Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 5, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Sally Walker

Sally Walker is a Suffolk (UK) based award winning illustrator.

After working as a graphic designer for over 15 years she decided she wanted to explore her love of illustration further. Sally graduated from an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art in 2017, which she thoroughly loved. Not only did it make her start drawing from life again, it took her away from the computer and back into the print room. She really enjoys the experimental process and often ends up using textures from this stage in final artwork, and then using my digital skills to layer and compose.

Awards & exhibitions:

2020 SCBWI Don Freeman Work in Progress grant –  winner in published category
2019 Picture This – Winner
2019 Templar Illustration prize – Shortlisted
2019 Exhibition of Illustrating life IV in Beijing
2018 SCBWI Undiscovered Voices – Winning finalist
2017 Tragaluz International Illustration award – Finalist Little Hakka – Shortlisted
2017 Communication Arts Illustration awards – Shortlisted
2016 Golden Pinwheels Young Illustrators Award  – Silver Winner


Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle was my first published picture book and a huge learning curve for me in discovering how the publishing industry works. Although I was prepared for numerous rounds of changes to sketches and artwork, most of it went pretty smoothly. However, the opening spread did take a few tweaks until we got it right.

When I was initially sent the manuscript, I started drawing out rough thumbnails for each page and exploring different ways in which the story could be told visually. In one of the very first drafts I had an idea of having a little girl in the story who lived in a house near the beach, and one day goes out and builds a sandcastle.

I don’t think I ended up  even sending this version to the publisher, as in the end as I felt it was distracting from the main story. However, I did keep the sandcastle in the first dummy book, which appeared in the first spread. I knew I wanted this spread to be a scene setter and that a double page spread of the beach would do just that.

There’s usually a bit of a wait once sketches for the dummy have been sent, so that the whole team at the publishing house can review and gather comments. During this time, I took the opportunity to work up a colour test

This was mainly pencil and digital to quickly get down my ideas and see if they worked. I remember being pretty happy with it at the time although it is quite different in colour and style from the final version.

When the feedback came back it became apparent that the sandcastle wasn’t going to work, so that was dropped altogether, and the scene adjusted to include the houses, fox and owl. At this point I drew up a more detailed (and neater) rough which was approved by the publisher team and meant I could move onto final artwork.

My process for making illustrations is always evolving, but usually incorporates both digital and traditional art techniques. For this book I made some time to experiment with traditional materials for the sea, sand and sky and the big bright moon. These are all very important elements to the book, and I really wanted to make them stand out. Using Acrylic inks and acrylic paints I layered up textures on paper using brushes and a palette knife. I made numerous versions of these trying out different strokes and colours each time.

Then I moved onto creating the other elements using pencil and ink. Some of these were taken straight from my sketch book and used in the final artwork. Others are redrawn a few times using a lightbox until I’m satisfied enough to scan them.

At this point I have a bank of textures and scanned line art and I’m ready to start composing digitally. I always start by piecing together the line art using the rough sketch as a guide. And from there I will usually work on the background first to have a base to build upon. This is where the acrylic paint textures are used and sometimes recoloured and layered over other scans.

From there I keep layering and colouring  and adding more textures digitally, until I’m happy. I realise that this sounds a lot simpler than it is and usually takes the most time!

This version (apart from the crabs which I did also finish) was sent back to the publisher as final artwork but it was highlighted that some of the test readers couldn’t quite make out the nest of eggs. So, I went back to the drawing board to try and create a more 3d image to make it clearer that it was an underground nest.

Unfortunately, it was still not clear enough, so with the help of the graphic designer we went back to the drawing board and eventually came up with this solution which made it into the book.

This cross-section, which was the designer’s idea, is a much simpler and clearer viewpoint, and also shows why making picture books is such a team effort!

You can also see in this final version that the colours are more vivid than previously. Partly, this is due to me reworking the image later on after I’d created the rest of the book. I find that colour palettes can evolve during the process and some earlier versions end up needing tweaking. I also added some more contrast and saturation as I really wanted those colours to pop!


How long have you been illustrating?

As a hobby on and off for about 10 years before embarking on my MA in Children’s Book Illustration. It wasn’t really until then that I started to take it more seriously and illustrate on a regular basis.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

An Illustration for a poem in Baby Bug magazine in 2019.

Have you always lived in the UK?

Pretty much apart from when I took a years working holiday Visa in Australia. I travelled the East Coast but was also lucky enough to work as a graphic designer there too.

What made you decide to go to Cambridge School of Art to get your MA in Children’s Book Illustration in 2017?

I’ve always loved learning and had been taking evening courses in illustration at a local college. Through that I heard about the course went along to an open evening. There you got the chance to speak to students and see their work, and also look around the facilities (including the wonderful print room). I left feeling completely inspired knowing that I had to apply.

What school did you attend to get your BA. Is that where you studied Graphic design?

I attended the University of Central England which was based in Birmingham. The course was a BA in Visual Communications which allowed you to study Illustration, Photography, Tme Based Media and Graphic design. I actually ended up specializing in Time Based Media, focusing on motion graphic design.

When did you decide you wanted to study illustration?

During my working holiday in Australia, I worked as a graphic designer for a small gift company. I got to work alongside an illustrator in residence who was creating beautiful designs for the products and it blew my mind. This was the first time I realised that illustration could be a real career and as soon as I got back to the UK I started looking into evening classes in illustration.

Did Cambridge School of Art help you find work after you graduated?

Not in the traditional sense but getting into publishing isn’t as straight forward as a lot of careers. What they did do was give opportunities to get your work in front of the eyes of agents and publishers. After finishing the course they organised a week long exhibition in London with a private viewing for publishing professionals. Alongside that they also had their own stand at Bologna Book Fair and took meetings with publishers on behalf of the students throughout the event.

What type of graphic design work did you do?

I have worked as a graphic designer for a mobile phone content provider, the gifts company, and for my current job as an Art Director at an elearning communications company. My work there is a mixture of motion graphics and screen based graphic design. I help to create elearning courses, printed materials, presentations and animations.

Did you ever do any art exhibits to help promote your art?

I haven’t organized my own exhibition as of yet, but have taken part in an alumni show, a SCBWI BI show and Illustrating life IV in Beijing.

What made you decide to focus on Children’s illustration after 15 years of doing graphic design?

I think one of the biggest attractions for me is the chance to step away from the computer and create something by hand. I love drawing and print-making and raiding my kids art supplies to creating interesting textures and shapes. I still work part-time in Graphic Design and have found the cross between both disciplines really compliment each other. And also the computer skills I have gained from Graphic Design do come in very handy.

What published work did you submit to win the SCBWI Don Freeman Work in Progress grant in published category? 

I submitted my dummy book ‘Lily and the Dragon’. It’s a story I really believe in and have been working on for a few years now. Hopefully it will find its home one day!

How did you connect with Jennifer Rofe at Andrea Brown Literary Agency?

Jen approached me, she’d seen some of my work on Instagram and reached out. I was taking part in a lot of social media challenges at the time which helped build my portfolio, and share my work by posting on social media regularly and got me noticed. I'[ve nee with them since 2018.

Was Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle the first picture book you illustrated?

Yes it was.

Did Jennifer Rofe sell this picture book to Page Street Kids for you?

No I was the illustrator for this book and it was written by Kelly Jordan. Page Street Kids approached me via Jen to see if I would be interested in illustrating it. And I immediately was, Kelly’s writing is beautiful, I could visualize it straight away.

Did you take pictures or do research before you started illustrating this book?

I did research turtle hatchlings quite a bit! Unfortunaly I don’t live anywhere near nesting sites, so couldn’t do any field trips (which I would love to do one day). But I did watch videos and research pictures and facts on the turtles and other animals in the book.

You have a section on your website titled “Projects” Are these projects, book dummies or school assignments?

These are largely self-initiated projects. Some are from my Masters course work and others are ideas that I wanted to experiment with.

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

Yes I do! I have written a couple of picture books and hope to get back to them and writing some new ones very soon!

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

At the moment I’m concentrating on building my career with traditional publishers, but if the right person approached me with the right story at the right time…

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Yes I’ve illustrated for Baby Bug, Ask magazine and Mighty Kind Kids.

Have you tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

No but I have seen some beautiful wordless picture books and do have an idea floating about for one. Maybe once I’ve finished my current project I’ll get back to that idea!

What do you think helped develop your style?

Print-making, being playful with materials and drawing from life. Having two small children around has given me plenty of inspiration too!

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes I’m very lucky to have a gorgeous studio that my husband built me, although we’re moving soon so will need to find a new work space.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Being a published illustrator and seeing my work in the hands of children.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I don’t have one specific medium as I guess I’d be classed as a mixed medium artist. But pencil and ink are used in most of my illustrations.

Has that changed over time?

Each project uses slightly different mediums. I try to take time to experiment before starting final artwork for a piece/project, and the outcome from that will determine the medium.

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

Yes I do, I use a tablet regularly. Once I’ve created all my textures, and line work I scan everything into my computer in greyscale and then compose and colour digitally. I will then use a drawing tablet to add some more textures and colours.

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

Pencil, Ink, foam stamps, etching ink & roller (for monoprinting), acrylics, watercolour, Geli plate and my computer.

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

When I’m working on a book I have to be strict and work most days. But I do have young children so I have to be flexible and the time spent each week can differ. When I was studying on my MA I aimed to work 2 hours every night!

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

I try to research as much as possible and sometimes do take pictures. Especially of facial expressions and poses but I prefer to draw from life whenever possible. I have sketch books full of observational drawings.


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

I’d love to have an author illustrated picture book published,  work on chapter books and also a graphic novel if I get the chance.

What are you working on now?


Currently I’m working on a picture book with Penguin Random House which is due to be published 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.

Use cheap materials. It’s tempting to spend a small fortune on art materials but some of my favourite tools have been the cheapest. I often raid my children’s art supplies and mainly use recycled copier paper.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Keep going and try not to spend too much time comparing yourself to others. I say this as I’m terrible for doing it and its good to step away from social media sometimes as it can play with your confidence.

Sally, 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 Sally’s work, you can visit her at:



  1. What beautiful work! The illustration of the cat sunning on the window sill is magnificent. Thanks for the post.


  2. Wonderful work! I love the shadows and dreamy quality of some of your work. The grandpa and the boy touching hands through the window is touching! And the cat sunning itself, and the children playing outside with a teacher, lovely! Best wishes! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


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