#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Leah McDowell

HeaderIllustrator of…

all covers

Leah has been illustrating Kelpies for nearly three years now and has stacked up an awesome variety of fun, spooky and sinister covers. Today, as the other half of the Design and Production team, I’ll be interviewing her across our desks to give you a behind-the-scenes look into her work as a #FlorisDesign illustrator!

Hi Leah! (*cue waving in #FlorisDesign department!*) You recently designed the cover for one of our new KelpiesTeen books, Mind Blind by Lari Don. Where did you look for inspiration when designing for our moody, older sister?

The story was really quite gritty and intense so we wanted that to come across on the cover. We also wanted to make the title typography really big and bold while still conveying a suggestion of the sinister mind-reading theme. In the end we liked the idea of showing a CAT scan image of a human head behind the text so I had to do lots on interesting medical picture research! Even though we had the idea sorted, there were still lots of variables like colour, font and layout.

Well we love the use of the CAT scan, looks like that medical research paid off! So where do you like to work on your cover designs?

I work at my Floris desk as there is loads of space, natural light and all the up-to-date Adobe software I need is available on my computer. There’s also a copious amount of my favourite tea in the Floris kitchen that keeps me going!



(That’s green tea with apple and pear by-the-by!) Now, you’ve been illustrating Kelpies covers for nearly three years, but when did you decide that you wanted to be a children’s illustrator?

The first year of my undergraduate degree included a little bit of animation, fine art, illustration and graphic design. I liked the narrative element of illustration so I specialised in it in my second year. I really enjoyed editorial illustration (illustrating magazine or newspaper articles) but I also found a great deal of inspiration in the work of picture book illustrators. Picture books are much more enjoyable to look at than magazines, so that’s the route I followed!

And do you prefer to work digitally or traditionally?

A little bit of both. I create all of my line work traditionally, then I add colour digitally. I do a lot of picture research before starting to draw anything. I like to make up mood boards so that I can easily convey my ideas when I’m pitching cover ideas to the publisher, editors and marketing manager at Floris. Once we’ve settled on an idea, I’ll draw up a rough, which then needs to be approved before I move on to colour. If I’m fully illustrating the cover, I’ll draw up the final line work, scan it and then colour it digitally. Here’s some photos from my sketch book…


image[2]  image[5]



Thanks Leah! It’s great to see where all these covers started out. So when you’re not designing covers, what’s your favourite thing to draw?

I love life drawing – and especially like to draw human hands. They are really challenging to draw correctly, but when an artist manages it, they can look brilliant!

They do sound difficult. What do you do if you get illustrator’s block?

I take a break and leave my desk. When I come back, I do some more research and talk to other people about my ideas. Getting lots of different opinions is a great way of working through problems like this.

That’s great advice, it’s always good to look at things with fresh eyes! So who is your favourite children’s illustrator and why?

I have a number of favourite illustrators because I admire different areas or periods of their work. Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Aaron Becker, Oliver Jeffers and Alexis Deacon stand out for me in particular because of their brilliant storytelling ability. All children’s picture book illustrators aim to tell a story, but some stand out from the rest because of their talent in this area.

They’re some lovely choices. Thanks for letting me interview you Leah. Now let’s get back to work!


Leah studied Illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland. After doing a postgrad in Publishing, she came to work for Floris Books. Her main role is Design & Production Manager, but she still does a little bit of illustrating for the company. You can see more of her work here http://tracesofthem.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow her on twitter @TracesofThem.

Posted by: Clare at Discover Kelpies