Illustrating Children’s books students amazing story….

An amazing story from one of our Illustrating Children’s books students Jacqui……..


A few years ago I was lucky to be given the London Art College Illustrating Children’s Books course by a good friend. I love working through the course, even if I have been ridiculously slow at it. Yet seeing everyone else’s work on the forum was inspiring and also daunting. As much as it is something I have always wanted to do I could almost feel my dream fading daily. With three small children finding the time always seemed impossible; my head is full of ideas but barely get a chance to put them down on paper!

Instead of concentrating on my course work, and feeling overwhelmed, I started to find just five minutes each day to doodle. It was incredibly therapeutic! A year ago a lady I hadn’t met before saw me drawing and loved what I was doing. She said I should open a Facebook page for my art. So I did. Not for selling but just so I could play around with my art (never having tried different mediums before) and share the results…good and bad, to receive feedback.

One of my old singer/songwriter neighbours liked what he saw and asked me to draw his album artwork for him. Which was a real pleasure to do. One of our other old neighbours, another singer/songwriter saw the album cover and said she wanted to talk to me…

Katherine Crowe has been an inspiration to so many people over the past year or so. She has terminal breast cancer, and is allergic to the usual treatment, having suffered anaphylactic shock twice from trying chemo. And so is trying to find an alternative treatment to help. She says she is ‘ten months past her dead date’ and yet still manages to produce records that make it into the top ten of the singer/songwriter download charts on iTunes, and, this is where I come in, get a children’s book published in record time!

At the beginning of the summer holidays Katherine came to see me with a story she had written when her children were little. It was a dream of hers to see it published and said she had looked for an illustrator in the past but couldn’t really find what she was looking for. Since then her 10 year old daughter, Becky, drew her interpretation of Denzil the Mouse. Katherine asked me if I would be interested in illustrating her book for her! Absolutely, I agreed nervously.

It was an incredible, and fast!, journey. With Becky’s drawings there was no need for us to work on developing Denzil; I just needed to do all the illustrations. I was a graphic designer in a previous, pre-children life, so Katherine also asked if I could bring the book together too.


Now, having never illustrated a children’s book before (nor having completed my course!) I had to learn all about the layout, expectations, illustrate it and get it ready for the printer. During the summer holidays I had three children at home, and one growing quickly inside me. It took a couple of weeks to agree how to illustrate Denzil – pencils, pastels or watercolour. Using Katherine’s story I laid it all out (in InDesign) and worked out where Becky’s pictures fitted and what was missing. Then I drew full size pencil mock ups to show Katherine.

Thankfully she loved them, and was excited to see Denzil finally coming to life. At the end of the summer holidays, Katherine ended up in hospital again, and it scared me into making sure we got the book finished, quickly.

For three weeks, just as the holidays ended and I needed to start school runs, and after school activities again, I worked hard on Denzil. It was quite tough at times; the baby was getting bigger and was kicking the drawing board just as I was trying to paint; I wasn’t spending much time with the kids or my husband, yet it was all worth it. My children would look at it and say “Wow Mummy, they look amazing!”

It felt like, in the end, that we managed to create a book in just three weeks. I had to get all the pages ready for the printer too, and we still had to get the ISBN number. To see her book published Katherine funded the first publishing run herself, having set up ‘Rabbit is Strong’ publishing. Somehow she managed to sweet talk the powers that be into getting the ISBN numbers to us within 24 hours, and then everything went into the printers hands.


Denzil the Mouse was published last week with a book launch, and signing, in Waterstones in the Isle of Man last Saturday. I have yet to see a copy but the feedback I’ve had is that it’s great and all the kids love it.

Sadly Katherine has been in hospital again, but is still fighting back. She’s a strong, fighting lady, who gets things done! It was a real privilege to illustrate her book for her, not only making one of her dreams come true, but also one of mine. She has another book for me to look at too, which is more exciting…now we know what to expect!

Look for Denzil the Mouse online, you can view the official Facebook page >> , The official Website >> he’s available to buy on Amazon, or through shop to shop transfer with Waterstones, from the Isle of Man store.


7 thoughts on “Illustrating Children’s books students amazing story….

  1. Hi Jacqui,
    It was so great to read your post and to know someone else feels the same. I am currently doing the course and while I find examples of other students work inspiring , I also find them incredibly daunting. I haven’t done art for a good few years and am also taking ages to do the course as I keep hitting walls of lack of confidence and also comparing my work to others and deciding it’s just not good enough.
    It’s so nice to hear your story about how it’s going for you and the work you are doing. Your involvement with this book is fantastic and the book is great. I send best wishes to Katherine and many congratulations to her on the book and her achievement.
    Do you still have your facebook page for your drawings?
    Well done once again and thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Thank you Maxine.
    I do still have my Facebook page, you need to search for Jacqui Mulvagh Art. I include most things on it…the good, the bad, the experiments! I do it for me, not to be judged, but obviously it helps when you get positive comments. My baby is due this week so maybe I’ll get a piece of course work done by Christmas. Maybe!
    Most of all Maxine, I have learnt that I am doing this for me. Art is so personal. Do what makes you happy and enjoy the process of being creative, if not always the outcome.
    I will pass your kind comments onto Katherine.
    Thank you again, J x

  3. What a great, inspiring story. I have just started this course too and am so excited but terrified at the same time. It is great to see what you have achieved so far, especially with the small kiddies running around the place like me! It must have been an awesome experience to be involved in that project, well done! Kerrie x

  4. Hi Jacqui,
    I will definitely look at the page, it’s great to see all elements of it because as you quite rightly say, Art is personal and it is about doing it for you. I know this in my head and just need to push it more when it comes to pencil on paper, I really do.

    Good luck this week on your baby’s arrival – all the best.

    I am due in February so I am hoping to get at least the second piece of coursework in before Christmas….it is taking me ages.

    Thank you 🙂
    Take Care

  5. Jacqui , what an amazing inspiring story and experience and such lovely illustrations and beautiful book design! Becky is already a young talented artist. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Because printing has become very affordable here in the United States, I have noticed that more writers fund and publish their own books This means that more often, illustrators will have to work directly with self publishers/writers instead of working with an art director of a traditional publisher. This requires a lot more from the illustrator, such as design (including the cover) because writers will mostly likely only provide the manuscript.
    You handled this amazingly well in your busy life, especially in such a short time!

    When I started the course in the beginning of 2012 I was determined to finish it within a year…My ambitious deadline expired 7 months ago…I am also doodling everyday and I don’t go anywhere without my sketchbook but for some reason the ideas for my last assignment just won’t jump out of my head onto paper. That it took me 3 months to finish Sebastian’s City was already absurd in my eyes but I reminded myself that this course was not a race or competition but a journey of self discovery and growth as an artist. There will be enough time pressure/deadlines after graduation.

    Your story is a perfect example. You thought you were slow and yet you managed to create and finish a book in just 3 weeks!

    Wishing you all the best and fun with your next project with Rabbit is Strong publishing and also wishing a speedy recovery for Katherine.

    Ursula xx

  6. Thank you for all your lovely comments everyone.
    It’s nice to feel supported!
    I still have Seb’s City to do! So yes it feels like an incredible achievement to have illustrated a book, and done all the layouts, in such a short space of time. Katherine’s ‘can do’ attitude has a great effect.
    I know what I want to draw for Seb’s City, so at least I feel I have a better way of getting there now.
    Ursula, it’s interesting what you say about how things are in USA. I guess it’s probably happening more here too. Maybe I’ll be prepared!?
    Thank you again all.
    J xx

  7. Jacque, you are my inspiration,,,!

    I am enrolling in this course ASAP. Before the end of July.

    So excited and nervous.

    Cheers, JosieMar

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