Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 3, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Rachel Sanson

Rachel Sanson is an illustrator who was born deep in the north of England and is currently living in Manchester. She graduated from the University of Lincoln with a degree in illustration after three years in a little studio perched on the top of a hill. Rachel usually works digitally, incorporating bright colors, patterns, and textures into her work, and strives to come up with big, larger-than-life characters for children’s picture book stories. Her biggest influences are all things Halloween and pirate-related, games, film, the woods she grew up next to, and, of course, illustrators from her childhood. Rachel can usually be found in a corner sketching and drinking tea but spends her free time chasing cats, listening to embarrassing music, and watching horror films until the early hours of the morning.


I start with a pencil sketch on paper, scan that in and begin to work on it on Procreate. On this occasion I decided on the composition here rather than on paper, as the image is quite simple.

Next I fill in the basic colours I’m planning to use. It’s better to get this right at the start so everything goes smoothly but a lot of the time I end up making adjustments as I go. I also added rain drops, again drawn in pencil and scanned.

This is where the picture starts to take shape, I add shadows and then work towards a ‘finished’ image by adding detail. Usually issues will start to show here, this is an example of me not getting the blue colour right and choosing to brighten it up!

Here I added a scanned ink texture and used filters to blend it to the colour of the background in order to add a little bit more interest to the sky. I also began to work the character and background so they fit together.

The colours weren’t quite working for me, the white hair was washing the character out. So I played around with different colours using filters. I hadn’t wanted to use brown as I was trying to stick to a small colour palette, but by adding blue highlights I think it tied it to the rest of the image. It also meant I could make his face a bit more bright and colourful.

Some final details and a small colour adjustment in Photoshop.. and this is the final image!


 How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally I’ve been illustrating for about 5 years now, but I’ve been working towards it since I left school and have been drawing since I was little.

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

I did some small jobs when I signed up with my agency, for the educational market. They were a great warm up for future longer jobs in kids books, but probably look quite different to my work now!

What made you chose the University of Lincoln to get your degree in illustration?

Initially I was actually looking for a Graphic Design course, I only discovered illustration was an option through that search! It narrowed down my options a little as it isn’t as common xand Lincoln had a course that looked like a lot of fun. But one of the reasons I chose a place there was the city itself. It seemed like a great mixture of old and new, it was small but not too small, and I loved the quirky little streets and buildings.

Did you take any children’s book illustration classes at the University of Lincoln?

We studied lots of different things in the modules, including things like editorial and 3D illustration, but the course did lean more towards Childrens Books, which worked for me. We could pick what we wanted to focus on in the third year after trying out different things.

What made you decide to illustrate children’s books?

I love telling stories through illustration, and children’s books allow a lot of freedom to do that, usually in a light hearted way. It’s a lot of fun to help create the little worlds and the characters that inhabit them.

What do you think helped develop your style?

Lots and lots of drawing! Also paying attention to the work of others and what you enjoy in their art. Styles are something that happen as you work rather than something you seek out on purpose.

Did the University of Lincoln help you find work when you graduated?

The course ended in a final show where potential clients could see our work. But I think the most important thing I took away from it was the group of friends I met in the class who were a big support. Because we were interested in the same industry we encouraged each other to keep going and to seek out work when it would have become difficult to stay motivated otherwise.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

I think this is a repeat!

Was The Misfits Club, written by Kieran Crowley and published by Feiwel & Friends, your first illustrated cover?

It was the first cover of mine I saw published, which was really exciting.

How did you get that job?

Through the American side of my agency, the Bright Group.

Was Secrets of Topsea A Friendly Town That’s Almost Always by the Ocean the first middle grade novel you illustrated?

It was, it was a great opportunity as it was a story I really loved.

How did you get that contract?

Again, through my agent. I’d done a lot of sample black and white work that the client must have thought matched the story well.

Did you know at that time that Disney Hyperion would ask you to illustrate, a second book, Secrets of Topsea The Extremely High tide! a few years later?

I was given the brief for the second cover to illustrate shortly after the first book was done, but I hadn’t known it was coming before then. The books do end with little hints about the next story though, so that was a clue!

How many black and white illustrations did you do for the book?

Somewhere between 40 and 50, it was a while ago now!

Was Tails From History: A Raccoon at the Whitehouse by Rachel Dougherty and published by Simon Spotlight, your first illustrated picture book?

This was the first educational book I saw published.

It looks like this was a two book deal since Tails From History: A Parrot In the Painting by Thea Feldman was published on the same date by Simon Spotlightat Simon and Schuster. Did you know it was going to end up being a six book series at the time?

At the time no! I illustrated them two at a time over the course of a few years, so I would know a little time ahead, but not how many there would be overall.

How many tails from History books have you illustrated?

I illustrated 6 books for the series, it was great consistent work and a really nice opportunity to make them my own in terms of art.

Tails From History A Sea Otter to the Rescue won a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection Award. Did you know the book was being considered for the award?

I had no idea until it was announced! It was a very happy reveal and they sent over a certificate which was a nice touch.

20.How did Scholastic find you to do an illustration for Rebel Dogs: Heroic Tales of Trusty Hounds

Another job found through my agent, presumably because of all the animals I’d been drawing for Simon and Schuster! Rebel Cats was actually the first one I was asked to do, so Dogs was a nice companion to that.

I just featured The Lady in the Library on Writing and Illustrating. You did a great job. Did you get that contract through your agent at the Bright Agency? How and when did you connect with your agent?

Thank you! One of the agents from Bright, Anne, brought the project to me at the end of 2019. I jumped at the opportunity because the story sounded like so much fun! I love stories that are slightly spooky so I was excited to get to work on it.


-How long did it take you to illustrate the book?

The process was actually very smooth with good time to work on each page, so it ended up taking about a year, working on it it in parts and corresponding with Sleeping Bear as I went.

Can you give us a little flavor of your process with Sleeping Bear Press as you were working on the illustrations?

Sleeping Bear were a really wonderful publisher to work with, they were very helpful and gave me a lot of great feedback as I worked on Lady of the Library. Firstly I started with some character sketches and my ideas for the colour scheme, once we’d settled on the designs of the two main characters- the Girl and the Lady – I put together rough versions of the illustrations in black and white. After they were approved with a few tweaks I added the colours I’d chosen and then could work on the final touches.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a picture book?

Absoloutely! I have various notebooks with ideas and bits of first drafts so maybe theres something in there.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Sadly not – but I do have a desk! I usually work in a rented studio space with other artists, but the pandemic has meant that my bedroom has been my studio for the last year. I’d love to get back there and catch up with everyone though, I share the space with some really talented and inspiring people.

Have you done any illustrations for children’s Magazines? If so, who?

I haven’t, I approached a few with my portfolio in the past and had some really nice interactions though so maybe in the future.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I’d consider it! There are a lot of elements you have to think about when you’re offered a project so it really depends on the details.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m not sure, really I’m just very grateful to be able to do this for a living.

What is your favorite medium to use?

It’s a bit of a boring answer but I’ve been working mostly digitally using Procreate and Photoshop, they allow for playing with colours, tones and compositions quickly which is essential when you’re working with short deadlines. When I’m sketching I just tend to go for coloured pencils.


Has that changed over time?

I’ve spent time over the last year or so going back to basics and doing a lot more work with traditional media. When you have the time to experiment and ‘play’ its amazing to see how your work develops.

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

I’ve gone through all sorts! At University I worked with a basic graphics tablet, which I upgraded to a Cintiq once I was getting paid work. Now I work on an ipad, which is basically a portable graphics tablet and is really handy.

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

I do first sketches and linework by hand, either using ink or pencil, then create textures using watered down ink or paint. I scan these and add colour digitally.

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

Every so often I try. Work/life balance is very hard when you’re self-employed and I’m definitely a night owl. I tried to assign certain times of the day for paid work but while working from home that plan has gone out of the window! Its not something I’d advise but these are unusual times!

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely, it would be so difficult to make a living in Illustration without some form of social media, it essentially works as an extended portfolio where you can show more of your work to the people who are interested. Also there are amazing artist communities online which are a huge boost to creativity, especially while we’re stuck indoors.

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

I’d generally love to work on more picture books and have a few publishers in mind.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m actually taking some time to experiment with how I work, trying to learn more and get back to the basics of drawing. I think its important to keep things fresh and hopefully this will lead to some new exciting projects!

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.

One of the most important things I learned recently is just to draw with what you have. Sometimes you can get a great effect with a cheap pen on printer paper, (I’ve been using biros to do line work for years). I’ve even heard of illustrators drawing in their sketchbooks using soil and sand! Everyone is different so experimentation is really important, you never know what will click.

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

I’m still working on the writer part, but if you want to become a successful illustrator a good tip is just to keep drawing, especially from life and when you’re out and about in the world. Try to have fun with it, it’s amazing how much progress you can make that way. Also stay interested in what your peers are doing and surround yourself with work that makes you happy!

Rachel, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone. 

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






Talk tomorrow,



  1. Very cute work! I LOVE the otters! Thanks for a fun post.


  2. Lots of fun in this post! Thanks for sharing!


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