Interview with Thea Baker, Illustrator of The Memory Box

The Memory Box: A Book About Grief released this week. The art in this warmhearted picture book is extraordinary, so we sat down with Thea Baker to learn more about her, her process, and why she was interested in this project.

Tell us about yourself, Thea. What makes you tick?

Well, I’m rather a homebody, which is lucky because I work from home. I love spending time with my family and enjoying as many moments as possible of our daughter growing up. I definitely prefer country living to city life.

I love my job and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work anywhere so even on holiday I’ll be doing something creative, whether it’s working on illustrations or gathering inspiration from photos and creating textures to use on projects. As a creative person I don’t think you can ever switch that part of you off!

So I guess family, nature, and art are at the top of my list for what makes me tick!

How did you get started as an illustrator?

It has been a long process to get to the point of being a children’s illustrator. I did a degree in illustration at Falmouth College of Arts, specializing in Children’s illustration, and in a sense that was the easy part!

Once leaving the college I found the process of marketing my work incredibly difficult. Funnily enough, thinking that I had no skills in the marketing department, I ended up working as a graphic designer in a very dynamic marketing team. It was exciting. I really had to think on my feet. The tight deadlines left no time for creative doubt and that has helped me tremendously as an illustrator.

In my spare time I was always honing my illustration portfolio. I joined illustration groups like SCBWI. Listening to what publishers and agents look for in a portfolio is crucial. Social media is a fantastic tool, perfect for those artists that find a direct approach daunting!

I knew I wanted agent representation and the Bright Agency was top of my list of three or four agencies I’d been following closely. Then one day I got an email from Bright and it was that dream moment you hope for! Closely followed a few days later by another dream moment at a portfolio conference through SCBWI with Donna Rawlins and Wayne Harris from Walker Books Australia. They loved my work and offered me a story to work on. I could have pinched myself!

What is the best/most fun part of your job?

Without a doubt, for children’s illustration, my favorite part of my job is in that initial creation process. Really the second roughs, after the storyboard. It’s the most creative part I think. The pressure for perfection isn’t there yet because you’re still in the ideas stage and as a result the drawings are nice and loose. I try to keep as much of that in the finals as I can. I love finding the voice of the illustrations, complimenting the story whilst adding new dimensions not described by the words.

What made you interested in illustrating The Memory Box

When I first read The Memory Box I became an instant fan of Joanna Rowland (the author). Capturing that essence in a really good children’s story is not as easy as people tend to think. Then you take into account the subject matter and how well that has been tackled and you can’t fail to be impressed and moved. I particularly like the fact that Joanna doesn’t mention who the person is that the narrator of the story has lost, leaving the reader with room to relate to their own personal experience.

I also happened to study the subject of loss and grief in children’s books for my dissertation, so naturally that made me all the more keen to work on this story.

Thea Baker grew up in a country town in England. She is currently living in Australia and working internationally as a children’s illustrator. Thea obtained her BA (Hons) Degree in illustration at the prestigious Falmouth University. Her dissertation was on the subject of grief in children’s books.