Illustrator Spotlight: Brooke Boynton Hughes + Giveaway

© Brooke Boynton Hughes

Our illustrator this week is Brooke Boynton Hughes, a talented artist who has burst onto the kidlit scene in the last couple of years. Sign up below for her giveaway one of three signed copies of her debut MG book, CUPCAKE COUSINS.

Tell us about your background and how you got into children's illustration.

First of all, thank you so much for having me!  I have always loved children’s books, especially picture books, and have wanted to be an illustrator ever since I was little. In 2001 I earned a BFA in printmaking from Colorado State University. After graduating from college I moved to Austin, Texas where I took Mark Mitchell’s class in children’s book illustration and first heard about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I then moved to NYC where I earned an MFA in figurative art from the New York Academy of Art. 

In 2005, while I was still in grad school, I joined SCBWI. I started seriously working on building an illustration portfolio and began attending SCBWI conferences. Soon after the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference in L.A. I received an offer to illustrate my first book (CUPCAKE COUSINS, by Kate Hannigan, published by Disney-Hyperion), which came out on May 13th.  

Congratulations on your debut! What projects are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the finishing touches of BABY LOVE, written by Angela DiTerlizzi, published by Beach Lane Books.  I’m just getting started on a picture book with Random House called MORE!, written by Linda Ashman. I’m also working on sketches for the cover of the second CUPCAKE COUSINS book, as well as illustrations of GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS for a UK magazine.

Additionally, I’m revising a picturing book manuscript I’ve been working on and also working on revisions to a dummy for a wordless picture book called BRAVE MOLLY.  I’m creating a few new portfolio pieces in preparation for this year's SCBWI L.A. conference and I'm always working on cultivating story ideas. 

You were chosen to be part of the SCBWI Mentor Program in the 2013 SCBWI LA Conference and came up runner up in the Portfolio Showcase this winter in New York. How important have the portfolio showcases been to your career? What is the best part of going to conferences?

I received my first picture book contract because my portfolio was seen by Angela DiTerlizzi's husband, Tony DiTerlizzi, in the Portfolio Showcase. So, the showcase has definitely been extremely helpful.  

© Brooke Boyton Hughes

However, I think signing up for portfolio critiques at the L.A. conference has been one of the most beneficial aspects of attending SCBWI conferences, even more so than participating in the Portfolio Showcase. Learning about my strengths and weaknesses as an illustrator and receiving concrete advice from publishing professionals about how to improve my work is ultimately what led me to book contracts. 

One of the best parts of each conference is connecting with kid lit friends. As authors and illustrators we tend to spend a lot of time working alone, so having the opportunity to talk about book making and to joke around and share advice is really wonderful. 

Also, I've been inspired by so many of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions.  Kate Messner's speech at this year's New York conference was definitely a highlight. 

Tell us more about the SCBWI Mentor Program. How has that program helped your craft and your career? What is the best thing about it?

Each year at the Summer Conference, the SCBWI Illustration Board chooses five participants of the Portfolio Showcase to mentor.

The portfolio critiques that I received from the mentors during last summer’s conference were incredibly helpful. The critiques clarified what I need to work on, in particular loosening up my work and creating characters that are more distinctive. 

 © Brooke Boyton Hughes

Mentor David Diaz has been especially helpful in guiding me through changes in my career and Cecilia Yung graciously invited the 5 mentees to visit Penguin, where she gave us a tour and talked with us about the process of publishing. 
The community created by the mentorship program is incredibly supportive and is full of mutual admiration and friendship.  I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to connect with such wonderful people. 

Can you describe the workflow for a typical illustration? 

I always start with character sketches.  As I’m drawing a character I think about his or her story; what kinds of things do they like to do, what are their dislikes, where do they live, how old are they, etc. 

Once I feel like I know whom a character is I start on thumbnail sketches.  I do tiny, rough sketches of the scene I envision, and try out lots of different compositions. Once I’ve narrowed in a composition that I think is working, I sketch it a little larger (about 4” x 6” or so) to work out some of the details.  At this point I usually think about the composition for a few days… or weeks if time allows.  Sometimes a new idea for the illustration will come to me and I’ll do more sketches.  And I think a lot about the color palette I’m going to use.

Thumbnails for BRAVE MOLLY

Then I dive into the full size illustration.  I use Arches 140 lb. hot press paper and start by blocking out the general shapes very loosely.  Once the composition is blocked in I get tighter and tighter until the drawing feels finished. 

When the pencil drawing is finished I use a dip pen and acrylic ink to put in the line work.  Once the ink is dry I erase the pencil drawing and then soak the paper in the bathtub and staple it to my drawing board.  This allows the paper to take very wet washes without buckling and warping. 

When the paper is completely dry, I start painting with watercolors.  I usually start with the biggest areas first (like the sky) and then paint in the smaller shapes and details. 

Spread for BRAVE MOLLY © Brooke Boyton Hughes

When the paint is dry, I scan the illustration into the computer and fix any errant ink lines in Photoshop and clone stamp out all of the cat and dog hairs that have inevitably found their way onto the painting. 

About half of the time I end up completely redoing a piece because it doesn’t turn out quite right the first time around.  Sometimes I’ll just repaint a small section and then scan it and Photoshop it in. 

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attend their conferences.  I really can’t emphasize this enough.  SCBWI is an incredible resource.

Work on your craft.  Be honest with yourself about your work and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Draw and paint everyday. 

© Brooke Boyton Hughes

Read every children’s book you can get your hands on.  Learn about the history of children’s books.  Decide which books are your favorites and figure out why. 

Tell us something most people don't know about you.

When I was a teenager I was in an all girl’s country western band.  I sang and played the guitar and we traveled around playing at county fairs. After college I sang in a rock band.  Now I’m learning to play the ukulele. 

Brooke Boynton Hughes is a children's book illustrator living in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She creates her illustrations using pen and ink and watercolor.  When Brooke isn't drawing or painting you can find her hiking in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, Bill, and their dogs, Domino and Olive, or eating popcorn at the movies.  To see more of Brooke's work visit  

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  1. I loved learning about your process! Thanks for the interview, Brooke!

  2. So interesting! I love Brooke's work. Great interview! Thanks.

  3. Brooke rocks! She has inspired me to face my fear of illustrating backgrounds - I'm working on it!

  4. Thanks for the step-by-step on how your art is created, Brooke! I am infinitely fascinated by how other artists work. Your style is wonderful and whimsical; I absolutely adore it! Thanks for the interview and the giveaway, too, Brooke and KidLit411!

  5. Thanks for sharing your insight Brooke!

  6. Love to see your process! Beautiful work.

  7. Fascinating - great stuff. Thanks so much!

  8. Great illustrations! Thanks for sharing your process. The cover looks great; my daughter would love it.

  9. Wonderful interview and delightful illustrations!

  10. I've been following you since I first saw your work. I love your style and technique. It's very unique and appealing.

  11. Thank you for sharing your process. Mr. Diaz rocks as does the community known as SCBWI. I hope to meet you someday at a Lost Weekend!

  12. Thanks for sharing on the blog today.

  13. So excited about all this great work coming out! Congrats Brooke!

  14. Dear Brooke: Drawing everyday is important, and illustrators have strengths and weaknesses just as writers do. I never considered that. Shiela

  15. Came too late to enter the rafflecopter for the giveaway - but definitely not too late to enjoy your great post, Brooke! I loved hearing about your journey - and your experiences in the band sound like the makings of a picture book story to me. :)


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