Meet the illustrator - Rebecca Cobb

Meet the illustrator - Rebecca Cobb


Today on the blog, award-winning illustrator Rebecca Cobb joins us for a Q&A to celebrate the publication of her latest book Elisabeth and the Box of Colours by Katherine Woodfine.


Tell us about the book which most inspired you to become an illustrator as a child.

Rebecca's much-loved copy of 'Mog and the Baby'

I have always loved books and when I was little I had lots of favourites but one of the books that always transports me right back to the feeling of reading it that I had as a child, is ‘Mog and the Baby’ by Judith Kerr. I still have my childhood copy and it is very well loved! It is such a perfect picture book. I remember poring over the illustrations and I think that one of the things I was so excited by was the fact that I could see the marks on the paper from the pencils and paints. This was very inspiring as a child because I felt like I could try and make marks on paper too with my own pencils and create my own pictures and stories.


Which is your favourite illustrative piece from Elisabeth and the Box of Colours?

Illustration from 'Elisabeth and the Box of Colours'

I think that my favourite is the one where the girls are gathered around Elisabeth’s bed watching her draw by candlelight after her friend has managed to stealthily get her confiscated box of crayons back for her as a surprise. Drawing that picture really made me feel like I was tiptoeing around in the middle of the night, and the warm light of the candles in the darkness is so cosy and adds to the feeling of adventure and secretiveness. I really enjoyed using a limited colour palette in this book so that whenever bright colours are introduced, they really stand out. For me, this picture sums up the themes in Katherine’s story about how art can help when we feel sad and can bring colour to the darkest of times.


Which was the trickiest illustration to create?

One of Rebecca’s drafts

The illustration that I spent the most time re-drawing and re-drawing was the picture of Elisabeth in class with all the rows of desks. That was very tricky because as well as the emotion of the characters, I was trying to get the furniture and architecture to look right for the story. Katherine’s story of Elisabeth is inspired by the real life of 18th century French portrait artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Because she was a real person who lived in that particular time, I wanted the pictures to reflect this. I loved these huge arched windows that I found in several different photos and drawings of 18th century buildings and I thought that, along with the mostly grey colour palette, they would help to add to the imposing and sombre atmosphere of the school.


Were you like Elisabeth when you were a child, were you always drawing?

Haha, yes I was always drawing as a child and like Elisabeth was sometimes in trouble at school for illustrating projects rather than focussing on the project itself. But mostly I was very supported in my drawing and my mum used to draw with me a lot which I loved. Here are a couple of pictures from my childhood re-telling of Rapunzel. I like how the prince had brought some sandwiches with him, so he was able to share them with Rapunzel when they were reunited in the desert!

How would you encourage your readers and artists to get into illustration?
To do lots and lots of drawing and to read lots of books. As far back as I can remember I was always drawing and I have never stopped. It wasn’t always easy becoming an illustrator for my job but I knew it was what I wanted to do, so I didn’t give up. If you love drawing and you know you want to keep drawing, then please don’t give up!

Is there a classic children's story which you would love to illustrate?
As a child I was always drawing my own versions of traditional fairy tales such as CinderellaThumbelina and Rapunzel. There is something so strange and intriguing about those stories. The idea of illustrating these is still very appealing to me now.

How important do you feel illustration is in children's literature? Do you have any recommended reads for us?

Rebecca's top recommendations!I believe that illustration in children’s literature is integral, especially in picture books where they tell as much of the story as the words do. Pictures also make books more attractive to children and encourage them to read for pleasure – something which has been proven to be crucial to children’s development and well being.

Recently in our house my 7 year old has been enjoying lots of the other Little Gems books from Barrington Stoke, which are so lovely because they are chapter books but still illustrated in colour – she loves Rose’s Dress of Dreams and Sophie takes to the Sky both by Katherine Woodfine and illustrated by Kate Pankhurst and Briony May Smith. I am happy that she enjoys Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch books because they were a childhood favourite of mine. She has also been reading the Ottoline books by Chris Riddell whose work she loves and he has recently knocked me off the top spot as her number one illustrator of all time, so I am very bitter about that, haha! My 4 year old and I have recently discovered the Miyuki books by Roxanne Marie Galliez and Seng Soun Ratanavanh, which are absolutely beautiful. And I always love anything illustrated by David Roberts and am especially a fan of his latest collaboration with Andrea Beaty because it is about Aaron Slater, Illustrator!


Do you have a favourite colour / pencil / paintbrush?

An array of art suppliesI think I like all colours except for purple which upsets me for some reason – I always take the purples out of my sets of pencils and paints and hide them, and that makes me feel much better! My favourite drawing pencils are the very soft ones because I like the messier, smudgier marks they make and you can get a good variation of light and dark tones. When I am drawing with ink I prefer to use sticks like bamboo skewers or the end of old paintbrushes rather than a dip pen, again because I like the uneven and messiness of the marks they make.


Tell us about your working day.

Rebecca's workspaceI usually start my day by answering emails, letters and social media messages. Then I will spend the rest of the day on whichever project I am working on. As I get nearer to a deadline I work longer and longer days and then usually this turns into evenings and weekends too. I work from home so it can be difficult to separate work from home life but since having children I am trying to get better at this! I listen to a lot of audiobooks when I am working and also eat a lot of biscuits.


What is your favourite part of the creative process when making a book for young readers?

Planning stages!I like all the different parts for different reasons. It is so exciting to work with such amazing authors, like Katherine, and I love the feeling when you first read a text and start to get the images in your head and then are rushing to get them down on paper as quickly as possible before they disappear. Then as I draw more and more of it I love how the book starts to come together and seeing the drawings take their place among the text. Then there is the really special moment when you see the finished book for the first time – I’ve not seen a real copy of Elisabeth and The Box of Colours yet and I can’t wait!


Thank you for joining us, Rebecca! Click here to find out more about Elisabeth and the Box of Colours and read a sample from the book. For more info on our Little Gems range for readers aged 5+, click on the image below.