Illustrator Interview: Lisa Sheehan

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At Storytime, we have a long list of must-have stories and poems. Mr Nobody by Elizabeth Prentiss has been sitting on that list since we launched. It will be new to some readers, but many will remember it from childhood. Mr Nobody is a cheeky character who’s to blame for all the mishaps that happen in your home. From broken plates and muddy footprints to shoes lying around and doors left ajar – they’re Mr Nobody’s fault. As you can imagine, kids absolutely love this poem and parents enjoy reading it too.

Lisa Sheehan, Storytime, Nosy Crow, Lionel and the Lion's Share, magazines for kidsWe’re delighted that Mr Nobody finally snuck into Storytime Issue 38. We thought the perfect creative match for this retro poem was Lisa Sheehan – an illustrator we previously collaborated with on another classic, The Velveteen Rabbit in Storytime Issue 9.

Lisa’s career has gone from strength to strength since we first worked with her and she has a new book out soon too – Lionel and the Lion’s Share (read more about it below). We decided it would be fun to catch up and get some insight into her creative process. It involves zombies!


Illustrator Interview: 9 Questions with Lisa Sheehan


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Lisa working on her new book, Lionel and the Lion’s Share, written by Lou Peacock. Out in January 2018

1. You followed your illustration degree with a career in graphic design. How has this benefited your illustration?

Yes, after finishing my BA Illustration at Kingston Uni I took a job as an in-house illustrator for a corporate company. They wanted someone who could draw as well as using a Mac. Illustrators using Macs were quite rare then. Slowly I moved towards design. Then, three years later, I became a senior designer for the Financial Times, so I feel like I drifted towards graphic design.

It wasn’t until I had my two daughters that I rekindled my love of illustration and decided to get back to my creative roots. I enrolled on the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and graduated in 2015. Coming from a graphic design background has been very beneficial, although I used to curse the fact I had ended up a designer and not an illustrator. However, it makes you understand the principles of typography, layout, page design, composition, colour and the page turn. Designing for magazine layouts and covers and the principles of illustration layouts and covers are basically the same. So I would say that working as a graphic designer for the last 20 years has informed and benefited my illustration career.

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Lisa’s stunning interpretation of The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

2. Are there any other creative disciplines you’d like to try?

Over the years I’ve tried my hand at quite a few things – creating 3D wool cushions, bespoke fabric printing, clay figures and models. I’d love to try pottery and traditional auto-lithography. I also work in 3D digitally at, which I love. Working in 3D makes me more spatially aware in my 2D work. I think dabbling in many different disciplines can really enrich each of them. Plus, it gives you a break, and time to think about other new project ideas.

3. Is there any work you’ve done that makes you particularly proud?

I am really pleased with a new book I illustrated called Lionel and the Lion’s Share. It’s out on 11th January 2018 and published by Nosy Crow. It was a great project and a lovely story that truly reflects children’s behaviour. My two children got involved, helping me to design a couple of hats for the book. It was a joy to work with the Nosy Crow team and we created a super book. I feel my style came together during this project and I learnt a lot about picture book making and perfected my illustration process.

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A gorgeous spread from Lionel and the Lion’s Share, illustrated by Lisa and published by Nosy Crow.

I am also proud of my first book I illustrated in 2014: The Find it Book written by Margaret Wise Brown. It was published in the US and Australia by Parragon. I was asked to illustrate this during my final year on the MA and while working full time. I was proud I managed to pull it together very quickly. The images were also shortlisted for the AOI awards. I am proud that I managed to keep sane and finish that and the MA – and my children still knew who I was!

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Lisa’s magical illustrations for The Find It Book, by Margaret Wise Brown.

4. Do you have any top tips for creatives who might be juggling full-time jobs or family with illustration work?

That’s a hard question, if you really want to illustrate, then you will find a way. I now work three days a week as a designer and the rest of the time is spent illustrating, which is a good balance. On the MA, I took one day a week as holiday to attend the course. I illustrated from 8pm to 3am and at weekends, so you have to be prepared to work hard and keep focused.  Don’t ever think “this is too much, why am I doing this?” I also never looked at the bigger picture. It’s quite daunting to think you have to write essays and a dissertation and produce final projects. If I had sat down and thought about it, I would never have done it. So just live in the moment and create what you can when you can.

I think I trained myself to have little sleep and I loved working during the night when all was quite and I could concentrate. I watched a lot of zombie series and movies, which strangely kept me going! Now I can only illustrate at night while watching or listening to a box set series on Netflix. You also need a very supportive family, as it consumes so much of your time. As for staying on deadline, I am used to deadlines in my graphic design job, but it’s good to print off a schedule, break projects down into sections and allocate days and times when you can work on it. It’s also satisfying to tick off the jobs you have done. Be organised and manage your time efficiently. The other things that got me through the juggling process were pure determination and lots of caffeine!

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No zombies here from Lisa, but an adorable tiger!

5. Do you have any favourite artists or illustrators who have influenced your work and why

I was introduced to the lovely illustrations of 1940s auto-lithography Puffin picturebooks during my MA. This influenced me greatly and I have quite a collection of these vintage books. I love the process of printing in this way. I try to create an element of it in my artwork. One of my favourite illustrators from that time is Kathleen Hale, author and illustrator of the series Orlando the Marmalade Cat. Another inspiration is the work of Edward Ardizzone and the process of printing and texture in his work. I also love artists Alice Pattulo and Jonny Hannah – especially their texture and retro 50s style.

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An exquisite cover for The Secret Garden by Lisa.

6. What has been your most enjoyable illustration challenge to date?

I enjoyed creating a cover for the The Secret Garden. I love to doodle foliage and flowers and I find it very therapeutic. Most of my work is created in sections and layered together. With this cover I produced the whole thing in pencil in one go, which I never do! It was a joy to spend a few hours doodling away and to have hardly any digital input.

7. What would be your dream story, book or poem to illustrate and why?

I would love to illustrate The Jungle Book purely for the jungle plants and scenery. The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland are good ones too. I love stories that are dreamlike and full of fantasy.

8. We collaborated with you on The Velveteen Rabbit and now Mr Nobody in our latest Storytime issue. What’s your process? How do you develop such beautifully rich worlds and characters?

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It’s impossible to look at this illustration by Lisa without feeling your heart melt.

I absolutely loved creating the images for The Velveteen Rabbit. This was one of my first projects after graduating. My process involves working in traditional media – charcoal, watercolour, gouache, 5B pencil. Anything in black that has a nice texture. Working in black and white means I can concentrate on the textures and layers without getting hung up on what colours I should use. This used to stop me in my tracks and I’d do nothing. Working this way allows me to get straight in and create artwork. I then colour digitally, experimenting with different colours until I find the right palette.

I could potentially create the same look working solely digitally with brushes in photoshop, but I am determined to retain my use of traditional media for as long as I can. It takes longer and uses up a lot of paper, but I prefer the effect and it often creates happy accidents that I wouldn’t get if I went totally digital. I am a bit of a tweaker and using traditional media on paper stops me tweaking the final result quite so much. I sometimes think having the ability to constantly digitally tweak and use the undo button is a killer of the creative process.

9. Is there any advice you can give to aspiring illustrators?

Attending an illustration course is always a good start. It gives you the opportunity to experiment. Look at other illustrators’ work that inspires you, go to bookshops and look at recent books and get a sense of what you would like to do. Keep sketchbooks, experiment with different materials and draw from life. People often think they have to draw exactly what they see in front of them and get bogged down in detail. I did, but I learnt to keep an open mind. You need to use your imagination to create your own visual language.



You can see more of Lisa’s incredible and distinctive work on her website, and catch glimpses of her latest work over on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We hope this has inspired you and, if you enjoyed this interview, why not read our illustrator interviews with Tim Budgen and Luke Flowers too?


Hope Mr Nobody doesn’t strike in your house this week!