Jesse Hodgson is an illustrator and author from the United Kingdom who holds a degree in Illustration. Jesse published a beautifully rendered children’s book titled “Pongo” with Flying Eye Books and it has since gone on to gain much acclaim including an "Highly Commended" award from the Macmillan Children's Book Prize. Jesse is currently working as an illustrator while also dreaming up some of her own unique stories—most of which are inspired by nature and animals. She recently talked about her profession and her experiences as a published author.


Blasting News (BN): How did you decide that you wanted to both illustrate and author books and how did you hear about Nobrow?

Jesse Hodgson (JH): I decided to pursue a career in writing and illustrating books after I had received the “Highly Commended” award by the Pan Macmillan Children’s Book Prize for Illustration, for “Pongo.” Receiving the award confirmed to me that a career in picture books was worth exploring further. I’ve always enjoyed creative writing and the two disciplines seem to compliment each other naturally. Robert Hunter and Jon Mcnaught were both teachers at UWE and they told me about Nobrow.

BN: Is "Pongo" your first book? It's a beautiful, gentle, and somewhat playful story.

What gave you the idea and why did you choose an orangutan as the main character?

JH: Yes, “Pongo” was my very first book! I was drawn to orangutans because of their unique character. When I saw them at the zoo, I discovered that they are so playful and childlike. While they have daft and silly habits they are also graceful and elegant creatures.

Orangutans are so similar to us. I had quite an emotional experience when one orangutan at Chester zoo came to watch me draw her. She had a baby with her and was looking at my drawing and then gazing straight into my eyes – I was in love! The Malaysian and Indonesian people call them ‘orang hutan,' meaning ‘people of the trees,' or ‘person of the forest,' and I think that captures “Pongo” perfectly.

BN: How long did the story take to finish and what was it like to hear that it had won high accolades in contests?

JH: It didn’t take me long to come up with the overall narrative structure for the story, but I did spend about a month getting the writing just right. I re-wrote each sentence many times so that it flowed well when you read it aloud. The illustrations took much longer to finish. I think it must have been about 9 months or more of drawing in total to complete all the illustrations! I was surprised and delighted when I heard that it had been selected for the Highly Commended Award. It was very rewarding and exciting.


BN: So far, what have you enjoyed most about working as an illustrator/author and what are your goals over the next ten years?

JH: I get a lot of my inspiration from nature and I love the moment when an animal or a landscape sparks an idea for a book. I particularly enjoy creating characters and narratives. In the future, I’d like to see myself continuing to write more of my own stories, and drawing even more than I am now!

BN: What's next for you and what advice can you give people who are striving to enter the writing/illustrating field?

JH: I’m currently working on a picture book with another author which is going to be beautiful and it is great fun to be collaborating with another writer. I’ve also got another story of my own to illustrate, and I am constantly jotting down new ideas for books that I can’t wait to share!

I’ve also been involved with a short film that is being shown later this year, about the life and death of the Armenian poet, Taniel Varoujan. It has been a different type of project for me both because it is in the different mediums of ink and film, and as it is about the Armenian Genocide that took place in Turkey in 1915. I’ve loved working with the director, Garo Berberian, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing my drawings in a new form.

My advice for people entering the field is to keep going! It is challenging starting out in freelance work, especially if there’s a period where it seems like no projects are coming your way. I have found that it’s important to keep creating through such times, and to continue to show your ideas to as many people as you can – you never know which is going to be picked up, or when. I have found it encouraging to surround myself with people on a similar creative journey to me, where you can critique each other’s work and take inspiration from one another.