Star decoration. Photograph by Hannah Foley (

First few Christmas decorations going up

Today I am attending the first day of a three-day induction at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital in Exeter. ‘Why would you be doing such a thing?’ I hear you cry! Well, changes are afoot. Many of you will know that when I left school I first trained and worked as a Registered Nurse. In January I will be starting a refresher course with my local teaching hospital to return to nursing. There are a few reasons why I’m doing this and I wanted to explain them here for any of you who are interested, or have been kindly following my journey. It’s a long one so grab a cuppa.

I think the first thing to say is that from starting Art College as an eager and earnest art student, my view of art and illustration, and in particular, making a living as an illustrator, has changed inordinately. It was interesting and strangely reassuring for me to return to the art college where I studied, to take some tutorials with students there the week before last. I found Art College a real roller coaster and I still find it difficult to articulate what I found so tricky about it. Visiting for the afternoon, it was as difficult a place as ever to be. It is something to do with the almost tangible mismatch between the hopes and dreams of bright young people, and the cynicism and arrogance of the market place that is a current UK Higher Education institution. It’s sort of like watching toddlers being fed into a mincer.

I recognise now that I was naïve about a couple of important things when I graduated from Art College. The truth is that, over five years down the line, I know very few people who are earning a living exclusively illustrating. The phrase that is often bandied around is Portfolio Career, and it turns out you have to be as creative about your career as you do about the work itself. People I know are working as designers, communications officers, SEO specialists, web designers, writers, teachers, workshop facilitators, technicians, speakers, baristas, shelf-stackers, and much, much more, along side their illustrating. The other thing I was naive about was the ‘Hustle’. The ‘Hustle’ involves selling yourself as an illustrator, getting your work under the noses of those with the power to commission you, and the horrors of contract and pricing negotiations. It is best compared to having your eye drilled out very, very slowly. For anyone with a vaguely sensitive disposition (oh, you know, like illustrators and artists), it’s tantamount to water torture.

So, back at the beginning of the year I ended up having a ‘moment’. The ‘moment’ involved me acknowledging that there would probably never be this magical point where I would ‘make-it’ and earn a living consistently from illustration, so I needed to supplement my illustration work with other things. However, I knew I didn’t want to do the things that I could see other illustrators doing as part of their portfolio careers (a good teacher is worth their weight in gold, and I am not one of them). I could also see that the ‘hustle’ was killing my mental health. All this coincided with the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) conference in Glasgow. Some of you will remember that conference. I had worked on their Cranial Cocktail project, looking at the chemicals in your brain, and went up for the launch conference at Glasgow Science Centre. I sat in that conference room with doctors, nurses, teachers, probation officers, counselors, mediators, family workers, and youth workers, and I remembered how much I care about what happens to people when they are having a tough time. And when I say that, I mean, I care a lot about it.

I don’t want to get all high-faluting. Nursing is a mucky old business and it’s the hardest work I have ever done in my life. I don’t suppose I made a lot of difference in my time as a nurse and often it was absolutely hideous. The bureaucratic structure of the NHS sometimes seemed as if it were expressly designed to thwart any attempts by its staff to actually help any of its users. Nevertheless, I sat there and thought, there’s still a nurse inside of me. The end result was that I have been slowly working my way through the grueling process of getting on a refresher course.

Of course, into the mix of all this has been the Kelpies Prize. Talk about a curve ball. I hope that I can find a good balance between the physical and emotional demands of nursing, and the creative demands of writing and illustrating. At the moment I feel as though I would gladly never pick up a pencil again but I think that might be part of the process, and I hope I will find my way back to illustrating again. I’m certainly very excited about the writing. As to this blog, it’s probably going to evolve a bit. I hope I don’t lose too many of you as it does. I can foresee that there will be fewer drawings, more day-in-the-life stories as I work this nursing thing out, and hopefully, more writing. Do stick with me. At the very least, it should be entertaining!

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Billy Hippo workshops

Billy Hippo school workshop. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved ( week I had the absolute delight of taking some illustrations workshops at a local school. It was brilliant fun. The kids were wonderfully imaginative and inventive. We sang a Billy Hippo song and did some Billy Hippo-themed crafts. I did feel completely exhausted afterwards though. I don’t know how teachers do it, day after day.

At home, the advent calendars are out and it has blown Wren’s mind. Chocolate for breakfast? Marvellous! We headed out to Buckland Abbey at the weekend to mark the start of Advent. Buckland Abbey was the home of Sir Francis Drake. It’s a great place to visit at any time but it was full of Christmas charm this weekend. There was an enormous, sparkly tree in the old Thythe Barn. Up in the attic The Lord of Misrule was presiding over festivities. The Lord of Misrule was a character who would have appeared at Christmas on Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind. I suppose he comes from the old topsy-turvey traditions. Essentially, one of the sailors would take on the role of The Lord of Misrule, being captain for the day, playing practical jokes and causing havoc. Interesting fact, did you know penguins got their name from Francis Drake’s Welsh sailors who named them Pen-Gwinns, ‘White-headed’ in Welsh?

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Rainy day in Exeter

Rainy day in Exeter. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (, that’s put paid to my allotment plans for the morning. It is pouring down!

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Singing trains

Last week was a busy one. My trip to Edinburgh was great. It was beautiful weather up there: clear and crisp, and slanting low light around every corner. I visited my publisher’s office and met my editor properly for the first time. We had lemon biscuits and coffee, and chatted through the editing process and all sorts of other miscellaneous book-related things. It was lovely and made me very excited about working with them. I also did some tutorials at Edinburgh College of Art but will post about that another time. It was funny being back at the College of Art. It hadn’t changed a bit. Back in Exeter, most of the housework and chores awaited my return but the family seemed to have survived.

At the weekend it was Exeter Literary Festival, and I got along to an ‘In Converstion…’ Event at Exeter Waterstones with Philip Reeve. Philip is best known as a YA author but he has also collaborated on books for younger children with the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre. Really, I think his books are for all ages. We love them in our house. If you haven’t heard of Philip’s books you might have heard of the upcoming Mortal Engines film by Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, which is based on Philip’s book series of the same name.

It was wonderful hearing Philip discussing his books and writing, with another Devon-based YA author, Lucy Hounsom. He is a very engaging person to listen to. It was particular interesting for me to hear about his journey from illustrator to writer. His books are mostly science fiction and I loved hearing his ideas about dystopian versus utopian science fiction, and how these relate to current events. He is definitely someone I could have listened to speak for at least double the time. I have been making an effort to get along to more author events as I always do find them inspiring. I virtually skipped back home down the hill, underneath the hung but yet to be lit Christmas lights on Exeter High Street, singing to myself just like one of Philip’s sentient trains.

Philip doesn’t just sign books for his fans, he also draws them illustrations – brilliant!

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Boatbuilding diorama

Here is a children’s fold-up diorama with cut-out figures I worked on over the summer. I do love a bit of maritime history!

Next week there will be no post from as I’ll be away on illustration-related business. I’ll be back the week after.

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Hunter’s Moon

I have been enjoying the Autumn evenings over half term. There is still enough light to do half an hour in the garden after the littlest ones are down to bed and I’m often getting a stack of washing in anyway. It has been so still and peaceful, glorious sunsets adorning the sky. The plants are dying back, elegant skeletal remnants of their former glory. I have left the grass long this year, to help it recover from the trauma of the dry summer. Oh, it did look forlorn. I pounce on each fallen leaf from the fig tree. As big as dinner plates, they are perfect as a mulch on my patio pots, keeping the weeds at bay. I have slowly been putting the garden to bed. This year I have laid a lot of my cuttings over any bare soil. I have learnt from my allotment reading that this is good for worms, and hence good for the soil.

I have had to cut the rambling roses back hard. Apparently they should normally be pruned in August but a renovation-prune should not be done until now. I have a lot to learn about roses. I learnt this year that I should have trained them along the horizontal and then the new-flowering-growth would work up the vertical, but I had it all backwards, hence the hard prune. I hope they don’t die! The hanging baskets are down and stored on a nail in the shed. As I work the shadows grow longer and the air more chilly, until at last the whole garden is dim and the kitchen lights send bright rectangles across the side-return. The Hunter’s Moon is high in the sky. I briefly stop on the doorstep to take a deep breathe of star-lit evening air then head inside to the snug warmth.

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Christmas cards

I’m so sorry…it’s not even November…Christmas cards…

Christmas, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, Christmas Tree, family, snow, pine trees, sunset, winter, Christmas preparations, buying Christmas tree

Christmas, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, Christmas Tree, family, snow, pine trees, sunset, winter, Christmas preparations, buying Christmas tree

I have packs of ten to sell for £6 (plus postage and packaging if required). The message inside reads ‘Merry Christmas’. Each cards comes with an accompanying white envelope. The cards are A6 in size and are landscape in orientation. For my lovely regulars in the North, I will be sending a batch up to my Yorkshire distributor (aka my wonderful mum-in-law). Send me an email at if you would like a pack. Okay, you may go back to October.

Hannah foley, Christmas cards, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator

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Here is an old piece of work I found when rummaging recently. Isn’t it funny to look back and see how your work changes? I’m not altogether sure how I feel about it. There’s an odd discomfort in looking at a piece like this. There are things I really like about it. Was I right to shed what I did to end up where I am now? But, perhaps I’ve not really shed anything. Those techniques are still in my toolbox and the journey isn’t linear.

We planted a Sorbus along the back fence this week. Sorbus are more commonly known as Mountain Ash or Rowan. This one is called Autumn Spire. It is tall and columnar, bearing red berries and crimson foliage in Autumn. It completes my set along the fence: Holly for winter, Swedish Birch for summer, Flagpole Cherry for spring, and now the Sorbus. In ten years time these trees should hopefully be mature (ok, not the Holly), providing food and refuge for our declining songbird friends. In the mean time they will give us shade and much pleasure as we watch them grow.

Next week we will be away on our hols for half term so no post from me but I’ll be back the week after.

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Indoor thoughts

field peas, greenhouse, allotment, autumn, gardening, jobs, chores, growing, gardening, hannah foley, illustration, illustrator, lifestyle illustrationDays starting cold and sharp, apexed with golden warmth, continue here. We had a wonderful walk along the South West Coast Path on Saturday, climbing high above chalky cliffs for views of blue meeting blue for miles all around. It is another golden day today but my thoughts aren’t of outside. I have a very exciting document to look at…the text for the next Billy Hippo picture book! I can’t wait to be drawing this little chap again.
Here’s an illustration of another job I’ll be getting on with this week down at the allotment.

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Lemon Biscuits

Dawn by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved ( have had clear star-filled nights here making it easy to see and admire the Harvest Moon. Consequently the mornings have been cold and bordering on frosty. I found a frozen dandelion clock on the allotment. I have needed a few more layers for my early morning bike rides too, but have been rewarded with some stunning dawns, the air alive with birdsong and steeped in golden mists. The birds do seem particularly chatty at the moment. I wondered if it was because they were busy stocking up for the cold months ahead but I like this idea from David Lack: autumn birdsong is a signal of a bird’s intention to stay the winter rather than migrate. I wonder if he is right. It is mostly sparrows, tits and robins I have seen chirruping away, all non-migratory birds. If birds had fingers I imagine then making rude gestures and yelling, “Yah! Get out of here you southern softies, us northerners will tough it out!” That would be mostly the sparrows I should think; just the sort of behaviour I would expect from sparrows.

At the weekend it poured here. We braved the rain to attend the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. It sounds very highbrow (and it is) but we were aiming for an event called Fairy Tale Pets by Tracey Corderoy, which was not so highbrow but probably more fun. Little Owl has been a big fan of Tracey since my mother-in-law introduced her to the Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble series. Granny is a witch and a very mischievous one. You should hear what she gets up to in the Great Granny Bake Off! Anyway, Tracey’s event was about her book Fairy Tale Pets in which Bob decides he needs a job and he’s going to take in pets. Well you can imagine the chaos that ensues when the likes of Baby Bear, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs turn up. Tracey was absolutely fantastic: super nice and super fun. To her credit, she was also not at all fazed with Little Owl’s stack of books for her to sign, or the slightly squashed lemon biscuits Little Owl had made for her. She actually ate them too. Big Dreamer said this was because she is either very nice or was very hungry, but I happen to think Little Owl makes a pretty mean lemon biscuit, squashed or not.

Tracey Corderoy, Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble, children's fiction, children's books, author event, author signing, children, parents, family, book festival, nosy crow

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