Five Interesting Titbits for Illustrator Types


Here we are, January nearly finished already! I am illustrating a big book of Fairy Tales for the very young at the moment, being a bit of a hermit. I can't wait to show you how it's looking, but have to keep it under wraps for now... anyway, here are my five interesting titbits for illustrator types:

1. Did you catch these gems on BBC iplayer? Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen and Ethel and Ernest.  There are only six days left to watch, so be quick.

2. We got this beautiful book for Christmas: Robert the Bruce, text by James Robertson and wonderful illustrations by Jill Calder. There is a great blog post with an interview with Jill Calder here.

Robert the Bruce, illustrated by Jill calder.

Robert the Bruce, illustrated by Jill calder.

3. Are you going to The Bologna Children's Book Fair this year? It is a great place to get an inside look at the world of children's book publishing. We (my partner, Gerry Turley and I) were there last year and enjoyed this event celebrating the 65th anniversary of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award. You can see us in the audience if you look closely. This year we won't be there, but would have loved to see this: Fifty Years Of Illustrators

Gerry and I far right, me in my specs, G with the dashing white hair.

Gerry and I far right, me in my specs, G with the dashing white hair.

4. My podcast choice this month is this episode of Creative Playdate: Four Starts with an F for a Reason with Tom and Amanda Froese. They talk about Tom's illustration career, and the highs and lows of working from home with small children. Also, I have spoken about this before I am sure, but I find this book on audible very inspiring: On Writing by Stephens King.

5. Pictures and words can change the world: here's how to help save whales. Join in with Nicola Davies campaign #waveofwhales by sending your pictures and poems of whales and sending them to the Japanese Ambassador in London.

The making of How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

I first wrote this blog post as a tweet here, and after getting many, many lovely messages in response, I decided I would transcribe it here:

Look! I've been dying to show you this great trailer my publisher made for my new book How to Hide a Lion at Christmas & I thought I'd share with you some of the process of making the book...

It started with this sketch... I knew I wanted Iris and her lion to be torn apart for Christmas... Here they are being sad and lonely. My books usually start with one one very clear image like this.

Helenstephens- notebook- How to Hide a lion at Christmas

Another early sketch: Lion lost and looking for Iris. I fill lots of notebooks with sketches like this when I am trying to work out the story. It's nearly all visual at first.

Helen stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

I knew that at the end of the story they would be reunited. Like ‘Home Alone’, only with a lion. By the way, this is pretty much my ideal Christmas day. Food, sofa, telly, lion... OK, maybe not the lion...

Helen stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

Then thumbnails. I was trying to work out how Iris and the lion would reunite, and wondered if Iris might find a snowman in the morning, and it turns out it is Lion. Like in my favourite Christmas telly, 'The Snowman', only in my version Iris GETS a snowman at the end.

Helen Stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

At about this stage I went to see my amazing publisher Alison Green and my designer Zoe Tucker. I love these meetings, magic happenes when we are all in the same room. They were very excited and had some great ideas about where Iris might hide her lion at Christmas.

helen stephens notebooks how to hide a lion at christmas

After our meeting I head home to the windy Northumberland coast and get back to work. I feel a bit like a hermit while I am making a book, and wrap up in thermals, winter woollies and a dressing gown over eveything to stay warm at my desk. The glamour!

helen stephens photo wrapped up

Now, this idea threw me into one of those whirlpools of overthinking... I thought Lion might eat all the Christmas dinner & that Iris might have pizza instead. I spent AAAAGES researching whether you could order pizza on Christmas day.

helen stephens sketchbook how to hide a lion

In the end I decided that it didn't matter whether you could order a pizza on Christmas day or not (surely you can't... ) She would have pizza regardless (maybe from the freezer?) Jeez, sometimes I do overthink...

Once I have the plot vaguely in place I start to make dummies. My designer, Zoe Tucker, makes them for me too, and we think about whether everything is working: are the page turns in the right place? Are the words and pics singing together? We make lots of these...

The full sized roughs look like this. I glue patches of paper over the bits of drawings that aren't working & draw over the top to save me redrawing the whole image. I try very hard not to do the roughs too many times or the drawings lose their spontaneity.

When I do the final artwork I become a FULL-ON-ILLUSTRATOR-HERMIT. I wear piles of clothes to keep me warm, dog at my feet, and don't do anything else, except a brisk walk on the beach each day until the artwork is done.

I tick off each piece of artwork as I do it, to give myself a sense of achievement.


And finally we think about the cover... These are a couple of rough drawings.

And after all that work: piles and piles of notebooks, stacks piled high of rough drawings, dummy books coming out of my ears, blood, sweat and tears: it all comes down to a small pile of finished artwork.

helen stephens artwrk at desk how to hide a lion at christmas

Then, like a favourite child leaving home, I send it out into the world. 'Good luck out there! Stay safe! Find lots of nice homes!'


My Work Wall, Roger Duvoisin and Drawing from Life

Hello there! Here is a list five things that have inspired me or taught me something new over the past month. Hopefully these little nuggets will inspire you too.

1. A blog post about one of my favourite illustrators: Roger Duvoisin

2. People I like to follow on instagram: Mique_moriuchi. Her Ninja Mum series of drawings about being a mum are so funny- and true to life.

3. I started the hashtag #myworkwall ages ago for pictures of people’s work spaces, and all the stuff they have pinned to their walls: postcards, shopping lists, rough drawings... I am nosy! But I sort of lost interest when I noticed there were barely any pictures of work walls any more, it took on a life of its own. I see it has 5800 contributions now, amazing! What do you have on your work wall? Let’s see if we can populate the feed with actual work walls again! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #myworkwall and tag me in too. I am helenstephenslion over there.

4. Did you hear the latest Louis Theroux chat on the Adam Buxton Podcast? The chat about the writing process is great.

5. I stumbled across this gem of video about the value of drawing from life by Chloe Regan, Rachel Gannon and Fumie Kamijo.

p.s. My partner Gerry Turley has made a new set of whale prints. The next online private view starts on 29th November. We'll keep you posted.

p.s. My partner Gerry Turley has made a new set of whale prints. The next online private view starts on 29th November. We'll keep you posted.

Taking the Leap, Knickers Showing, and Reportage Illustration

Whale Screen print by  Gerry Turley

Whale Screen print by Gerry Turley

Hi there. This is a list of five things that have inspired me, or taught me something new over the past month. Hopefully these little nuggets will inspire you too.

1. My podcast choice is: Letters From a Hopeful Creative: How do you Know When you are Ready to Take the Leap? In this episode Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington receive a letter from an illustrator who can't decide whether to leave her part time job.

2. Ted Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity? Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

3. This video on youtube: Veronika Lawlor, Caught in the Act. She is a reportage illustrator who happened to be there when the twin towers came down. She says, 'Drawing is an experience, and if you look at your paper you miss it.'

4. I read this book in a day, couldn't put it down: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine the guitarist for the punk band the Slits.

'Albertine's words are naive and in-your-face. Above all they talk about what it is not to be a Typical Girl.’

‘All underarm hair and knickers showing' - this frank, feminist memoir from the Slits guitarist captures the importance of punk ' The Guardian.

5. My partner Gerry Turley is having an online private view of his whale prints this week. Join our newsletter to get your invite. The doors open at 9am on Thurs 4th Oct. Sign up for the newsletter below.

Fresh air, white noise, reportage illustration

Here's a list of five things that have inspired me, or taught me something new over the past month. Hopefully these little nuggets will inspire you too.

Helen Stephens #walktosee Burnmouth Harbour 2018

Helen Stephens #walktosee Burnmouth Harbour 2018

1. This book: Reportage Illustration. This youtube video: Tim King, who has documented his entire year through reportage illustration.

2. People I like to follow on instagram: Sanae_sugimoto.

3. This month's podcast choice is: Fresh Air, especially the David Sedaris and Stephen King interviews.

4. White noise apps and writing / drawing. I heard Grethen Rubin talking about how White Noise Apps help people sleep in noisy hotels. My ears pricked up... Could I use this app to help me write? I often go and sit in the swimming pool cafe surrounded by the white noise of cafe customers chatting, and the shouts and splashes of the swimming pool. Maybe I can stay at home with the white noise app on my ear phones... I'll give it a try and keep you posted. I found a blog post about this subject here.

5. Community is exciting: I started a hashtag on instagram called #walktosee. It's for drawings of our daily walks. There's a broad mixture of people taking part, from established illustrators to people who have never drawn before, talking about their struggles and moments of inspiration with drawing. Why not join in?

P.S. I will be signing books at the New Wimbledon Theatre for the first show of How to Hide a Lion the stage tour, on Sat 8th Sept, the 4pm showing. Hopefully I'll see you there! It will be touring the UK for the rest of the year. Get your tickets here.


Nuts and Bolts and Plastics in our Oceans.

This is a collection of things that I have read this month, or have found inspiring. A bit newsletter, a bit reading list...


Above are notes for the talk I gave at The Nuts and Bolts Illustration Symposium held at Cambridge Art School over the Summer, I am thinking of making a zine of these tips for my shop. Would that be useful? Let me know here.

1. After our recent visit to Iceland we were disturbed by stories of plastic pollution in our oceans, and how it effects whales. 'A whale washed up in southern Thailand has died after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags.' So when we launch our next whale poster in October, we are excited to announce that 10% of proceeds will go to the WDC.

2. I started a hastag project #walktosee for sketchbook drawings of our daily walks. Join in on instagram and twitter. My #walktosee sketchbookzine is back in stock.

3. This episode of Dear Sugars on Surviving the Critics, 'Lots of great writers have written less than great books.'

4. I read The 100 year life - Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott and The Multi Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon. Both books talk about modern careers taking many turns instead of one straight path. 

5. One extra nugget of information I had to share because I can't contain my excitement: My book, 'How to Hide a Lion' was adapted for stage, and tours this summer! See tour dates here.

Art Schools, Antonia White and Whales

This is an interesting discussion between Adam Buxton and Bob Mortimer. At one point they talk about how everyone Bob loves, and enjoys being around, went to art school. He has come to believe that, like a kind of national service, there should be an enforced time in art school. Ha! I love this idea!

Gerry Turley and I met while studying at Glasgow School of Art and feel bereft at the news of a second fire in the Macintosh building. Elaine C. Smith, a local resident and actor spoke brilliantly about the art school and what it means to the people of Glasgow on radio 4's Broadcasting House. (it is about 33 minutes in.)

Baby faced me at Glasgow School of Art 1993

Baby faced me at Glasgow School of Art 1993

I have recently reread the entire works of Antonia White. Her novels are some of my favourites, Frost in May is up there with Jane Eyre for me.


[Antonia White] ' suffered from chronic writer's block she claimed had its roots in her expulsion from a Catholic boarding school. While at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, White had embarked on her first novel: a tale about the lives of several "wicked" people who "indulged in nameless vices" until they finally saw the error of their ways and became devout Catholics.

Unfortunately, the nuns confiscated the book before White got round to the last bit. In the incomplete draft they read, there was no redemption, only strumpets dancing at the Trocadero - and White was made to pack her bags before she had chance to explain. This led to a disastrous coupling: a lifelong compulsion to write, and a crippling phobia of doing so.' Eloise Millar

I read this article by Austin Kleon: The Tools Matter and the Tools Matter where he thinks about how the 'mechanics' of writing the story can break writers block. Lynda Barry decided to write the first draft of her novel Cruddy by hand with Tuscan red watercolour to distract herself from sentence structure.


Wherever we travel we always seek out a local bookshop and buy a pile of books. It's always interesting to see how other countries make books for children. On our recent drawing trip to Iceland we found this beauty. 'Örleifur og Hvalurinn' by Julian Tuwim.


Húsavík Iceland

My partner Gerry Turley is an illustrator too, and one of the great things about our job is that we get to travel and draw together.

A couple of weeks ago we packed our bags, got a babysitter for Peggy dog, and headed to Húsavík in the north of Iceland with a pile of sketchbooks. The plan was to see humpback whales in their natural habitat. You probably know, Gerry makes beautiful screen prints of whales on to vintage sea charts (here), and we have been planning this trip for a long time.

Gerry Turley Húsavík

Gerry Turley Húsavík

Helen Stephens (drawn in the drizzly rain) Húsavík

Helen Stephens (drawn in the drizzly rain) Húsavík

Gerry was doubly keen to go because he is also illustrating a picture book about an Arctic tern and a humpback whale for Wren and Rook Books, due to publish 2019.

Gerry Turley Húsavík Drawing humpback whales from the boat

Gerry Turley Húsavík Drawing humpback whales from the boat

We were lucky to see numerous whales, including a mother and her calf and a group of males bubble-net feeding (see what that is here). Truly amazing! We are planning making a joint Sketchbookzine of this trip, we'll keep you posted on that. You can see some of our other sketchbookzines here.

Helen Stephens Húsavík

Helen Stephens Húsavík

Gerry Turley Húsavík

Gerry Turley Húsavík

Gerry Turley Reykjavik

Gerry Turley Reykjavik

Helen Stephens Reykjavik

Helen Stephens Reykjavik

Gerry Turley making his new Humpback Whale screen prints at Edinburgh Print Studio

Gerry Turley making his new Humpback Whale screen prints at Edinburgh Print Studio

Gerry's new Humpback Whale screen print is starting to take shape, it will be in our shop very soon. His last edition was featured in The Guardian and sold out immediately, so if you would like one you can join the whale newsletter below for a heads up.

This is one of Gerry's previous spermwhale screen prints. The next edition will be a humpback whale.

This is one of Gerry's previous spermwhale screen prints. The next edition will be a humpback whale.