“I DON’T ever see myself in competition with photography.” Jill Calder tells me as she sits on a sofa in the upstairs floor of her studio next to her home in Upper Largo. We are surrounded by books and paints and pens and posters (downstairs it’s all drawers and cups and CDs).

Calder is an illustrator. Her work has graced such publications as The Guardian, Elle, Conde Nast Traveller and even Cricket Magazine. She has also worked with the World Health Organisation and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, among many others. She has published books for children (Robert the Bruce, with author James Robertson, and The Sea) and dreams one day of being commissioned to do a New Yorker cover.

In short, Calder is proof that illustration is alive and well and living in Fife. In fact, it’s living all over Scotland. You can find illustrators working for international magazines and online, working in fields as diverse as children’s books, editorial, advertising and fashion, in all corners of the country.

It’s not necessarily an easy calling. “You do have to be proactive as a Scottish illustrator. You have to be more inventive and creative about how you market yourself,” admits Lucy MacLeod, who specialises in fashion illustration and lives in Langholm in the Borders. “It’s always challenging being an illustrator and not living in London or perhaps New York.”

Here are three women who have taken up that challenge.

Helen Kellock, 32, Glasgow; children’s books


One night Helen Kellock couldn’t sleep. That’s how it started. She was looking out of her studio window into Pollok Park and imagining walking around it with a torch. And then she sat down and started to draw two little girls doing exactly that.

That drawing, combined with a memory of looking at meteorites in the National Museum of Scotland, became the first step in her path to be a children’s illustrator.

Kellock’s first book, The Star in the Forest, was published late last year. It is about two girls, Maisie and Pip, who see a meteorite crashing to Earth and decide to go and find it.

There’s a bit of Kellock in both girls, their creator admits. “I’m more naturally the Maisie character who drives forward but I’m learning as an adult to slow down and be more like Pip.”

That said, Kellock, 32, is accelerating into her new career as a children’s illustrator. She was still doing her Masters at Glasgow School of Art when the publishing offers started coming in for The Star in the Forest.

“The day I got the formal contract through I danced around my living room with my nephew,” she recalls. “I think my sister was singing.”

Not bad for someone who dropped out of art school first time around. She’d gone straight to Glasgow School of Art from high school to study fine art, only to leave after a year. “A premature quarter-life crisis,” she says now. She went on to study English Literature before turning to the idea of illustration as a career.

“I guess I like visuals to hook onto some kind of narrative. That motivates me to create more work.”

Kellock didn’t grow up in a bookish family. It was only when she was in her teens that she discovered children’s books and illustrators such as Oliver Jeffers and Jon Klassen.

“I just fell upon some really cool illustrators which made me think, ‘Wow, this is a really creative form.’

“And I also loved how – this sounds really pretentious – democratic it is. I like that anyone can access a children’s book without feeling alienated, which is what I hated, I guess, about fine art. I didn’t like the cliquiness of it and the way people would feel in the space of the gallery.”

“I feel it is a beautiful wee piece of art you can own and not feel intimidated by.”

Kellock tidies her work up on the computer but it’s working by hand that she enjoys most. “I like just seeing the physical thing and building it, so paint works for me.

“Also, with paint you end up making marks you weren’t expecting, so it keeps it loose and live.”

Children’s books are a vibrant form at the moment, she says. And important.

“I think for children, visual literacy isn’t prioritised in the same way as written and verbal literacy is. I feel passionate about high-quality illustration for children and giving them something that helps them build that; how to analyse an image and enjoy an image and build up their own taste.”

The worry is that we are so inundated with imagery these days it can be overwhelming. “It feels like a white noise of images sometimes,” she admits.

But the only answer is better work. The lasting kind. Upstairs in her studio are the drawings that will make up her next book, Out to Sea, which is influenced by trips to Oban. “My parents have a wee caravan up there,” she says.

“The book is about grief and anxiety, so it’s very different from the Star in the Forest. It’s more of a poetic book about a young girl’s journey through losing her nana. It’s also about how to cope with anxiety and those overwhelming feelings that come to you when you’re in your bed at night.”

It’s not the only thing she has to look forward to in 2020. “I’m pregnant right now so I will have a child to test my books on.”

Dream job: “I’ve created a cast of characters derived from the Scottish landscape. I’m still developing that. I wanted to create something that came from Scotland without knocking you over the head with tartan and haggis and Irn Bru, to have something that felt like the Moomins but based in Scotland. I’m not imagining that scale. But I guess if I’m dreaming …”

Influences: “Beatrice Alemagna. She’s an Italian-born, Paris-based illustrator. She is probably my illustrator crush.”

Look Out for: Kellock’s second book, Out to Sea, in the autumn.

For more information, visit helenkellock.com

Jill Calder, 49, Fife; editorial and children’s books


Jill Calder grew up in Dundee with her parents, two sisters and no great interest in art. “I was thinking about this the other day. Although I was brought up in Dundee, I don’t remember going to the McManus Gallery,” she says. “I don’t remember going to see exhibitions. I just liked to draw.”

She has never stopped.

It took a while to translate what she was good at into a career. After a foundation course in Carlisle, she studied in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Her portfolio was full of imagery inspired by cosmetic surgery (“that came from the Fay Weldon books I was reading”) and Martin Amis. It got her a first-class degree but wasn’t likely to earn her a lot of commissions.

“I remember going up to the Scotsman and they were saying, ‘Yeah, it’s great. We would love to see this in a gallery. But it’s not really for a newspaper.’

“I did actually get quite downhearted about it. I did get a bit depressed.”


Calder began to loosen up, even inject a bit of fun into her work. “I remember sitting at the kitchen table in my sister’s house with bits of paper and ink, just playing around. I wasn’t taking it so seriously. I started showing that to people and I got a better response.”

Soon, Calder was winning commissions from newspapers and magazines. She illustrated a column by the supermodel Honor Fraser for the Scotland on Sunday for the best part of two years. “It was hilarious because the column wasn’t always written by the time I had to do the illustration.”

That led to work for the Telegraph’s Stella Magazine, for the Guardian and even the Sunday Herald.

Being an illustrator means constantly adjusting to new technology and new markets. It also means there are also new opportunities. Ten years ago, Calder was commissioned to work on an exhibition, Garden Detectives, with the National Museum of Scotland, which meant producing wall panels eight metres long.

“That was the first time really thinking about work aimed at children. I hadn’t thought about it at all. To me, for children’s illustration you had to be quite cute. And I knew my work wasn’t cute.”

But it was the start of a new phase of her career. Soon she was working on decorating children’s wards for the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, collaborating with the children who were receiving treatment. She then was asked to work on the illustrations for Robert the Bruce. She was reluctant at first but loved the research required for the project. Since then she’s continued working in the field of children’s books.

Does she end every day covered in ink? “Depends. Sometimes, it’s red eyes from moving the same layer 20,000 times on the computer.”

Dream job: “I mean, a New Yorker cover would be amazing.”

Influences: “Lots of them are dead. Charles Keeping, Brian Wildsmith, Shirley Hughes, Tomi Ungerer.”

Look out for: an exhibition of her work at Callendar House, Falkirk, later this year.

For more information visit jillcalder.com

Lucy MacLeod, 45, Langholm; fashion illustrator


“There’s been an absolute surge in female fashion illustrators,” Lucy Macleod believes. “It’s almost become political. There’s more consciousness and awareness around the body – what bodies should look like – that’s now woven into what fashion illustration looks like. Which is lovely; different skin colours, different sizes, different shapes and that’s because it’s mainly women who are fashion illustrators these days.”

MacLeod helped pave the way. Originally from Edinburgh, she studied at the city’s College of Art and then had “three or four years fannying around, having no clear idea of what the hell I was doing.”

Back then she was trying to be painter. It was only when someone suggested her drawing was strong enough to get illustration work that MacLeod started to approach websites and newspapers. After a year of solid rejections, she was commissioned to do a cover illustration for a newspaper.

“And I thought, ‘Oh right, maybe I am an illustrator.”

Soon she was being commissioned by British Airways, Royal Mail, Levi’s and the Times.

In 2008, MacLeod took a couple of years out after the birth of her second daughter Rose. When she returned “social media had completely taken over.” She used that as a chance to reinvent herself.

Fashion became her new focus. “I was from a figurative painting background. It was something I felt my style would be really appropriate for. You’re creating a narrative around the figure.”

The decline of old media has been a challenge financially. Social media offers plenty of exposure but not many paycheques.

“More than ever before fashion illustrators and illustrators of all kinds have got to be really resourceful and inventive and creative.

“This is what I teach my students; to think about all the different ways you can use your talents. Not just looking for commissions. Can you teach? Can you do illustrations live? Can you sell your work? Can you put it on T-shirts.”

Macleod, whose partner Dwayne Bell is also an illustrator, has also set up an arts organisation, Outpost Art, in Langholm 18 months ago. It has just opened a high street property which will be turned into an arts hub and creative space for young artists.


As a result, she has less time for her own work. But she will be artist in residence at the Borders Art Fair in March and she’s been commissioned for a hush-hush project by Disney/Marvel. “If it’s something I’m interested in I’ll take it on.”

The question is why do people want to commission an illustrator when they could just take a photograph? “Obviously there are some photographers who are amazingly creative. But I think there is something about linework. You can get so much emotion and feeling into how you draw or how you paint.”

Influences: “Barbara Hulanicki from Biba. She was one of my biggest influences. Charcoal, expressive lines, really bold and the way she used expression. It was almost confrontational in a way.”

Dream job: “My ideal people to work with? Valentino. Marni. Erdem, Show Studio (Nick Knight) and I was very jealous of Vanessa Garwood who recently collaborated with the Royal Ballet, creating a live painting on glass of a dance sequence from Swan Lake.”

For more information, visit lucymacleod.co.uk