The Bright Agency (Children's Illustration blog) The Bright Emporium (STS & Book Launches)

Behind The Pumpkin Project with Sarah Jennings!


Sarah Jennings has just completed the illustrations for a book that won the ITV Lorraine’s Top Tales prize: The Pumpkin Project, written by Katie Smith — a newly discovered talent, thanks to this fledgling book prize, run by Hachette Children’s Books in conjunction with ITV.
Having illustrated mainly for the educational sector, Sarah is about to publish her first picture book, Wishker, by Heather Pinda (Maverick Books)  — and now this, her first children’s fiction title with Hodder Children’s Books.
We often talk to picture book illustrators, but what about books for a slightly older age group — not quite ready for picture-less books, but ready for lots more words?
The Bright Emporium is keen to introduce books for this age group, with so many fantastic children’s fiction titles out there, many of which are illustrated by Bright artists.
The Pumpkin Project is the very beginning of this exciting new venture, with an event on Sunday 9th April, including a reading and craft making workshop, based around the book — the same format as Storytime Sunday, but for a slightly older audience.

Bright Fiction covers

A selection of fiction titles, illustrated by Bright artists (from left to right) David Litchfield with author Ross Montgomery; Becca Stadtlander with Peter Bunzl (shortlisted for the Waterstones children’s book prize this year); Karl James Mountford with Jennifer Bell.

Here Sarah talks about her creative process and how things are beginning to take off for her in the world of children’s publishing.


The Pumpkin Project got lots of attention for being the winning book in the ITV/Lorraine’s Top Tales prize – was it exciting to be working on a project with almost celebrity status?!

Yes it was incredibly exciting and also a little daunting! I don’t really watch TV, so the first thing I did on hearing about the project was to do lots of googling and find out as much as I could. I watched so many clips about Top Tales and I couldn’t wait to get started! Everyone involved in the project was so enthusiastic and excited too — especially Katie, the author. It was lovely to present her with my illustrations for the book and even do a little bit of filming for ITV too. It was an amazing and quite a surreal feeling to see the book on live TV on publication day too!


Developing the cover art for The Pumpkin Project.

Where do you begin when you illustrate a picture book?

I always begin in my sketchbook with some VERY rough, VERY scribbly little sketches. I will scribble out lots of different compositions and characters and then scan in the ones that I feel work best. I then blow them up to size, print them out and redraw them in more detail using a light box. I will redraw and scan in a few times until I’m happy. Then I start on the final line work and create some painted textures to use in Photoshop for the colour art.

My favourite part of every project is designing and developing the characters for the story. The first thing I did for The Pumpkin Project was to send some sketches of the main characters.

Q2-first sketches

Developmental character sketches for The Pumpkin Project.


More character development by Sarah.

Do you have a favourite book from you childhood, or illustrator that particularly inspired/inspires you?

My all time favourite book as a child was John Burningham’s The Avocado Baby. Sadly I never owned a copy of my own but I would take it out at the library on an almost weekly basis and drive my poor mum mad by requesting it every night as my bedtime story (I’m sure she could still recite it from memory for me now!) I still love John Burningham’s work today. His line drawings are so delicate and he packs so many beautiful textures into his artwork.

Do you work traditionally, or digitally, or both?!

I enjoy combining them both. I find that working entirely digitally means that I tend to lose the looseness in my drawings and working entirely traditionally can be very time consuming… and there is no undo button which can be problematic sometimes! I love to draw, paint and create textures traditionally in my sketchbook and then scan these in and layer them up digitally on the computer. Then I can add any extra little details in Photoshop.


When illustrating black and white for fiction, is it all done very traditionally, or is photoshop involved somewhere – for example, in what format do you present the artwork to the publisher?

 All of the illustrations for the book were drawn traditionally by hand. I did a rough pencil sketch first for each one, then the final line work was drawn with my favourite pen and some pencil texture detail too. These were all scanned into the computer and I added a little more detail digitally.

The illustrations were presented to the publisher as digital files. Afterwards everything was printed out and I presented these to the author in person, which was a new experience for me and luckily they went down really well with her too!

How much input did you/or do you get from the author of the book at the time?

The main piece of information I had from Katie, before I had even received the story was about Lottie, the main character. She had to have ‘unruly hair, a bit like Hagrid’s Beard from Harry Potter’ which made me laugh!

I met with Katie and we talked through the illustrations in person, which was something I hadn’t done before but it was great to get feedback in person and discuss ideas!

“The main piece of information I had from Katie, before I had even received the story was about Lottie, the main character. She had to have ‘unruly hair, a bit like Hagrid’s Beard from Harry Potter’ which made me laugh!” Sarah Jennings

What led you to study illustration?

I have loved drawing for as long as I can remember and have always been creative. I did an Art and Design course at college and spent most of my time there sketching, drawing and creating characters.  It was only when I was coming to the end of my course that I realised illustration was what I really wanted to do.


I went on to study illustration at the University of Wolverhampton. I remember one of the first projects we worked on was based on illustrating for children’s books and I loved it so much! It was during my time there that I set my heart on becoming a children’s book illustrator.

What would be your dream project?

That’s a tough question! I would love to illustrate more picture books. I have recently finished my second picture book as an illustrator which is out in a couple of months! I think my dream project would be to write and illustrate my own picture book some day.


Publishing with Maverick, 28th May 2017.

The Pumpkin Project is my first fiction project and I enjoyed it so much. I would definitely like to work on more fiction books in the very near future!

Q8 2nd picutre book

Artwork from Wishker, by Heather Pindar, and illustrated by Sarah Jennings. Published May 28th 2017.

At the moment I am currently working on a series of books for Harper Collins in the US and have more educational and picture book projects lined up for the rest of the year. I have also just finished a couple of phonics titles that were lots of fun!


With thanks to Sarah for sharing her creative process with us!

Follow Sarah on Instagram and Twitter.

If you’d like to work with Sarah, you can get in touch here! 

 Meet Sarah Jennings at The Bright Emporium!

Sarah will be hosting an event on Sunday 9th April with The Pumpkin Project and lots of fun crafts and activities.
This is a book for a slightly older age group, but all ages welcome!

Book your place HERE!