Illustrator talk: Sarah McIntyre

This is part two of my author/illustrator review from the Bookfeast Festival, held in Oxford last week. You can read the first – a talk by Ali Sparkes – here.

It was another hot day. Children in years 3 and 4 from primary schools around Oxford had gathered in the non-ventilated, non-air-conditioned lecture hall at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to hear illustrator Sarah McIntyre talk about her career and do a reading from one of her books. Everyone gasped in pleasure and concern when Ms McIntyre strode into the hall wearing a full pirate uniform, with impressive coat, skirt, stripey leggings, boots and a massive pirate hat. ‘Won’t she be hot in that, mummy?’ Holly asked me worriedly. Since I was on the verge of passing out in cool, loose linen, I agreed.


Photo of Sarah McIntyre from her website, taken at the Museum during the Bookfeast.

Not a haaarrrrd act to follow

Ms McIntyre had definite stage presence. She didn’t need a gimmicky pirate parrot on her shoulder to draw in her audience, who were keen to discover who this excitedly dressed lady was. The reason behind her maritime attire was because she was going to read from one of her books – You Can’t Scare a Princess – which she illustrated alongside the text of Gillian Rogerson. As she read through the story, she involved the children in looking at the drawings, asking them questions about what pirates were like, and getting them to shout a very impressive pirate ‘AAAARRRR!’ at key points during the story, which is about a group of pirates who don’t take orders from a princess… or do they?

Illustration piracy

One of the highlights for the children was a guided talk on how to draw a pirate in the style of Ms McIntyre. As the Bookfeast people handed out pencils and paper, children excitedly prepared themselves for their task. It was so quiet as she took us through the various stages of drawing eyes, nose, mouth, beard (with disgusting bits in it), whiskers, hat and anything else we felt like adding.


Pirate ahoy! An example of Sarah McIntyre’s drawing before you see our attempts.


Holly did this one at home as her attempt during the day is at school. But she’s not stopped drawing pirates since!
This was my attempt on the day, in ink, as there weren’t enough pencils. This is the most human thing I have ever drawn (which says a lot about my illustration skills!).

The creative process

Ms McIntyre shared with us how she goes about illustrating a children’s book. It looked incredibly complicated to a lay person – if someone handed me several pieces of A4 types with a few lines per page I wouldn’t know where to start. Mind you, I can’t draw. This  is her process:

1. She reads the manuscipt over and over.

2. Then the doodling starts as well as other ways of drawing.

3. In You Can’t Scare a Princess  she started with pencil drawings, which then were brought to life with watercolours.

4. Adding the little details is great fun!

5. She sends in her artwork on watercolour paper to the publisher.

6. The publisher scans in the documents and then emails them to a massive printing house in China.

7. Once printed, the books are shipped back to the UK.

8. The books are ready for selling!

This was an excellent talk, activity session and guide to how to illustrate picture books and everyone (adults included) came away keen to keep trying to draw pirates. Ms McIntyre should beware… there may be mutiny afoot!

Check out Sarah McIntyre’s web page here:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.