Children’s illustrator Debbie Bellaby sketches for St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge pupils

Year 4 pupils at St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge received a visit last week from local illustrator and designer Debbie Bellaby who is known for illustrating children’s books such as Joe Raccoon, Fred the Fabulous Flamingo, and Mercy Methuen.

The Junior School pupils have been reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this term and, enjoying Quentin Blake’s style of illustration, the girls have been learning to rough sketch. In line with the school’s Teaching and Learning focus – to develop in each member of the school community a growth mind-set – Debbie encouraged the girls to resist the temptation to erase imperfections in initial sketches, highlighting that illustration is not about achieving immediate perfection – she said: “Drawings shouldn’t be right on the first attempt. Sketch books should be full of things that have gone wrong – because being creative, having initial ideas, practising, and working out where to refine initial sketches is the best way to improve your illustrations.

The girls were thrilled to see Debbie sketch some of their favourite characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the front of the class, before setting to work on their own sketches. Debbie advised them individually on their techniques, often sketching aspects or entire characters in front of the girls to show them how to approach complicated aspects of their illustration.

The Year 4 group heard about Debbie’s love of drawing from a very young age – often drawing many pages of horse sketches before and after school – and how, although she studied Art and Design through to degree level, she hadn’t realised that she could use her passion within a career until she was at university and decided to become a professional illustrator. The group asked questions about the illustration process, and learned that authors will often explain how they imagine their characters to look, and that it is an illustrator’s role to create the 2D representation of the author’s imagination.

Year 4 teacher, Samantha Duncan, commented: “Our Junior School’s Creative Curriculum allows the girls to investigate different areas of learning within one unifying theme – such as the typical style of illustration which accompanies so many of Roald Dahl’s stories, provided by Quentin Blake – stretching the girls’ understanding of a topic in a number of directions. It was great to hear more about the illustration process from Debbie, especially her assurances that drawings shouldn’t be right on the first attempt. As with creative writing, and so many other skills, improvement comes with practice, practice, and more practice! Thank you so much to Debbie for sharing her passion and experience with St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge Year 4 pupils.”

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