Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Get to Know Our Illustrators – Hilary Norcliffe

 How long have you been a member of SCBWI? What’s the most impactful thing you have learned from being in SCBWI?

I’ve probably been an SCBWI member for about 10 years or so – on and off.  Besides learning how hard it is to make a good children’s book, I have also learned to relate it to a theatre production – which is an analogy that helps me think about all the book components.

What medium(s) do you use to illustrate?

My typical answer to this question is “I don’t use oil paint.”  I love lots of traditional media – I guess a fair amount of my work has been pencil and watercolor.

What is your illustration process?

Oh I don’t know.  Most ideas come just from things around me – like when I left a sweet potato on my studio table and it grew these beautiful purple shoots – eventually I needed to paint it and the title “Sweet Potato Island” popped into my head.   I’ve known the opening lines to the story for years – but keep changing what happens.  The main character originally was going to be a drag queen inspired leafy sea dragons, which I love watching and drawing at the long beach aquarium.


How long have you been illustrating? How did you first get into illustration?


I have a fine art background in found-object sculpture and drawing.   I did a pen & ink show about 8 years ago and someone told me they could see the work as illustration.   I had already been toying with children’s book ideas, so I thought – Ok, how do I make that transition?   I’m still figuring it out!

Are you self taught or did you study illustration?

I have a BA in Psychology from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and an MFA in Drawing/Painting/Intermedia from CSULB.  I have no training in illustration and struggle endlessly.

Do you have a dedicated art space? Is it in your home or outside your home?

I have a little studio space inside my house.   It’s always a mess.


What would be your dream book to illustrate?

I selfishly just want to illustrate my own stories.

Are you working on any fun projects now?

I have 5 or 6 stories in various stages of development/stagnation.  The one closest to realization is called “Seeing Things in Joshua Tree” – which is a rhyme told by a little girl who goes for a hike in Joshua Tree and imagines she sees animals in the rock formations.  It’s based on a real hiking trail in the national park – and I set it up so that you could potentially take the book with you and hunt for the animals in sequence on the walk.  I was originally going to just use watercolors of the landscapes and imaginings, but later decided it would help to have sketches of the character and her family on the left side with the text.   I’m looking into self-publishing – just to see it.


Do you write children’s books as well or have any plans to do so?

Yes!   I love words.  I like the way they sound – their musicality – their beat.

Any tips for illustrators that are starting out?


10% inspiration, 90% perspiration (a teacher said it to me once, and I say it a lot to my students).

List 3 to 5 interesting things about yourself.

Watching elephants on live-cams makes me happy.

By the time I was 18 I had lived in England, Canada, Kenya and France.  In 1993 I thought moving to LA was going to be terrible.   But I’m still here!

For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve focused mainly on making sculpture – but I’m hoping to pick up my story ideas again in response to some of the 3D pieces I created for “St. Broxville Wood”.  This is a youtube video I made when the sculpture show at CalPoly Pomona got sealed up by Covid for 18 months.

(Video Title:  St. Broxville Woods:  Rumbles & Thrums)


Happy Halloween!

(Head shot is me testing out a Shrek costume adaptation I was making for my daughter’s musical theatre teacher – the original headpiece was heavy solid rubber.)


Where can people find more of your work?


To see our Previous Get to Know Our Illustrators, click here.