Bringing the 'happy' back to reading with Holly Bushnell Illustrations

It’s #InspireYourHeartWithArtDay and what better way to celebrate than to take a delve into an Illustrators world full of fun and inspiration? Today, Freshly Press’ very own portrait artist, Holly Bushnell, shares with us what it’s like to be a children’s book illustrator, the day she painted a coffee truck in the woods and how you too can become an illustrator.

Hi Holly! Can you give us a bit of info about your background? Did you study, if so, where and when did you start illustrating professionally?

     Hi Emma! I’m from a little town on the outskirts of Liverpool. Whilst I was studying for my GCSE’s and A Levels at Formby High School, I was lucky enough to get a part-time job at a local bookshop. After leaving school, I chose not to go to university, because of the heavy student debt. The bookshop’s owner, Tony Higginson, let me paint the back wall of the shop as a children’s corner, much to my delight. This was my first proper, large scale project. I spent many late nights getting lost in painting the back wall! Customers became interested in my work after seeing the mural, and after developing contacts with local writers, I was able to start freelancing from the connections I had made at the bookshop.

Photo of Holly (far right) and Tony Higginson from Beyond Books Media, dressed as Willy Wonka and Mrs Silver from Esio Trot.

In the whole world of illustration, what made you decide to specialise in children’s books and characters?

     Naturally I’m a big kid and very young at heart. I love children’s books because of the magic and the idea that anything can happen, and kids won’t question that. Children’s books are so powerful and stay with people for their whole lives – ask anyone what their favourite book was as a child and I’m sure they’ll cast their mind back to happy times. The illustrations have always drawn me into children’s books – kids can spend ages looking at a page, soaking up all the little details. I think children’s books aren’t necessarily just for children – adults can enjoy them too. It’s escapism from everyday life and helps them to re-connect with their youth.

What does an average working day look like for Holly?

     My ‘office’ is my bedroom, so it’s very relaxed. I have an art table cluttered with all manner of things. Most of the work that I do now is digital, so I can just work from the sofa on my laptop! I often illustrate long into the night.

     I have a cat called Minky (who doesn’t really respond to his name!), but I wouldn’t really call him a pet helper – he dives around everywhere and likes trotting about on top of the laptop, although once he settles down, he can be a sweet companion. I’d say my ‘pet helpers’ would be my toy dinosaur called Big Red (I’ve had him since I was three) and my Mum’s bear called Joe. They help inspire me with ideas and keep both myself and my mum young at heart.

Ginger, Holly’s other fur baby!

Ginger, Holly’s other fur baby!

     I go through phases when it comes to music. I often listen to film soundtracks (Disney and Studio Ghibli), and lo-fi hip hop tunes. I worked on a book last year called the Curse of the Nomed (written by BB Taylor) and the theme of the book was Egyptian. Whilst illustrating this I listened to Egyptian music to help me get ‘in the zone’, and I still use it now as good motivational music. When I paint murals, I need to listen to fast-paced, techno music to get me motivated to paint large scale, and I listen to slow, soft music when I’m working on something less urgent. 

What drives you and what do you enjoy most, in your personal work?

     Drawing has always come naturally to me. It has always been my way of relaxing and unwinding, so I wouldn’t say I have a driving force, it’s just something I love to do. I’d say the thing I enjoy most about my work is seeing a positive reaction at the end of it – getting comments from clients saying how much they love the result really gives me a wonderful feeling.

Where does the inspiration for your illustrations come from?

     I don’t tend to base my illustrations on day to day life – I just read the story and the concept and see what happens when I start drawing. I’m inspired by childhood and keeping that spark alive at any age. Sometimes I’m inspired by things children say to their parents, when you catch a snippet of something when you walk past them. I like observing people. The other day I saw a Mum who was loading her shopping into the car, and her little girl toddled off and start splashing about in a puddle, by which point her mother frantically grabs her back. This made me smile, and I think we all have that inner child (like the girl seeing the wonder of this puddle) and it’s important to keep that alive as an adult.

Holly’s first mural commission.

If you could draw for any children’s author, past or present, who would it be and why?

     She’s a very big name but I love Julia Donaldson’s work. Her words just fall off the tongue and are very memorable. Axel Scheffler (illustrator of Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo, Julia’s books) is undoubtedly my favourite children’s illustrator. I love his work and his images just have this magical and ethereal quality to them. Roald Dahl would also be an interesting author to illustrate for. His books are so quirky and distinctive.

You often draw murals and you recently painted a coffee truck with your designs. Is it nerve wracking drawing on such a large scale with no ‘eraser’ or ‘edit’ button at your fingertips?

     It can be, but the weird thing is I often find it easier to paint large scale rather than small (I prefer painting walls rather than canvases!). I can envision it better in my mind, and maybe it’s the adrenaline rush that goes with it too – there’s no going back if something goes wrong, so I know it has to be right.

What advice would you give anyone wishing to follow a career in book illustration?

      I would say everyone’s journey is different – be you! As hard as it is, don’t compare yourself to other illustrators (this is something I keep telling myself). Everyone is on a different path, has different work, different clients etc. What works for them may not work for you and vice versa. Just keep doing what you enjoy.

Are there any online resources you’d recommend for people looking to get commissioned for children’s book illustrations?

 Instagram has really taken off lately for illustrators and designers, so I’d recommend looking there. There are so many talented people posting on there every day, and you never know who might spot you and ask for a commission.

What are your goals for Holly Bushnell Designs going forward?

      I would ideally like to illustrate full-time – at the moment this is only a part-time venture for me. I’d like to develop a range of products to sell online, rather than only work on a commission basis. I also enjoy writing my own stories so at some point I’d like to put my own book together. However, I’m happy to carry on doing what I’m doing, experimenting with drawing, working closely with clients, and being able to reflect the magic of childhood through my work.

 Connect with Holly Bushnell:




Holly Bushnell is the clever miss behind the Freshly Press portrait illustrations of Maria, Tracy and myself. We absolutely love the personality that she has brought to life in our images and we get a happy feeling inside whenever we see them online. If you’re looking for a children’s book illustrator or if, like us, you’d like to have your portrait turned into a life-like drawing, contact Holly!

Holly is also available for school visits where she draws in the style of Quentin Blake and Tony Higginson from Beyond Books Media gives a very lively talk on the life of Roald Dahl. If you have any contacts who would  benefit from such a visit please get in touch with them!