International Children’s Book Day

It’s International Children’s Book Day! Dollar Former Pupil, Annabel Wright (FP 1983) has written an article about her career as an illustrator after leaving Dollar, including her experiences of illustrating some children’s books.

When I say I’m an illustrator people immediately think of children’s books. There are, of course, many other furrows in the field of illustration and I have enjoyed ploughing up a few different ones throughout my career. My work has appeared on postage stamps and billboards, Penguin book covers, record sleeves, in magazines, on a campaign for Amnesty International and a wine label for Marks and Spencer…as well as in a few children’s books.

I specialised in Illustration at Brighton Polytechnic, graduating in 1987. Through one of my tutors, I managed to work at The Glasgow Herald, where I contributed to their ‘Women’s Page’ for about eight years. It is a freelancer’s life – finding the work is as much of a job as doing it – so meanwhile I traipsed up and down to London getting work from publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, Homes and Gardens, and World of Interiors. For Oxford University Press I regularly contributed to their ‘English Language Teaching’ books, and in one book they even used me as an example in a lesson!

I’m also in a band, ‘The Pastels’ (who are still going) and I had the opportunity to go on tours now and again, to Europe, USA, Canada and Japan. On one occasion, the combination of my two jobs worked in my favour: I stayed on in New York at the end of a tour and after a bit of persistence managed to get some illustration work for The New Yorker, which felt like a pinnacle of achievement.

Just when I decided to retire from music, I was offered representation from Heart Agency, who are based in both London and New York, and I enjoyed new opportunities. I’ve had two regular jobs for The Financial Times Magazine – illustrating a column by philosopher Roger Scruton, and one by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. I also did an advertising campaign for the School of Visual Arts in New York, along with other editorial work in the USA.

My first children’s book was From Mouth to Mouth, oral poetry from around the world. A while later I teamed up with author Nicola Davies and I illustrated, in black and white, her series of six books for older children, ‘Heroes of the Wild’, starting with The Lion Who Stole My Arm. I gained a lot of satisfaction from a longer book project – I was able to take my time and develop the characters, with the knowledge that it would be in print for longer than a week. My daughter, just at the right age at the time, was a willing model for the heroes in their adventures – tying a knot with one arm, falling over the edge of a waterfall and swimming underwater holding the fin of a manatee.

I still look forward to the chance to explore a colourful picture book commission – there’s plenty of time.

I have often wondered how much my career path was influenced by my education at Dollar. Adam Robson was the head of the Art Department at the time. I didn’t appreciate what a great painter and draughtsman he was, probably because he was so modest. He offered sound advice in a kind, gentle manner. His talents were complemented by those of Jennifer Campbell, a respected book illustrator, passionate about art, literature, feminism and politics. She often brought her work to school, and I will always remember her dotting away with her Rotring pen, while reciting Tennyson or getting lyrical about Lucas Cranach’s “thin etiolated nudes”, quite in the manner of Miss Jean Brodie. Versatility throughout our coursework was expected; we made huge murals for Christmas parties, sets and props for the summer musicals, and illustrations for the school magazine. I learned a lot of key skills which I still use today.

The English Department was my other favourite place (apologies to Mr Mar for my lapses in punctuation!). The ability to interpret a text, comprehend the meaning, to appreciate metaphors and similes, as well as the difference between them, are all basic requirements for an illustrator.

I was privileged to have such an education, the most noticeable gap being in learning just how privileged.

The greatest reward from my career is when – as well as the designer or art editor being satisfied – the writer contacts me to express delight at the way I’ve interpreted their ideas or captured a character; or I hear from a reader that, having studied Google Street View, I’ve accurately represented a place they’re familiar with.

Over thirty years of working from home and breaking each day with a short walk has prepared me well for these recent events. I would normally have said that being an illustrator can be quite isolating, the busier you get the less chance you have to meet people. A balance is essential. I have increasingly found the need to volunteer and to take part in local events so that I feel part of the community I live in, which has never been so important as now.

More information

To find out more about Annabel and her work –

If you are an FP and would like to share your own career story, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch at news@dollaracademy.org.uk.

We’re currently sharing bedtime stories for children every night over on our Vimeo page, read by current teachers at Dollar. To view them, click here: https://vimeo.com/dollaracademy