Illustrator Interview: Shane McGowan

Shane McGowan is an illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. He has an extensive global client base in the editorial, design and advertising fields. He also loves writing and illustrating picture books which are published traditionally and as e-books. He is always looking to work on new and interesting commissions, no matter how big or small.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
I’d been working as a freelance illustrator in the editorial field for about 10 years before I worked up the courage to write and illustrate my first picture book. Needless to say it was complete rubbish and never saw the light of day thankfully. The next two were just as bad. But eventually I got the hang of it, largely because I was inspired by our 4 year old daughter at the time. Seems when you look through a child’s eyes then all becomes clear.

2) Describe your illustration style.
My style is colourful and quirky I guess. I prefer bold and loud images with a touch of retro. I treat a picture book like a little movie. Characters and sets and costumes all come together slowly in whatever particular little world the book is set. I become quite attached to the characters, especially if it’s a series.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
I kind of fell into the freelance life. When I left college I was lugging my folio around to design agencies and publishers in the hope that I’d get myself a permanent job somewhere. Instead I kept getting commissioned to do book jackets, educational books and editorial pieces and it just went from there. The illustration world has changed dramatically in the few decades I have been working. As Illustrators we have to constantly challenge ourselves and be looking for new ways to market ourselves and new avenues to earn a crust. It’s exciting but can be daunting and frightening too.

4) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career?
I’ve always loved pop artists like Andy Warhol, abstract expressionists like Rothko and De Kooning, British painters like Fiona Rae and Bridget Riley. As for illustrators there are many, Anne Howeson, Robert Mason, Simon Bartram, Lane Smith, Jeff Fisher, Luc Melanson…too many to mention. I believe anyone who can make a living being a visual artist is pretty damn special.

5) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
I read the brief/text over and over. I’ll always ask questions if I’m unsure. Collaboration is about listening and combining ideas. I always do a few character sketches first off to see if I’m heading in the right direction. I’m willing to take on board changes because generally you get something better at the end of it. Two heads are better than one. When I read a text it takes a little while for pictures to emerge in my head, and then I have to jot down plenty of images before they really take shape. I sketch in pencil for the dummy, scan the images and muck around with placement on my computer.

6) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done
I’m proud of every book that I do. Getting the printed copies in the mail is always a buzz. But probably the first is always the most special. I both wrote and illustrated it and it was based on my daughter’s wilful inability to brush her hair when she was 4. The designer was a guy called Mike Jolly at Templar in the UK and he was a dream to work with. It was the most pleasurable and exciting experience the whole way through.

7) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
Have a passion for what you do. Enjoy the journey. Be nice to people. Listen to constructive criticism but always follow your heart, not your head. Draw all the time. Practice and practice. Be inspired but don’t plagiarize. Don’t be hung up on finding a ‘style’ that’ll come organically. Make sure your website is the best it can be. Don’t sell yourself short, if a client offers you peanuts then tell ‘em very politely ‘Tempting, but no!’

8) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Spooky Bats Campfire – An image for ‘Ten Spooky Bats’ by Ed Allen and published by Scholastic Australia. They stressed that they didn’t actually want the book to be very spooky so this is about as scary as it got- a spooky story round a camp fire. My original sketches had lots of ghosts and witches and monsters throughout but they insisted on having the bats in everyday situations. Sigh.

Spooky Bats Campfire

Robot Pet Shop. An image for ‘Robot’s Pet’ by Nigel Gray and published by Koala Books. I never turn down a book where robots are involved.

Robot Pet Shop

Gingerbread Man. This image was originally a personal piece for my folio but it’s now available as tee shirts and greeting cards and all manner of things from my shop at Red Bubble

Gingerbread Man

Happy Birthday (Malvern Star). A birthday card, I‘m probably showing my age but this is the bike I rode around on when I was a kid.

Happy Birthday (Malvern Star)

Should you wish to know more about Shane McGowan, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Shane McGowan
Shane’s social media connections:


3 thoughts on “Illustrator Interview: Shane McGowan

  1. I love your work and love your concepts. I have just illustrated, written and published my fictional children’s book for ages 8-10, called “Bullies, Bees and Brussels Sprouts”. It’s been a daunting journey, as it is my first, but the theme throughout my book is one I hope many parents will be drawn to. Self-publishing was “brave”, as it is also difficult to get people’s attention even though I have a Website and Facebook pages now. Would love some professional advice and if possible to visit, like and share…and tell me what you think, as I would sincerely value your feedback. Oh! to be a successful author and illustrator! Trouble is, I have never studied art or writing, so I’m very “raw”, but to my utmost delight received a 5-Star rating review from an American Reader’s Favourite site. I am in awe of exceptional writers and illustrators such as yourself, I wish you great success and fulfillment.


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