Northern Highlight - Jo Weaver


Jessica Brookes Photography

Jo Weaver

Why did you become an illustrator?

Illustrated books were always items of wonder and fascination for me, from a very young age. Stories were wonderful but the artwork really brought them alive. I used to spend hours poring over books with artwork from the likes of Kay Nielsen and E.H. Shepherd. I loved to draw as a child. I painted in my teens, doodled in my twenties, but illustration as a career didn’t occur to me until my late twenties. I was working as a homelessness support worker and living in north-east London when my brother found a leaflet in a local cafe which said Have you ever dreamed of illustrating children’s books? 

It was a genuine lightbulb moment! I realised immediately that I had indeed been dreaming of illustrating children's books for most of my life, but hadn't realised it somehow. I signed up for the evening classes advertised on the leaflet (run by the brilliant illustrator Clare Alexander) and I loved it. My work was pretty low quality, but thankfully Martin Salisbury saw some promise in my portfolio and gave me a place on the MA programme in Children's Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. The course completely transformed my artwork and introduced me to my first editor, lovely Emma Layfield at Hachette.

Of course I also became an illustrator so that I could live the dream by drawing pictures, drinking tea and listening to music all day!

Tell us about where you live.

I live in Scotland, on the coast about 40 mins east of Edinburgh. My home is walking distance from the sea and a beautiful, wild coastline, so I spend a lot of time on the beach. My little family and I actually only moved here 20 months ago from London. But I did grow up here so whilst my life is vastly different from what it was two years ago, it's all very familiar. 

Published by Hachette Children's Group. Designed by Izzy Jones

Where do you illustrate? 

In a room upstairs in our home. With a soundtrack of our cockerel crowing, cawing crows and my two young children running wild in the garden below. Or on days like today I can mostly just hear the wind raging, the rain rapping on the windowpane and a constant drip from the leaky roof! 

What, for you, is the 'spirit of Scotland’?

The wild coastlines, the highlands, the forests and lochs. The space for nature to be, without too much interference. The skies are so much bigger up here than in the south, and the quality of the light is completely different. 

Has this spirit influenced your work?

Absolutely. The majority of my work today focuses on the natural world and features landscapes and vast skies like the ones we get here. My first book, Little One, was heavily influenced by the Scottish landscape, with its forests, lakes and mountains. The very first image I conceived for the book was that of a bear realising that winter is on the way as she watches the geese fly overhead. It's a strong image from my childhood - our home was, and now is again, directly under the flight path of migrating geese, so the sound of their calls overhead can be heard all through the autumn. I'm expecting the first arrivals any day now.

Published by Hachette Children's Group. Designed by Claire Cartey

Who for you are the great northern illustrators?
I've always adored Catherine Rayner's artwork and have, I suspect, been heavily influenced by her animal characters and environments. Sara Ogilvie for fabulous character work and general brilliance. Helen Stephens's sketchbooking is a wonder to behold. I love Patrick Benson - those deep forest scenes from The Minpins captivated me as a child. And Chris Mould for his incredible, characterful and humorous ink drawings.

If you could be transported to anywhere in Scotland right now, where would it be? 

I really love the beach and the woods a few minutes from where I live. But if I had to choose somewhere else, I would go to the Isle of Gigha on the Scottish west coast, where my great grandfather lived and where we spent lots of time as children.

Published by Hachette Children's Group. Designed by Manda Scott

What would you like to see from children's publishing in Scotland?

It is really great to see Children's Books North creating a space for northern writers and illustrators to build a community. Having recently moved up here I'm yet to develop a creative community like the one I had in London. I would hope that publishers starting to open offices outside of London will both encourage more creatives back up north but also bring opportunities for a much more diverse group of artists who are already here.

What's your favourite children's book set in Scotland?

Oh the Katie Morag books by Mairi Hedderwick. I’ve really only recently fallen for their charm through reading them to my boys. The simple stories about Hebridean island life are so engaging and take me right to the wild west coast isles. 

Published by Oxford University Press. Written by Gill Lewis. Cover design by Jo Cameron

You can find out more about Jo on her website, and follow her on social media:

Twitter / Insta / Facebook


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