Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Instinctive Illustration: Unearthing Images Through Play and Intuition with Author and Illustrator Rebecca Green

Post by Naomi Kojima

On September 27th we welcomed author and illustrator Rebecca Green for a Zoom presentation and workshop. “Sometimes the best creative results happen without a plan,” wrote Rebecca for her event description. We knew this was going to be an exciting afternoon of something new and fun.

Rebecca Green (photo by Alex Crawford)

Rebecca was our first guest speaker since February. For six months our remote monthly events were held among our SCBWI Japan members where we had focused discussion and creative exchanges, but we hadn’t featured a speaker. This was also our first time to invite SCBWI members from several regions to an SCBWI Japan event. Members from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan signed up, and we were all looking forward to Rebecca’s event.

Rebecca began her presentation with an overview of the last ten years of her career, from 2010 to 2020. Showing slides of her illustrations, Rebecca explained how her style and work has shifted over the years, from academically trained realism to a freer and more stylized approach. From the beginning of her career Rebecca took on client work, but she also did a lot of gallery work and personal work and sold her work at art fairs. When she moved from Michigan to Arizona in 2012, the landscape in Arizona inspired her so much that the content of her work shifted. Around this time, she received her first international job, illustrating for a magazine in the Netherlands. She felt thrilled at the idea of somebody across the world hiring her.

In 2013 when she moved to Denver, Colorado, an art director saw her gallery work online and hired her to do illustrations for a book.

Rebecca then worked with an editorial agent for a couple of years. She did editorial work for magazines and newspapers and worked with many different clients, but editorial work was challenging. Ultimately she felt that that type of art was not really what she wanted to be making, and she made the decision to stop working with the editorial agent.

Then in 2015, she was drawing a little girl with some animals, and she thought, what if this little girl was hanging out with a ghost. What would she feed it, and what kind of book would she read to it if they were outside sitting by a fire. How would they interact? Rebecca wrote and illustrated this story, printed 100 copies, and put it on her website. A publisher from Canada who was looking at her website to hire her for a different job saw the picture book and asked if Rebecca would be interested in publishing it as a book. Rebecca’s debut picture book How To Make Friends With A Ghost was published by Tundra Books in 2017.


How To Make Friends With A Ghost


Rebecca signed on with a publishing agent and was soon commissioned to work on several picture books by other authors. While working on those books, she continued doing her gallery work and personal work.

Rebecca said it was very important for her to keep doing her own work and pushing her own exploration. “All throughout my career it’s been the personal work that drives the client work. It’s been the personal work that drives the type of books that I want to do, so I am always striving to work personally…not just on books, not just client stuff, but developing my own style, and what I want to do for myself, out of the expectations of clients.”


How To Be A Good Creature


Rebecca moved to Japan in 2018, and while living in Osaka she illustrated Becoming a Good Creature; Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Rope Dancer (find out about the illustration process here); and Becoming A Good Creature (find out about the illustration process here). She has also illustrated Kafka And The Doll which will be coming out next spring.


Madame Saqui Revolutionary Rope Dancer


Becoming A Good Creature


In her last slide titled “Future,” Rebecca showed us her recent personal work. She said she will continue exploring more of her personal work and plans to work more on her own books, both writing and illustrating them.

Listening to Rebecca’s overview of her last ten years of her career (or the first ten years of her amazing body of work and career), I admired how Rebecca always seems to know when and how to bring herself back to the source–the joy of illustrating.

Illustration © Rebecca Green


After the presentation, we were ready for Rebecca’s Instinctive Illustration workshop. Rebecca explained that it was going to be a casual exercise about unearthing images through play and intuition. For the workshop, we were going to use paper, colored pencils, crayons, whatever material we had at hand, and cut and paste, or draw random shapes, marks and lines on paper.

Rebecca showed a sample illustration she had made prior to the workshop and walked us through the process with her slides. She had put down a few random shapes and lines on paper. She then rotated the paper around and showed the different image or a pattern she could see depending on how the paper was turned. The random shapes and lines looked like a face at first, but turning the paper it looked like a dog, then turning again it was an animal holding a rake. In the end the shape she chose became an illustration of a rabbit holding a rake; a shape and image she would never have chosen, and a composition she would not have come up with on her own.

She explained that when you are forced to take lines and turn them into something different, it opens up your mind what’s possible in the way of making a shape, an animal or a person. These limitations force you to become creative about your shapes and push you to grow. The next time you are making something, you will have those shapes in your mind. Those shapes will be in your creative vocabulary.

So that was the exercise we were going to do. Rebecca reminded us to explore and play and not worry about the end result. We drew lines and cut and pasted random shapes and rotated the paper around trying to see a shape or a pattern. We looked at the negative spaces, added more shapes and lines, and bit by bit filled in the image to unearth an illustration.

Rebecca set the workshop in three segments; we worked 10 minutes then had several minutes to ask questions and to see each other’s work in progress. Some of us cut paper and pasted, some drew, some used the computer. When the 40 minutes were over we shared our work and were delighted to see how the random shapes and lines had turned into illustrations of a penguin on a cliff, a group of turtles going on a hike, a man playing a harmonica, an elephant, a bird and tree, a cat, clams, and much more.

Everyone looked fresh and vibrant after the workshop echoed how much fun we had. One writer mentioned how the workshop gave her ideas for writing. An illustrator mentioned that it was difficult at first because she is used to controlling her illustrations, but after a while her mind opened up and ideas started to come. I know many of us will be repeating this exercise, and the next time a blank piece of paper stares at us and we begin to feel pressure and anxiety, we will think of Rebecca’s workshop; we’ll have fun with illustration.

We thank Rebecca for her inspiring presentation and workshop and for bringing the SCBWI children’s book community from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan together. We hope Rebecca will enjoy her remaining time in Japan and we hope she will visit us again in the future.

To learn more about Rebecca and her work, please visit her website.

SCBWI members sharing their workshop illustrations with Rebecca Green