Saturday, 20 July 2013

Studying Children's Book Illustration by Julia Woolf

In May I finished my second semester on the part time MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge Anglia Ruskin University. I have to say that it is the best thing I have done for myself in years.

This is a very recent sketch developing a new approach.

I had heard of the MA sometime ago and knew that it was highly thought of by publishers. I was feeling stuck in a rut with the type of work I was getting and thought I should apply.The day after my interview I got an email offering me a place.I live in Kent and knew that once a week my journey to Cambridge would be a long haul. Even though I have to get up at 4.50am to attend the course and I spend most of my day there fighting extreme tiredness – I LOVE IT!

It’s made me passionate about my work again. It’s given me the time to work on my own projects again, producing the type of work that I want to do. I feel like I’ve been set free.

These two illustrations were done as part of a SCBWI Illustration Masterclass, but the influence of the MA inspired me to take my work in a slightly different direction and try a new approach. I still think it’s my ‘style’ – don’t like that word – but with a different technique.

 And as if by magic, I’ve started to get jobs that I love, (which have no connection to the course).

Five Black Cats – Caterpillar Books – written by Patricia Hegarty. I am now working on my 3rd book in this series and love working with them.

It’s given me the courage to turn down jobs that I’m not interested in, so I can concentrate on developing my own ideas. It’s changed my approach to my work, and it’s reignited my love for sketching again, which has such a vast impact on my illustrations. 

These sketches were done during the first semester of the MA where the project was observational sketching and we chose our own themes and I chose my family life.

 The course encourages you to experiment and tell your own stories and has made me realise that I am more capable that I thought.

These illustrations were done in the second semester where we had to do sequential image. These are from one of two projects that I did and in this project I decided to experiment a lot and these are just some examples of the different type approaches that I tried.

I can’t wait till September when the course starts again!


  1. These are beautiful, Julia. I love the sketchy marks in the drawings of your family. It must be so satisfying to challenge yourself as you are doing. I once talked my way onto an illustration course at St Martins (I had done the foundation but am not a 'proper' artist) by saying that I wanted to learn more as a writer, rather than as an illustrator. I was the only writer on the course, but forcing myself to learn to illustrate has always helped my work and made me see picture books differently. I can't wait to see more of your stuff! :)

  2. Thanks Heather and Abie. The course is worth every penny.

  3. This must be such a brilliant course. I know an illustrator who lives north of York who did this course, despite all the travels difficulties and personal disruption, but she was so glad she did. She, likeyou, is a wonderful artist. So jealous of those real artistic skills!

  4. Thank you Penny. It is worth the travel and tiredness.

  5. Great that you are both enjoying and gaining a lot from the course, Julia. It's fascinating to see the different approaches you're trying, and I love that black cats scene!

  6. Good old 'Anglia Ruskin'. it was Cambridge College of Arts and Technology when I did my foundation course there. None of that 'University' stuff each and every college appends to their names now ;-)
    I nearly always forget to check out the degree show though I always fully intend to see it. . . ;-(
    It's a good course with good teachers so I am glad you are using it to it's full potential. I admire your scarily level headed logic in realising that it could drag you out of the doldrums, work wise. All you have to do now is get enough enough work to pay for the fees. . . It looks like you will though.

  7. Thanks Linda and Jonathan. Even though I've only finished the first two semesters it's already having a big impact on my work.
    I don't like the way art colleges are now made into universities, why did they do this?
    I went to Canterbury College of Arts back in the late '70's and early '80's, now it's part of Medway, Maidstone and Farnham and is called the University of Creative Arts. Why?

  8. Great post. Would love to hear what is it you are soaking up that is changing your perspective on your own work. Just reading this makes me want to reach for my sketchbook!

    1. Hi Julie, sorry that this is such a very late reply but moving house is a chaotic thing especially when you have to spend 2 weeks living at your mum's.
      The MA is a weird thing, I don't know how they manage to inspire us the way they do. When I spend my day in Cambridge all we really seem to do it sit around talk and show our work and then we have a lecture and during all this I'm sitting there soaking it all in and ideas start to buzz around my head and I can't wait to get home and start scribbling everything down. It just makes me want to try new things and see what happens. Take a risk and get out of the rut that I've been stuck in. It really is the best thing I've done for myself in years.

  9. What a wonderful range of different styles! Really impressive, as is the dedication to get to the course whatever the distances and cost. Inspiring.

  10. Sounds like a great course, Julia. Well done for working out what you need, and going for it. Good luck!

  11. This is absolutely intriguing, and I heart the caption you wrote about drawing based on family life. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I'm not an illustrator, but really appreciate, REALLY, the way drawings bring stories to life and draw a child into the words, give flesh and life to the words. Thanks!

  12. Lovely to see your developing styles, Julia. All look wonderful to me, and my personal favourites are the first image and the b/w garden images.
    Some time, it would be interesting to hear some more on the course.

  13. Thanks for a great post, Julia - can't wait to see what you come up with!

  14. Gorgeous work...are you beginning to believe now that you are bloomin' brilliant??!

  15. Glad you've done something so positive. I've always heard great things about that course. I really like your black and white garden pictures.

  16. Love your recent sketch. Someone at a SCBWI event told me you were doing this course as I said I was studying an MA in Illustration at Herfordshire, a distance learning course (trying to keep costs to a minimum!). But the Cambridge course was the one I really would have picked if I had a chance. Like Paeony said, I'd love to hear what makes the course so special (other than the great tutors), for instance what do the modules ask for, sequential image, observational drawing, is there a magic ingredient? I finish my PT MA in one month - hurray :-)

  17. Thanks for all the lovely and positive comments. Sorry for the late reply but I've just moved house and everything is a bit of a mess. My computer isn't hooked up yet so typing this on my phone. Will give a detailed reply about the course when I have a proper keyboard in front of me. Thanks again.

  18. Hi Julia. I really want to do this course. I just hope I have what they are looking for to get in.