawings that I have never been able to do with a paintbrush.

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

I remember thinking as a teenager that I loved drawing people and I loved writing and that if I could combine the two somehow I might actually find a job I enjoyed! At university I kind of put the two together and realized that children’s books were a natural fit for me.

Was The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day published on Oct 4, 2016 the first book you illustrated?

Four Seasons was the first book I finished. I worked on The Unexpected Visitor around the same time but the text took much longer to finalize.

How many books are in the series and do you think you will illustrate more?

We will have five books in October when The Story Orchestra, The Carnival of the Animals comes out. After that we are definitely working on another one and I hope a few more following that depending on demand.

Why does the first book list you as the author and the rest say Katy Flint?

There are a few discrepancies on the online listings which I’m attempting to rectify. The author of The Four Seasons in One Day is Katie Cotton who was the first writer/ editor of the series. The series then got passed to the new editor, Katy Flint, on The Nutcracker. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with both as they are so talented, as well as the designers Andrew Watson who worked on the Four Seasons and Karissa Santos who has designed the remaining four books.

Amazon also lists you as the author of The Unexpected Visitor published by Egmont UK – September 2017.Did someone from see your artwork at a conference or gallery in the UK which lead to this book?

This is my only author/ illustrator book. My first agent, Susie Brearley at The Bright Group, took it to Egmont because they had recently published Where’s The Elephant by Barroux, so they already had an interest in environmentally themed books. They really liked it and I got my first author-illustrator book deal.

Do you plan to write and illustrate more books?

The Unexpected Visitor was a real lesson for me in terms of writing, illustrating and navigating the publishing industry. It’s taken me about five years to realize that to produce my best work I need to be patient and thoughtful rather than think the quicker a book is published the better. I’m definitely planning to sit down and write a few more of my own now but they might take me quite a long time!

When did you illustrate Cinderella? I found a pub date on your website of 2018, but then I ran across a site that said you could pre-order the book. Is it coming out again?

I think it’s coming out in the US presently but it’s already out in the UK.

I found another book, THE KISS, published by Little Tiger Press without a pub date. When did you illustrate this book?

The Kiss was published in February last year in the UK. I hope it comes to the US too as it’s such a joyful book with an important message.

How did you get that contract?

The Kiss came through from my previous agency. They sent me the text via email and I knew pretty much instantly that I wanted to illustrate it!

In November of 2018, Come All You Little Persons by John Agard was published by Faber & Faber Children’s. How did they find you?

This one came through my previous agency too. Apparently the editor at Faber showed John a range of artists work to choose from and he amazingly picked mine! It’s one of my career highlights and I feel very lucky to have worked with him.

I just featured your latest book, The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan. I love the illustrations you created. How did Page Street Kids find you and how long did you have to do the illustraions? 

Thank you! Page Street saw an interview on the SAA website where I had talked about an old university project featuring an old house made out of wood and I think they immediately saw the potential pairing of Kelly’s text with my drawings. They contacted my agent who sent me the story. I knew I wanted to be involved because I absolutely love the way Kelly writes. In total I had about six months to make the artwork.

The Perfectly Perfect Wish Hardcover – February 4, 2020
by Lisa Mantchev  (Author), Jessica Courtney-Tickle  (Illustrator) Simon & Schuster

This one, written by the brilliant Lisa Mantchev, came out in February this year. It’s a beautiful book about kindness and empathy and it’s quite different too- the designer had the idea of drawing all of the book in black and white apart from when the ‘wish’ is fulfilled at which point the pages turn into full colour. It’s a bit like reading a fairytale!

My Nana’s Garden Kindle Edition is there any plan to publish a hard copy of the book? June 2020.

I really hope My Nana’s Garden will come out in hard copy in the US. It’s out in paperback in the UK on the 11th June and I think the publisher will wait and see whether it’s picked up after that. The book, written by Dawn Casey, is about loss, grief and ultimately, hope. I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve illustrated so far and I really hope it’s helpful to readers and parents who might be struggling to explain death and grief to children.

I noticed the artwork for POLLYANNA on Instagram. Is this from a book dummy you have done?

Pollyanna is another Puffin Classics cover I did, It was a real honour to be asked to illustrate a second book in the range and it was a nice contrast being able to work on two completely different briefs too, I got to experiment with brighter, more pastel toned colours for that one.

I found a picture of you holding a book titled Grimm’s Fairytales. It looks like it could be a middle grade book. Did you do the cover? Did you do any interior art for the book?

Grimms Fairytales was the first piece of paid work I ever finished- I didn’t get to do the chapter headings unfortunately, just the cover. It’s part of the Puffin Classics range where classic books are given a modern makeover. I think it is a middle grade book.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have you been with them? If not, would you like to find one?

At the moment I am agent-less for the first time in five years. I think next year I’ll start actively looking again but at the moment I’m enjoying taking time out and not feeling rushed.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book? I haven’t but I would love to try it! I can imagine the illustrations would need to be even more nuanced without words so it would be a great challenge.

Would you work with a self-published author to illustrate their book?

I think when I’ve written a few more of my own I’d like to open up my inbox again. I’m very open to who I work with- if I love a text then that’s that, I will do my absolute best to make it happen!

You have won any awards for your gorgeous art?

I was longlisted for the Prize for Illustration with the London Transport Museum back in 2015 but that’s about it!

What do you think is your biggest success?

I am very proud of The Story Orchestra series because they are really beautiful books. Both the writer and the designer work so hard to make each one unique and they feel incredibly special when you pick them up. It’s a bit of a dream to be illustrating them to be honest!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I really enjoy working digitally but I when I have the time and patience I love working with coloured chalk, I like the mistiness and the fact that you can’t always control what it does, sometimes I come out with some weird images.

Has that changed over time?

I definitely go through phases. At university I mostly worked with pencils and paper, cutting and layering my work together at the end. It was a bit of a relief when I discovered drawing with a tablet on Photoshop, there was much less mess! Nowadays I work mostly digitally with a little bit of painting on the side.

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

I have a trusty Wacom Intuos Pro tablet which I absolutely love. I also work on the Microsoft Surface Pro laptop which is fantastic, the screen comes off and you can sketch directly on to it.

What do you think helped the most to develop your style?

I think it’s definitely from looking at/ listening to and feeling the world around me. I love music in particular and find that this can really change the atmosphere of my work. I also love looking at old printed matter because I love seeing how texture can be added to an image to make it feel older or younger than it really is. I think there’s also a lot of visual material I store up from going out walking, I love all the very different shapes and colours of plants and skies and I also find that just being outside helps my work become more earthy in colour and texture.

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

There doesn’t seem to be a certain amount of time but there’s definitely a pattern. When I’m working on a book I’ll work on a spread until I like it which sometimes means skipping weekends and (when I’m really into it) meals. But then I can go a week or two without doing anything at all, just recovering from the previous week! I seem to have massive bursts of energy and then days on end where I can’t draw anything at all, it’s very up and down but I’ve always been that way.

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

I always like to research a project before I start it, it’s like warming up my mind. I have lots of Pinterest boards of photographs, colours and pattern ideas. I’ll often watch musicals and ballet performances while I work on the sketches too, I like watching movement while I draw because sometimes I can try and be too ‘perfect’ with the lines and lose the energy of the piece. I find lots of inspiration in set design too which I find so magical.

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

I want to write three more of my own books, probably more, but three is my goal at the moment. I also would love to try my hand at something new like a series of greetings cards or some beautiful food packaging.

What are you working on now?

I’m mostly taking time off at the moment, though I am still working on one small project, a sweet board book called ‘Sleep My Baby’ which should hopefully come out next year.

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 love Bockingford Inkjet paper for my prints and paintings. It soaks the ink into it and I’ve never found a paper that mimics the original watercolour texture so well! I’d also say if you’re looking for work, join in with the #colourcollective group on Twitter or any similar art hashtags on Instagram. Agents and designers are constantly looking on those platforms and the hashtag will get your work shared. #colourcollective was how my first agent found me and I still get bits of work through Instagram.

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

I know that the illustration industry can feel very immediate and very competitive but I’d say take your time on your work when you can, be thoughtful and be careful about what you are putting out there, does it reflect who you are and what you want to say? I’d also say never give up! Great things will happen but it will take time and lots and lots of perseverance. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something either, with art everything is possible!

Thank you Jessica for sharing your talent and expertise with us. I really appreciate all your thorough answers. Make sure to let us know about your future books and books. I would love to share them with everyone.

To see more of Jessica’s work, you can visit her at:




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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This is a wonderful collection of illustrations. I enjoy your work, Jessica! Best wishes!


  2. I enjoyed the tonal quality of your illustrations, Jessica. Congratulations on your success!


  3. ❤ your illustrations, Jessica.


  4. Love the way she composes her pieces and the retro, almost vintage feeling she conveys.


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