Windows into illustration: Holly Sterling

Holly Sterling caught our eye with her first book 15 Things Not to do with a Baby with its joyful representation of family life. On the publication of her fourth book, 15 Things Not to do with a Puppy, she discusses her technique and approach

15 Things Not to do with a Puppy is the third book in a series, following 15 Things Not to do with a Granny and 15 Things Not to do with a Baby. The series is written by Margi McAlllister and has a warm humour that I am drawn to.

15 Things Not to do with a Baby was my first illustrated picture book after leaving my Masters course at Edinburgh College of Art in 2012. Between then and now, I have evolved a lot as an illustrator, developing my working methods to suit the pace of the publishing industry.

The family illustrated in the books (who are based on my own family) have evolved as characters and have grown alongside their readers. Each book introduces new family members and situations, which keeps it exciting for me to illustrate. I feel like I know these characters so well, that they really are family to me!

I didn’t meet Margaret until after the completion of the first book as all correspondence was managed by our publisher. We have however, had a very open relationship throughout the process of the other two books. We have both experienced an introduction of a puppy in our families and I think this has helped to make 15 Things Not to do with a Puppy so believable.

Inspiration for the puppy came from watching my niece and her little dog interacting and becoming the best of friends. They also feature in my own book, Hiccups! I took photos for reference and used my observational sketches to develop character and movement in my work. I’m not the best sketchbook-keeper, it has to be said. I would much rather grab a piece of scrap paper to draw on, so that I am relaxed and don’t become too precious with my work. This ensures a fresh and energetic quality.

After developing my characters, I start thumb-nailing using a soft pencil (usually 4B). This is when I consider the distribution of the text and situations across the 32-pages of a picture book. There isn’t a narrative as such with the 15 Things series, but I like to add extra elements into my illustrations that helps to provide a wider context. The reader can use these to create their own deeper narrative.

18 Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018

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