Illustrator Sketchpad Reading Themes Throwback Reads and Hot for Cybils!

[Illustrator’s Sketchpad] Pirate Drawings, Gold Ships, and Breakfast Trees: An Interview with Lee Kowling

Myra here.


Welcome to GatheringBooks, Kowling! 

You are quite a prolific artist, Kowling, and I did note that you have illustrated more than 30 children’s books – while being a mother to two children. Do tell us what made you go into children’s book illustrations? Was this what you dreamed of when you were a child?

I have always loved drawing and painting, this is what I am good at since kindergarten. When I was a young adult, I dreamed of becoming an animator. I loved to watch animated cartoon shows especially the expression they have done in the characters’ faces. When I gave birth to my first daughter, I have to decrease my workload as a designer so I moved on to doing book illustrations because the deadlines are more flexible. I realised it is my first love after all.


What is your creative process like? Do you work closely with the authors as you come up with your illustrations? Or do you have a free rein when it comes to crafting your own interpretation based on the author’s text?

I like to choose my authors and work closely with them as much as possible. It is always good to have the communication and the free rein when coming up with ideas. I need to know that the authors have respect for my creativity, work and ideas. This will always reflectson the illustrations of the book.

Tell us about the tools that you use in your artwork and your work area. Do you use digital tools or do you prefer to do your illustrations the “old-fashioned” way.

I have used many tools and medium to create my drawings for different projects. Depending on the kind of work, I could be using digital tools or execute in water colour, acrylic, charcoal or even simple line work by hand. I personally prefer to be able to feel the medium and the texture of the paper. Water colour is most fun for me. Yes the old-fashioned way is still most close to my heart as it is able for me to express more.


Your bio indicates how much you are sought-after for your watercolour paintings. Do share with us how you learned this particular medium and how you became known for it. Do you have other preferred medium?

I did a lot of experiments on water and ink as well as reading books on water colour when I was starting my studies in art. I did learn from a few masters too. I guess through my work and books, people call me up for projects based on my style. I have to say that if you have passion for drawing and painting, many other medium can also be very exciting to work with. Acrylic is another medium that I like, I love the feel of the canvas.

What is your typical day like as an artist? Do you have a particular time of day when you feel most inspired to do your art?

I am still looking after my kids half my time although they are older now, so finding time to paint for myself is a luxury. There are many deadlines on projects so I have to organize my time to work on them when the kids are at school. Normally I feel most inspired to paint is during or after a good holiday away from daily routine.

Are you thinking about illustrating your own story someday?

Yes, This is one of my dreams. If I can not do it in my lifetime, I hope my children can write and I do the illustrations for them.

Tell us about your work for Pittodrie Pirates – what are some of the joys and challenges that you faced as you illustrated Lynette’s stories?

I love the adventures in the story of Pittodrie Pirates and the kind of imagination that the book has. It is able to lead me to create something whimsical as well as magical. Reseach is part of the process, it can be fun sometime too. The challenges for me is not to go overboard with the illustration and lose focus.


Our current reading theme at GatheringBooks right now is “Once Upon a Childhood: Throwback Reads” – could you also take a nostalgic book-walk with us, and tell us about your early reads as a child? What were some of your favourite books when you were young?

I love The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese. Published in 1938. I still have the 1961 edition. I like the simple three-colour illustrations in the book and the story is really funny for both boys and girls.


When I was young, The Child’s World series and the Ladybird series Peter and Jane are what I read, the illustrations are so real and some of the styles are coming back.


Any advice for future artists?

Hang on to your passion. It is cool to find time to day dream and be aware of little things in life.

Thank you again, dear Kowling, for sharing your thoughts and creative process with us here in GatheringBooks.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Illustrator’s Sketchpad] Pirate Drawings, Gold Ships, and Breakfast Trees: An Interview with Lee Kowling

  1. Ah, Kowling, I just now realized you’re the talented illustrator behind Lynette’s book! They’re beautiful 🙂 So colorful and whimsical!


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