Inspiring children’s book illustrator



pi-rat sharks


Did you love reading as a child? I did and have such fond memories visiting the library every Saturday, with my sisters and dad. There were so many fantastic books on the shelves and I remember choosing a book (more often than not, one which had large, colourful pictures) and finding a quiet corner to sit in and flip through the pages.  I was utterly fascinated by all the wonderful illustrations. I believe that’s when I found my love for illustration and I still do appreciate this type of art so much!

When I was studying for my Masters degree, I created textile illustrations for a children’s book, as well as doing research for what was required when writing and illustrating a story for a younger audience. What I do know is that it’s important for children to be engaged with the story.  This is more often than not, assisted by the use of images. Illustrations unlock children’s imaginations and guide them as to what is happening in the story. These have to be appropriate for the story and it is vital that the characters interest the reader.


Inspiring children’s book illustrator

I’m extremely excited to show you a selection of Maxine Lee’s cool illustrations for children’s books. Maxine is an inspiring children’s book illustrator and what I love about Maxine Lee’s illustrations is how she makes them enjoyable for both children and adults. She also adds lots of colour, cuteness and humour!  Furthermore, the facial expressions are brilliant, as is as her sketchy drawing style. A few books that Maxine has written and illustrated are Pi-Rat!, Sorry, Dad! and Big Whoop! She has also illustrated quite a few more for other authors too. How cool is that!!


RedRH sml


What is great about the above ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ illustration, is the simple composition. There’s just a single path with the trees in the distance and the wolf & Little Red Riding Hood in the foreground. Small details like Little Red Riding Hood’s toes pointing inwards fascinate me and you can tell by her expression that she is irritated by the wolf asking for whatever food is in the basket. The wolf is kind of cute and doesn’t look scary at all!

By day, Maxine works part-time as a college art technician and a visiting lecturer in Graphic Design, Multimedia and Art.  Amazingly, she manages to balance this with her freelance illustration. I have been very fortunate to get to know more about Maxine and what inspires her  🙂




MeWhen did you realise that you had a passion for illustration?

Maxine_ From a really young age I liked to draw. I used to spend a lot of time at my Nan’s house and she was always watching old films where all the women wore huge dresses, like in The King and I or Gone With The Wind. I used to spend ages designing my own dresses and drawing Cinderella and fairies. My sister and I had a huge collection of books, mainly fairytales, which were well loved and a big inspiration. I’ve pretty much always had a pen, pencil or paintbrush in my hand and I can’t imagine not having a passion for illustration because it’s always been there.

MeWhen illustrating, what process do you go through, from initial idea to final design?

Maxine_ For picturebooks, I usually spend a lot of time thinking before I get to sketching. In an ideal world I’d give myself a week with a brief before I do anything with it. This time is really important. It helps me get to know the story, think about the setting, think about potential problems and alternatives. I make lots of notes – in my head and on paper – for when I get my pencils out. Usually, after a week or so, I have a lot of stuff in my head which just falls out onto the blank pages. I usually have a good sense of what I’m trying to achieve but sometimes it’s more organic and comes together as I go.

If I’m ‘warming up’ before a big project, I go where my pencil takes me. I have a theme in mind or an animal or a colour or anything and work from that point out. For more complicated portfolio pieces, I like to have a story or a scenario in mind, but most of the time I don’t restrict myself too much. I’ll loosely draw in shapes and expressions before going over the same lines and knocking it all into shape as I go. When I first started, I found roughs the hardest part because of this way of working. I think roughs are difficult for digital artists in particular, especially when there are lots of scanned or photographic elements and textures in there.




MeYour degree is in Digital Arts. How did you decide to get involved with illustration? 

Maxine_ My degree covered a range of disciplines – we looked at multimedia applications, graphics, typography, animation, 3D and 3D animation as well as film. For my final year I concentrated on animation. As I worked through my projects it occurred to me that I enjoyed creating characters and scenes more than actually animating them. Capturing one expression or movement as a still was more exciting, I found it more challenging to try and squeeze the elements of an animated sequence into one scene. After spending a few years teaching, I took a job as a part-time Art Technician and I worked seriously on my portfolio. I wrote Pi-Rat!, made a dummy and submitted it to my (now) agent, Bright Group, who signed me up and placed it with Little Tiger Press. Since then, my agency has kept me busy with everything from picturebooks to jigsaws. And I still work part time as an Art Technician to stop me turning into a hermit.

MeHow do you come up with ideas for your lovely characters? 

Maxine_ I like to draw the untypical. If I can draw teeth that are slightly too big for the mouth they’re in or hair that’s ruffled and messy or paws that look out of place, then I do. Usually my characters are based on people and children I meet. They don’t always look like the person that inspired them but I build them up based on personality first. Then I start pulling in other elements, like if I’ve seen a nice jumper or unusual hat somewhere. And I use a lot of spotty boots. I try and draw a personality rather than a puppet, if that makes sense.




MeWhat is the most favourite project you’ve worked on so far?

Maxine_ Every project has something special about it – I really do enjoy working on them all. I have favourite parts of the process rather than projects. I’ve learned to love the rough stage – it used to terrify me. My least favourite projects are where the brief is very tight and prescriptive. I have worked with roughs and layouts provided by the client before and found it challenging for many reasons.

Me_ Who inspires you i.e. illustrators, designers etc…..?

Maxine_ The illustrators of Twitter are very inspirational – I love trawling around Social media sites and seeing what everyone’s up to. Contemporary illustrators like Luke Flowers, Kate Hindley and Victoria Turnbull all make me feel hugely inspired. I will forever be in love with the work of Eric Carle, Quentin Blake, Lauren Child, Anthony Brown…The list is endless. Fine artists who inspire me are Paul Klee, William Thon, Hieronymous Bosch, Dong Kingman, William Palmer and way too many more to list here.




MeDo you have any future plans/developments?

Maxine_ I’m currently working with Simon & Schuster after finishing projects with Hachette and Childsplay – so a few books I’ve illustrated to be released later this year. I’m also hoping to sneak more writing in but it’s a busy time at the moment, I’m getting married in May so there’s still planning to be done for that too. Maybe after May…

Me_ For any keen artist out there, what advice would you give them to becoming an illustrator?

Maxine_ Go for it. Take a part time job if you can and spend the rest of your time concentrating on your portfolio and making contacts. It doesn’t happen overnight but dedication and hard work are the only way to do it. Ask for advice and feedback, be cheeky, be confident and get yourself around on social media. Don’t undersell yourself – really weigh up whether or not it’s worth doing that job for a tiny fee – sometimes exposure is great, sometimes a certain client looks good on your CV but see it for what it is. It’s usually just a big client looking for a cheap job – whether you want to do that is your choice but be careful not to get stuck in that category. Once a client (any client) has had work from you for a very low fee, it’s unlikely that they’ll offer more for the same work in future. And stay motivated.


If you’d like to see more of Maxine’s wonderful illustrations, then check out her site

Follow Maxine on

Twitter          @maxillustration
Instagram     sundaygirl76


(images were provided by Maxine Lee)



2 Responses to “Inspiring children’s book illustrator”

  1. Jennifer Grace Says:

    Wow Maxine’s illustrations are so cool i do love the personality in the characters! Will look out for her books. Thanks for sharing! X

  2. Emma Jayne Designs Says:

    Hi Jennifer! Maxine Lee’s illustrations are just great aren’t they and yes, she is fab at showing the character’s personalities!!

    Emma Jayne x

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