Meet the Illustrator: Heather Burns!

Good morning!

Last week, after I introduced a group of readers to The Wish List #1: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever, a reader asked me a question I have been asked many times before:

Did you design your cover? And in this case, did you draw the illustrations?

I LOVE this question! Like many writers, I LOVE to draw (ask me about my elephant from behind!!!) But make this gorgeous cover?

This is out of my league! This is the art of

Heather Burns.

(I didn’t even have to tell her I’m a shoe person!)

This is Heather!!!! 

She was gracious to answer some of my questions and share the sparkle! 

Sarah: First, THANK YOU! I love how you made Isabelle and the girlgoyles come to life! I actually cried when I saw it! I was so excited!

How did you get started drawing? (If you want to share a first early drawing, that would be great! I will share mine!!!) Did you go to school for drawing? Or are you self taught? 

Heather: I’ve always loved drawing as long as I can remember! I remember when I was 5 at school I painted a picture of a character from one of the books we read in class and I thought to myself ‘this is the best painting in the world!!’ I wish I still had it now I’m sure it’s far from the best painting in the world but I do just remember how proud of it I was! Then growing up I always took sketchbooks everywhere with me and would come up with characters and I also loved copying some of my favourite cartoon characters. When I was a teenager I started teaching myself to draw on the computer and would spend most of my weekends doing this (if I wasn’t playing video games or out seeing friends!) until eventually I went to University to study illustration which was a lot of fun but also hard work! 

Here is a picture I did when I was 10 years old just of a random character I made up:

I LOVE IT. She’s so MOD.

Since we’re sharing, here’s the cover of my first story I ever wrote. (Note the signature! And I’m not sure what those blobs are. It was the 70s!!)

Tell us about your process. How do figure out what a character or cover should look like? How many drafts do you need?

This can vary depending on the project I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll be given a really specific description of a character and other times I’ll just have a name of a character and maybe something like ‘they’re a fairy’ or ‘they’re around 5 years old’. The same goes for covers in general, sometimes I’m given a scene that needs to be depicted and other times the instructions I’m given are much more vague. 

I usually start off doing a couple of sketches and I’ll either send a few different options over to an art director or if the brief was very specific I usually only have to send one sketch. From there it’s a process of tweaking different parts of the sketch then moving on to colour and then there’s usually more tweaks that need doing until eventually a cover is created that everyone is happy with! 

It’s just like revision! I love how stories come alive in the details. Do you have any tips for illustrators? Or writers who are creating books with illustrations?

I think something I’ve learned is that it’s ok to draw something that you think is a bit rubbish!

(Imagine Sarah jumping up and down.) YES! My rough drafts are rubbish, too! Plus I LOVE the word, rubbish!!)

Even your favourite artist or writer will do something they don’t think is very good now and then, we just don’t get to see it! So don’t lose heart if you do something that you don’t think is any good, chances are if you showed it to someone else they would think it was great. We always see our own imperfections in our work but that’s because we know it so well. And remember to try and take a break if you’re stuck with something. Usually when you come back to it you’ll either see what needs changing or even realise that actually it looks much better than you thought it did earlier!

Who are your favorite illustrators? Role models? 

I’ve got a couple of illustrators and artists that I absolutely love. To name a few there’s Brittney Lee, Gabby Zapata, Victoria Ying, Zoe Persico. Another illustrator who I absolutely love and she’s actually been really lovely and given me a some advice on a couple of things to do with illustration is Natalie Smillie. Growing up I absolutely loved Eric Carle’s books! I remember staring at the illustrations in The Very Hungry Caterpillar for ages when I was little! (Quite possibly because it’s full of illustrations of yummy food!) 

(I love snacks! Also: great list!!! We love the caterpillar, too!)

Want to tell us about any real life fairy godmothers in your life? 

Am I allowed to say my mum??

OF COURSE!!! Mums are fairy godmothers 24/7!

My mum is my rock! I really don’t know what I would do without her!!

And also my two best friends are definitely real life fairy godmothers! Even though I’m the oldest in my friendship group I always feel like the baby and they really look out for me and take care of me! There’s not much better than spending a night eating pizza and putting the world to rights with those two girls! 

(I like pizza, too!!!)

One last question: Got a question for the girlgoyles???? (Not that they’ll answer…)

Hmmmm..that’s a tough one… I think I’d ask them ‘If you could eat what would be the first thing you’d try???’

Ha! I suspect it would be something sweet. And definitely something that doesn’t make crumbs. (They get tired of the crows!!)

Thank you, Heather!!! Everyone: please check out her website!

Or ask her a question!

The Wish List #1: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever releases May 30! You can still preorder, or get away from your desk and go find it in a bookstore! Or come say hi:

The Book Stall in Winnetka, JUNE 1, 4pm (Come make your own wand!!! And meet the girlgoyles!!)

Wellesley Books, JUNE 8, 7pm, in conversation with Joan Paquette

More dates to come!



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