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Artist Spotlight: Gillian Reid

Artist Spotlight: Gillian Reid

Gillian Reid's exhilarating, effervescent illustrations have elevated an impressive catalog of high-profile children's books and television shows. In addition to illustrating Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness's picture book, Peanut Goes For the Gold, Gillian serves as the Character Design Supervisor on the popular Netflix series Hilda. And recently, Gillian illustrated Ali and the Sea Stars, the debut picture book by Tony Award-winning actress Ali Stroker.

And even more recently, Gillian illustrated the Hazy Dell Love & Nurture board book, You're My Little Legend. Available as of yesterday, You're My Little Legend is a one-of-a-kind peek into Bigfoot parenting that could only be brought to life by the one-of-a-kind talents of Gillian Reid. We recently spoke with Gillian to discuss her style influences, how she avoids burnout, and what drew her to this book about Sasquatches in the first place.

What aspect of the illustration process brings you the most joy?

My favourite part of the illustration process is taking the words of the author and letting my imagination run wild trying to find the best way to support their text with my drawings! Trying lots of different ideas and options until I find the one that feels just right!

Did you always know you wanted to be a professional illustrator? Do you remember when you decided to make it your career?
I kind of did know I wanted to be a professional illustrator since I was a kid, but I didn’t know what the word "illustrator" meant back then. I just knew I wanted to draw all day every day! And I still can even though I’m a grown up :)

How has your background shaped your illustration style?
My background is a big jumble of all sorts of places and experiences, but the biggest thing that has shaped my illustration style is animated film and television. I grew up during the "renaissance" of animation in the 80s and 90s, so I am deeply attached to Disney films like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

Strangely, the illustration styles I most enjoy are the complete opposite of this— dark, gothic and creepy!

How does your home of Ontario, Canada, inspire your illustration work?
It is very, very, very cold in Ontario for 50% of the year, so this definitely influences my work in that I like to use warm colours and I love drawing characters in scarfs, hats or wrapped up in nice warm blankets! Or all covered in fur!

What appealed to you the most about illustrating a book about Sasquatches?
The thing that most appealed to me about illustrating a book about Sasquatches was the environment they live in. I don’t usually draw many environments, but Sasquatches live in dense forests, surrounded by lush plant life and other amazing creatures. I loved bringing not only the Sasquatch characters to life, but also the world they live in.

How does your sense of empathy inform your approach to illustration?
My sense of empathy plays a huge role in creating illustrations. At the heart of everything I do, I am trying to tell a story that connects the reader to the pages, so I have to tune in to not only the characters in the book, but also the author and the child/parent who will hold this book in their hands. I have to understand what feeling the story is trying to tell and connect with that before my pencil touches the paper.

Of all the beautiful spreads in You’re My Little Legend, which was your favorite to develop and illustrate?
Of all the spreads in the book, I think my favourite is the one where the child is sitting on the rock and all the creatures of the forest are surrounding them. It feels like a beautiful moment where the parent is seeing the child stand on their own two feet and be part of the larger world.

You have so many fun forthcoming projects! With everything you have going on at any given moment, what approaches do you take to make sure you avoid burnout and achieve a balance?
To avoid burnout and achieve balance I have recently begun a mindfulness practice! This allows me to view my projects one at a time and not get overwhelmed with the to-do list. Also, learning to say no to things has been an important lesson over the last year. It is easy to want to do all the fun projects, but at some point the burnout will come and all the projects will suffer for it. Take care of your mind and body! It’s the only true thing you have in this world. 

And, finally, if you could give one piece of advice to a young, aspiring illustrator, what would it be?
The one piece of advice I would give would be to just draw. Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw! And then meet other people who also like drawing and draw with them! Surround yourself with people who love illustration too, and help each other grow into the artist you want to be. (OK, that was two pieces of advice!)