Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Alex Willan

© Alex Willan

August 2, 2019

Today we are pleased to feature author-illustrator Alex Willan and his debut picture book, JASPER & OLLIE (Double Day Books for Young Readers, May 2019). Enter to win a copy!

Tells us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

As a kid I was drawing all the time. My love of art eventually lead me to Savannah College of Art & Design where I got my BFA in Illustration. My dream had always been to create picture books, but for many years after college I let my fear of failure prevent me from even trying to get published. Thankfully, the dream kept nagging at me until it eventually became louder than the fear.

The writing part came a bit later for me. I’ve always had a ton of story ideas swirling around in my head, but I thought that if I got my foot in the door as an illustrator, maybe eventually someone might let me write a book of my own somewhere down the line. I felt like I needed someone to give me permission to write my own stories. When my illustration foot failed to find any open doors I figured why not put both feet forward.

Congrats on your debut picture book, JASPER & OLLIE. Tell us about the story and what inspired it.

JASPER & OLLIE is about two best friends, a fox and a sloth, who decide one morning to race to the pool. Jasper, of course, makes it to the pool way ahead of Ollie and it doesn't take long for his impatience to get the better of him. Convinced that Ollie must already be inside, Jasper frantically searches everywhere for his friend, while Ollie slowly makes his way to the pool.

I wanted to write a story that wasn't about one character being right and another character being wrong, but more about how they can learn from each other. Like Jasper, my mind tends to jump to conclusions that aren't always the most rational. Whereas some people, like Ollie, are prone to distraction. Jasper & Ollie can't change these aspects of their personalities, but like all of us, they could benefit from being more self-aware.

© Alex Willan

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

I would say that my road to publication was long and winding. As I mentioned before, it took me a long time to find my way back to children’s books. I finally reached a point where I shifted all of my efforts towards getting published, but it was still many years before I could see any tangible progress. Most of the time I felt like I was spinning in place. I would occasionally have an editor or an agent that I met at a conference show interest in something I was working on, only to pass on it later. At the time was heartbreaking, but looking back I can see how those moments were pushing me forward and preparing me for greater things to come.

What is your preferred medium/ illustration process?

I used to only work traditionally, mainly with acrylic paints. It was only a couple of years ago that I bought an iPad Pro and now I love making art digitally. The technology has advanced to the point that it feels very natural, as if I were using traditional mediums and nothing inspires carefree experimentation like an undo button.

© Alex Willan

 What projects are you working on now?

I am finishing up the artwork for the second Jasper & Ollie book, JASPER & OLLIE BUILD A FORT. I am also working on my third book, UNICORNS ARE THE WORST! Both titles will be out next year.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators or author-illustrators?

Join SCBWI. It is a tremendous organization. You will gain knowledge of the business, improve you craft, and most importantly, gain an incredible group of supporters.

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I took tap dancing lessons when I was younger. I don’t remember any of the steps but the pictures of me in my dance costumes made the whole thing worth it.

Where can people find you online?

You can find my work at and I am also on instagram @alexwillan

ALEX WILLAN grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was seldom seen without his sketchbook in hand. His love of drawing led him to earn a BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Alex has exhibited in art galleries and has painted murals, theater sets, and squirmy kids' faces, but his true love has always been children's books. He lives in Chicago with his dog, Harley. Jasper & Ollie is Alex's first book. See more of his work at, and follow him on Instagram at @alexwillan.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. What a great idea, a sloth and fox as besties! Love it.

  2. The characters look fun, and the book looks good!

  3. I love their names. Very retro feeling. Congrats!

  4. I love the idea behind this book and how people need to really see themselves and others to gain empathy. Your art is so much fun!

  5. I love the art, and the fact that you went to SCAD! I'm in Savannah and my illustrator is a professor of sequential art there. I'd never thought about the fact that digital art allows for more freedom since you don't "mess up" your work if you decide you don't like something. Great interview! Thanks.

  6. Such neat looking artwork and two of my favorite animals as well. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  7. Fun book! Sounds like a great story. Congratulations!

  8. Jasper and Ollie sound like a fun pair! And the illustrations are fantastic. Congrats on this book, and the upcoming ones, as well.

  9. My kids love sloths. It's great to see a picture book with one featured.

  10. I just read this at the library and it was DELIGHTFUL! Such a clever idea and pulled together brilliantly!

  11. Great interview! Thanks for sharing your journey.


Post a Comment