Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 17, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Natelle Quek

Natelle is a Malaysian-born illustrator who grew up in New Zealand, and now lives in leafy Southeast England with her husband, an apathetic cat, and a loud-snoring dog.

Natelle currently focuses on children’s illustration, in particular picture books, young fiction, and non-fiction. She loves to use bold colours and cinematic perspectives to draw audiences into her worlds. Working digitally, her illustrations often revolve around real life themes commingled with fantastical adventures. Natelle draws from constant evolving influences, from popular culture, to her heritage and personal experiences, through to the natural world.

In her free time Natelle loves to explore nature trails with her husband, smother her cat and dog with kisses, and tend to her seemingly endless collection of house plants.

Here is Natelle discussing her process:

Here is an example of my process for a double page spread for I Am Nefertiti, written by Annemarie Anang and published by Five Quills.

I tend to create character studies and thumbnails somewhat simultaneously, as this helps me place the characters in their environment while storyboarding. The first step is a very simple rough sketch, just to play with perspectives, character placement, and how it will flow.

Next I create more detailed roughs (also called tight sketches), and this works as the basis for when I go to final colour. With characters I try to create as much detail as possible at this stage, however the environment background can be a little looser.

Once I’m happy with the detailed roughs, I go straight to final colour. Usually I start with filling in the background colours behind the characters, and then layer the characters on top and colour each character one at a time! The final artwork is then exported from my IPad Pro into Photoshop on my laptop and final colour edits are made.


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating children’s books for almost 2 years now, but have been drawing consistently ever since I could hold a pencil as a child. Prior to illustrating children’s books, I ran my own small business, turning my artworks into products like stickers, pins, shirts, etc. In between children’s books, I still work on private commissions and design products for other small businesses.

What was the first thing you did where they paid you for your art?

A birthday invitation!

What made you decide to attend Victoria University of Wellington for an MS in Biotechnology?

In addition to art subjects in high school, I also really enjoyed biology and chemistry. Higher education was valued in my family, and I thought I would have a career in the science sectors. While I eventually decided to leave the industry, I definitely don’t regret it because I learned a lot and many of the skills were surprisingly transferable to illustration (time management, critical and creative thinking, etc).

Were there any illustrating course available to you at Victoria University?

At the time that I applied to attend university, there was no specific illustration course (but there were other art-related courses such as architectural studies, animation, game design etc). However, illustration as a career was not on my mind then; at that time in my life, I didn’t fully understand that you could even have a career as an illustrator.

What did you after you graduated?

After graduation I worked as a technician in various labs, from academic research labs within the university, to specimen reception associated with the local hospital, and even processing raw materials to extract proteins for diagnostic testing and research.

What did you do between University and starting your career as a Freelance artist/Illustrator?

At the time, I was a volunteer technician at a biochemistry lab at the University of Florida (my husband worked as a postdoctoral candidate in the same lab). I was on track to start full time employment at the lab when I decided that after all these years, I didn’t much enjoy being in a lab setting anymore. I decided to focus on making art and I started looking at different avenues on what I can do with art.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrated children’s Books?

After a few years of running my small business, I knew that the thing I love most about the business was the creative side. I’ve always loved art books, graphic novels, and manga, and that opened me up to the world of children’s books. It’s a really cool feeling to know that your art is taking a reader on an adventure, or it’s helping them learn about difficult topics, or it’s sparking their interest in the natural world; there is so much you can do creatively with children’s books.

How did you end up leaving New Zealand and now living in London?

We left New Zealand for Florida because of my husband’s work. After 3 years in Florida, it was time to move on and again, because of my husband’s work, we came to London!

What type of things did you do to promote yourself as an illustrator?

I definitely spent a lot of time on Instagram, and I joined the Association of Illustrators (AOI) and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to try to network as much as possible and meet fellow illustrators and other people in the publishing industry.

How did you end up in Florida and volunteering at the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2018?

We moved to Florida because of my husband’s work, and my connection to the museum came through a friend that I made when we were living in Florida! We met because she was a customer of mine, and we began talking and staying in touch regularly. At the time she was employed at the museum and suggested that I volunteer there. I mainly helped with categorising butterfly and moth specimens in the research lab at the museum, and odd jobs like helping out at the museum’s annual pollinator plant sale.

What was the first book you illustrated?

The first book I ever illustrated was a re-imagined classic, The Little Mermaid, written by Anna Kemp and published by Puffin Books. It published in May 2021.

Since your illustrations are amazing. How did your develop your style?

I wish I could offer a step by step process but I can’t! I just drew, and this is what came out!

I see you are represented by agent Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary Agency.

When did she start representing you and how did the two of you connect?

I joined Alice’s agency at the end of 2019; I had sent in some illustrations for an illustrator competition that was part of the SCBWI British Isles chapter annual conference, and Alice had seen my illustrations and got in touch with me for a meeting and portfolio review.

Is Alice Williams responsible for getting you’re the contract for The Little Mermaid By Anna Kemp with Puffin Books?

Yes she is!

A few months later in 2021, Danny Chung Sums It Up By Maisie Chan which you illustrated came out from Abrams. Was it challenging to illustrated two books with two different publishers at the ame time?

In terms of time management, yes. I try to stagger the timelines of each book project so that I’m always working on different stages for each book. Creatively, I find it’s great to keep me on my toes, and switching between different book projects (especially if they are very different themes) is very helpful for me as I can keep my brain fresh!

This June, I Am Nefertiti By Annemarie Anang, which you illustrated was published by Five Quills. Did they share their vision for the illustrations or did they give you free reign to be creative?

It was a bit of both! They offered some big picture ideas and were open to my suggestions as well. It was a very collaborative process.

Are you still working on the illustrations for If I Were The World By Mark Sperring that is scheduled to hit book shelves on January 5, 2023?

This book was wrapped up completely in early 2022!

On March 28, 2023 Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu By Maisie Chan (author), Publisher: Abrams is coming out. Was this a two book deal?

It was not! They were separate contracts, and for Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu, I was only contracted to illustrate the cover (there are no internal illustrations for this book).

How many illustrations did you do for that book. Were they all B & W?

As above, Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu has no internal illustrations. However, Danny Chung Sums It Up has 20 internal spot illustrations and they were all B&W.

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

I do! I would love to be an author-illustrator one day, but at the moment, I have yet to find my own story.

Do you writer do School Visits in London?

I have yet to do any school visits.

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

The type of research I do depends on the project, but in general I do collect photo and video references online, or I take my own photos (especially for character poses and specific perspectives in the environment), and also look at books that are pertinent to the subject.

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I use Photoshop as the final stage of editing all my illustrations.

Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I do have a tablet but I mostly use that for private commissions that require me to draw on Adobe Illustrator. For my book work, I use Procreate on my IPad Pro and then transfer the final illustrations into Photoshop for minor colour edits before sending them on to the publisher.

Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?

Currently I’m not available for self-published book projects.

Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

No, but I would love to get the opportunity to create illustrations for a magazine in the future!

Do you have a studio in your house?

My “studio” is the front room of our home. Traditionally, the front room is usually the lounge/living room, but we moved our lounge to the upstairs front room because it gives us more privacy! It would be really nice to be able to rent an actual studio space away from home I think, to keep work and home life separate, but at the moment, the front room space suits my needs.

What book do you think was your biggest success?

I’ve enjoyed working on every book project so far, as each one has brought on their own challenges that pushed me creatively, and I feel that is a big success as it has helped me grow as an illustrator!

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

Not particularly; I think maybe fostering positive relationships with clients and getting your work seen on social media or events like book fairs and conferences is very helpful!

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

Yes! I’m working on a few picture books right now, a couple which will be published in 2023 and the others in 2024 🙂

Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Absolutely! It’s where I learned about SCBWI and AOI, where I connect with others within the industry.

What are your career goals?

I would love to be an author-illustrator one day, or work on a series of chapter books, or illustrate non-fiction children’s books. If these don’t happen in my work lifetime, that’s okay, as long as I’m able to continue illustrating books, I’m happy with that too!

What are you working on now?

Currently I am working on a few picture books, but sadly I can’t offer any more information until closer to their publication dates!

Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

See my blog, illustration fixation.

I work completely digitally with Procreate on my IPad Pro! I definitely encourage new Procreate users to check out Skillshare and Youtube tutorials as there are lots of little tips and tricks that you can use in your daily drawing.

Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

I think maybe put effort into fostering professional relationships just as much as you put towards developing your portfolio.

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

You can visit Natelle using the following links:







Talk tomorrow,



  1. wow! your illustrations are fabulous! So colorful and they jump off the page. Like you, I started in the sciences, but I write. What a dream it would be to make beautiful art like yours. Congratulations!


  2. Wow!! These illustrations are perfect! Color, emotion—they all make me feel something. I loved the cow jumping over the moon. Absolutely beautiful work, Natelle!!!


  3. Beautiful, Natelle ❤


  4. Wonderful illustrations! Each one tells a story and the movement gives so much energy! Thanks for sharing with us!


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