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Hazel Mitchell and ONE WORD PEARL: Words and Art, Plus Advice For Aspiring Children’s Book Illustrators

I met the bubbly and enthusiastic Hazel Mitchell through the children’s book illustrator/author group, Pixel Shavings. Hazel is not only a talented illustrator but she is super-supportive of other children’s book writers and illustrators.

I am SO looking forward to seeing ONE WORD PEARL, a new picture book written by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel, published by Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press. The book launched earlier this month in the U.S., but isn’t available in Canada until late September. Art director: Anne Margaret Lewis, Developer.


Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course! But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest.

After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

Artist as a teenager.One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination.

About Hazel:

After attending art college in the UK, Hazel ran away to sea and joined the Royal Navy, where she was taught to be a graphic designer.

She now lives and works in Maine, and says she still misses fish & chips and mushy peas (“but I’m learning to love lobster”). Several of her books have won awards, and publishers she’s worked with include Charlesbridge/Makinac Island Press, Highlights, ABDO/Magic Wagon, Kane and Miller, Freespirit, Beacon Publishing, Reading A-Z and SCBWI.

Where to find out more info about Hazel and her work:

Website – Facebook – Twitter – Blog – Sketch blog – Tumblr – Flickr – Pinterest – Pixel Shavings – Turbo Monkey Tales

Q. What was your illustration process for ONE WORD PEARL?

Working on Pearl gave me the freedom to do something different with my illustrations. Because Pearl is all about words … and writing … I immediately got very excited about using more abstract layouts within the book. Before I even started thinking about character I was thinking about textures and colours and paper and how to incorporate the words Pearl ‘collects’ in a fun way.

So I started collecting textures of paper … rice paper, handmade paper, paper with textures and flecks and I crumpled up paper. I tore pages out of notepads. And then I scanned them in and layered them and changed the colours and just played around. One heavily ribbed translucent rice paper scanned beautiful and I used it as the base for many of the pages, along with a layer of flecked paper and brown crumpled-up paper.

I adjusted the hues in photoshop and the opacity and I got a background that I used through out the book on nearly every page. I think it brings a coherence to the images and the flow, because some of the pages are pretty wild! I also used a lot of collage throughout .. because Pearl cuts out words and keeps them in her ‘word chest’. So it made sense for me to do the same!

I spent a whole week in the evenings cutting out words from magazines and anything else printed. I spent a long time scanning the words and using them in the book. I also used a collage of cut out words flowing over the end pages. I think that’s the favorite part of the book for me! In parts of the book I have used my own handwritten words that flow and swirl. It was fun thinking of the words!

Along side the complete chaos I caused with paper, magazines and glue in my studio, I started to work on Pearl’s character. Her name immediately suggested a kind of Asian ethnicity, so my first step was to google lots of Asian children. I wanted her to have a bush of black hair and she is kind of geeky and sassy and a bit stroppy. (At this point I think I should tell you several people asked me if I modeled her on Debbie Ohi!) [Note from Debbie: HA!]

Character sketches. Copyright ©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

I had a lot of fun deciding what she would wear. I gave her some funky clothes and big ‘ol monster shoes. I also wanted to give her a ‘friend’ who isn’t mentioned in the text, and because of the Asian connection I felt she would have a little cockatiel type of bird. Pearl is solitary in many of the illustrations and I wanted her to have something to interact with, and to help emphasize her emotions. So the bird was born.

I am very fond of that bird! All the line work in Pearl is done in pencil, which is then scanned into photoshop. The colour is digital, but I also created watercolour washes on YUPO paper and scanned, coloured and manipulated them for textures in Pearl’s clothing and in the settings.

Another feature of the book are the ‘floating letters’. The letters are, I think, Pearl’s subconscious (this is where it gets a bit deep!). Pearl, you see, is a frustrated writer … like many of us! She adores words, but right now she is using other people’s words .. learning what they mean, using them everyday. But, really, she has all these words inside herself longing to get out. And the letters some how appeared in one of the images I was working on and just stayed for the rest of the book.

They are like a cloud around her, sometimes chasing her, or running away, or just hanging out. I’d tell you what happens in the end, but it would spoil the story! Some of the images in photoshop have over 150 layers and I was going a little crazy with them!

Initially I work in very rough draft, just outlines. Then that gets refined and refined, probably 3 -4 times, before I get to the final drawings. I worked with the developer for Mackinac Island Press, Anne Margaret Lewis, and she made some changes at the sketch and final stages. I had no contact with Nicole, the author, during the illustration process.

I am always a little freaked out wondering if the author will like the illustrations. Luckily Nicole tells me she does! The book had a short deadline, 3 months from the time I got the m/s. I burned some candles towards the end, which makes me wonder why I put so much detail in the illustrations … but they had to be how they wanted to be! And I am glad I did.

©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

My typical day when working on a book can be very long. I wake up early thinking about it and some days I am still there late at night. I’d like to say I could just work for 8 hours and have an hour for lunch, 5 days a week. But that’s not how the creative life is. And in between crazy work schedules you get to go and do fun things, so it all works out!

Part of Hazel’s studio.

Rituals – hmm .. I have a playlist that I turn on in the morning and it makes my brain settle into work. For most of the day I listen to audio books or BBC Radio 4 on the internet (visit for great things to listen to!) I also become dependent on sugar by the final weeks. That’s not good!

Q. What was your publication process? 

This is my second book with Charlesbridge/Mackinac. The developer I worked with discovered me on Facebook from seeing my artwork posted. I am just about to start on my 3rd book with them. I work direct with my publishers as I am not agented right now. Most of my work comes from mail outs, contacts at conferences/workshops/word of mouth and social networks. I would love to work with an agent – but I guess I haven’t found the right one yet.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children’s book illustrators?

At Cape May Author festival.When I started this journey, (really in January 2010 at my first NYSCBWI conference), I was clueless how the industry worked. I had worked in commercial design all my life and I found out that publishing was a whole other kettle of fish. Here’s what I did .. maybe it will resonate with other’s following the same path (although all our paths are so different!)

Attend all the conferences/workshops you can afford (and some you can’t) and absorb information.

Learn the craft. Children’s book illustration is an art-unto-itself. Study the masters, attend workshops where great illustrators are teaching. Go back to college if you need to.

Draw. Draw. Draw. There is no substitute for drawing.

Read. Read. Read. Immerse yourself in discovering new and old picture books, illustrated middle grade, cover work, graphic novels.

Find your voice … how do you do that? By drawing and learning and imitating and seeking critique and then finally becoming unconscious of your style. Then you have found your illustration voice.

Work on your portfolio. A portfolio for children’s illustration! Creating a website portfolio is very important! Tell people you exist!

Mail out, submit, direct people to look at your work.

Be open. become proficient in social networking. It’s free and it can benefit you in unbelievable ways. But always give back.

Seek out other illustrators and create a band of brothers.

Did I say – draw?

“Steve Ashley, Jeannie and me.”

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you’d like to share?

Right now I am starting a new book for Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press for Fall 2014 that I am excited about and I can’t tell you anything! I also have several ongoing WIP’s that are not under contract including a graphic novel and a middle grade mystery.

As well as local events in my home state of Maine I will be speaking at the NESCBWI Illustrator’s Symposium in Manchester, NH Nov 2nd 2014.

Where to find more info about Hazel Mitchell and her work:

Website – Facebook – Twitter – Blog – Sketch blog – Tumblr – Flickr – Pinterest – Pixel Shavings – Turbo Monkey Tales

Also see Marcie Colleen’s interview with Hazel Mitchell on Marcie’s blog today!


Writers/illus: social media can bring huge benefits, but remember to give back. – @TheWackyBrit (Tweet this)

See how @TheWackyBrit used collage, paper textures, other techniques for ONE WORD PEARL illus: (Tweet this)

Advice for aspiring children’s book illustrators from ONE WORD PEARL’s @TheWackyBrit: (Tweet this)


For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.