How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim

Billy Hippo Learns to Swim, picture book, Little Door Books, Hannah Foley, Vivian French, illustrator, hippos, swimming, childrenI’m back at my desk and my mind is full of festive images…Christmas sing-a-longs, snow-covered hill-tops, purple clouds over a golden sunset, hoicking our friend out of a muddy puddle on a country walk (we nearly had to sacrifice his wellies!). Good times.

Waiting for me on my return was a very exciting parcel; an advance copy of a picture book I worked on last year for Little Door Books. It’s called How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim and is about a little hippo who hates water. It’s a lovely story written by the super-amazing Vivian French. Little Door Books were fantastic to work for; hugely supportive, thoughtful, and massively committed to producing beautiful children’s books. I learnt loads and am thrilled to bits with the final copy. Billy Hippo is out in March so I’ll keep you posted!

Posted in Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, 2018, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, children, family, educational, natural history, non-fiction

Posted in Illustration, Making changes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Merry Christmas!

priorities, Christmas, mental load, feminism, Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, parenting, family life, mistletoe, baby, miscopies, wrapping paper, Merry Christmas, 2017Merry Christmas everyone! Thanks for all your wonderful support and for following my adventures on this blog. Lots of love to you and yours x

Posted in Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


dry point, etching, ink, printmaking, baby, crawling, black, white, children, illustration, illustrator, Hannah FoleyThe other day Finch broke my necklace. It wasn’t just any old necklace. It was the necklace Big Dreamer gave me when Wren was born. It has five little stars on it, one for each of us. I wear it all the time, never take it off. Finch was play-fighting, made a grab for me and accidentally snapped it.

“I’m sorry Mummy,” he said.

“It’s okay,” I said sorrowfully. It wasn’t okay.

He ran downstairs to Big Dreamer. I heard him say, “I broke Mummy’s necklace.”

“Oh dear,” said Big Dreamer. “Did you say sorry?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But it’s okay cos she’s got more.”

There was a long pause then I heard Big Dreamer say, “Finch mate, here’s some advice that might just save your life. When you’re bigger and have a wife of your own, never ever say it doesn’t matter cos she’s got more.”

Our Christmas tree is up. I’d been putting it off until the last minute after the traumas of last year. That tree barely stayed upright for more than twenty minutes and I never did find some of the decorations that went missing. As is now a family tradition, we headed over to Dartmoor and bought a real beauty from the Dartmoor Park Rangers. We also headed to the same twinkly-lit barn we always visit for some sausage sandwiches and mugs of hot chocolate. This year we were joined by a little robin who hopped around under the tables picking up crumbs. On enquiring about him the café owner said they can’t keep him out. As soon as their backs are turned he’s found his way in again. It must be richer pickings than the hedgerows outside, and I can’t say I blame him. There weren’t many crumbs to be had from under our table I can tell you!

Another of my dry-point prints above. Not quite sure what’s going on with her ear.

Posted in Countryside, Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christmas bustle

Shirley Hughes, Lucy and Tom, Christmas, bustle, nativity, gazebo, rain, snow

Illustration from Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

The kids break up on Friday so the end is in sight. Christmas plays, Christmas concerts, Christmas fairs, Christmas parties, and nativities are all done. Just Christmas jumper day (oh yes!), Christmas school dinners and one more deadline for me, then we’ve made it. My highlight in all this celebratory bustle was the community nativity in our local park at the weekend. Three of the nearby churches got together to organise it and it was a very special (if rather chilly) experience.

Families gathered with torches and lanterns to follow a trail of tealights around the park. We stopped at different stages to hear a section of the Christmas story and sing a carol or two. Lots of people had come in fancy dress so at every stage anyone dressed up as a particular character got to come to the front and act out their bit of the story. There were angels, shepherds and kings of all shapes and sizes, and the littlest donkey I’ve ever seen, who got a resounding “ahhhh” when he stepped forward for the journey to Bethlehem.

All the way round we were accompanied by the local Railway Band, which was just brilliant. There is actually nothing in the world like a brass band at Christmas. I still well up at the illustration of the Salvation Army Band in Shirley Hughes’ Lucy and Tom’s Christmas, even though I’ve read the book a zillion times at least. I can almost hear them just by looking at it.

Finally, as we reached the stable (a cunningly disguised gazebo full of straw bales), the rain started to fall. It could have been very magical if we’d been a bit further north but it is a sad fact about Devon that the only place you get snow is on the moors. So while the rest of the country built snowmen and enjoyed traffic chaos we hurriedly finished off the last carol and then bolted home for tea; all extremely grateful that we wouldn’t be spending Christmas under a gazebo and just a little bit more mindful of those who may be.

Posted in Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

December Flowers

It is my last visit of the year to Margaret Erskine Wilson’s book Wildflowers of Britain Month by Month. We have reached December and of course in the lead up to Christmas, I had to chose her beautiful illustration of holly. Holly is synonymous with Christmas and we have several lovely specimens near us. It seems to have been a good year for berries too, with lots of the trees heavily laden. Apparently a good crop of berries used to be seen as a warning of hard weather to come, but is in fact the result of a fine summer past. Certainly that’s not how I remember August but I’ll concede on June and July.

I read a lovely article about holly as a garden tree this week. The author was bemoaning the modern ‘quick results’ approach to gardening which means slow-going trees like holly are often rejected in favour of faster-growing plants. She suggested that garden plants form important threads to previous times. She says, “A satisfying garden is a resonant one and has things going on in it that are not of the here and now. Built into it are messages from previous owners of the garden and previous uses of the land.” She talks about huge pear trees in gardens on the outskirts of London that are remnants of old orchards, old bay trees planted near to the house to ward off the devil, and holly trees at the bottom of the garden left from the natural landscape that existed before urbanisation spread. It left me rather wanting to plant a holly tree at the bottom of our garden. Even if it doesn’t keep out the current neighbour’s cats it might prickle the bottoms of future cats, and that’s a rather satisfying thought!*



*Disclaimer: Before any of you cat-lovers log-off in disgust, I don’t actually hate cats, I just don’t want them to poo in my garden. Please stay and read! 🙂

Posted in Illustration, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drip drip

Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, printmaker, printmaking, artist, dry-point, baby, crawlingIt poured on the school run this morning. The rain dripped off my hood, onto the end of my nose, and from there bounced off alternate knees. Wren screamed her head off when I put the rain cover on the pushchair, she hates it. Honestly, what I wouldn’t give for someone to be pushing me round in a cosy pushchair in a downpour!

From wet to dry, dry-point printmaking to be exact (tenuous link!). Some of you may remember me taking a dry-point day-class with the wonderful printmaker Lynn Bailey back in the spring. Dry-point is the process of creating a printing plate by scratching into a sheet of perspex or metal. I enjoyed it so much I booked myself onto an evening class and have been going along over the last few weeks, this time led by another great Devon-based printmaker, Jeremy Speck. Here is one of my prints (it’s Wren if you haven’t guessed). You might have noticed that I’m heavily influenced by Anita Klein! I’m so pleased with the effect and will be sharing some more prints here over the next few weeks.

When I graduated I received some sage advice from one of my college tutors about trying to do some sort of creative class once a year to keep the creative juices flowing, to challenge myself, and create opportunities for experimentation. Even better, she added, if it was something completely different to my normal approach, technique or discipline. She was right. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going along to the class. It’s given me loads of food for thought for potential things I would like to try and most importantly, it’s been wonderfully cathartic to head out of the house for a quiet couple of hours and get mucky with inks.

Posted in Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Time for school

Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, safari, education, non-fiction, children, kids, family, elephants, ibis, egret, gazelle, hippo, hippopotamus, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, mountains, rhinoceros, rhino, waterholeThe skies are leaden and the day is blustery. The radio regales me with dire weather reports from Scotland; wind, rain and the chance of snow at rush hour tomorrow. Meanwhile I sit snugly at my desk and press Send on Finch’s school application. That’s right, no pen and paper required, it’s all electronic now. I hesitated over that last click. I have a friend who is completely unsentimental about moments like these. She waved her youngest son off to school with glee and went home to put her feet up, but that’s not how my heart works. It definitely registers; with a funny emotional mixture of nostalgia, pride, relief, and sadness.

If I had any worries over Finch at school, the following conversation about a runny nose the other day soon resolved them. It went like this:

Me to Finch: I’ll get you a tissue.

Finch: No, I can just lick it.

Me: Your tongue can’t reach your nose.

Finch: No. I wait for it to dribble down.

Gross but ever practical. He’ll be fine!

Posted in Family and friends, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Exeter guildhall

Exeter, guildhall, Exeter Illustrators, Exeter, illustration, illustrator, Hannah Foley, buildings, city, urban, medievalOver the last few months I have got involved with a group called Exeter Illustrators. As the name suggests they are a bunch of illustrators who live around the Exeter area who have got together to collaborate on projects, socialise and share information. They are a fantastic lot, with many well-known names amongst them. As they say themselves, between them, there isn’t much they haven’t scribbled! Being still very much in my journeyman years of the illustration profession I do at times feel slightly overawed but everyone has been very welcoming and generous.

Last week one project some of us collaborated on was delivered to the Lord Mayor of Exeter in person by two of the team. They even had their picture in the local press! Exeter Illustrators produced a poster of distinctive Exeter buildings, each drawn by a different illustrator from the group and the City Council asked if a special edition of the poster could be used as a civic gift for visiting dignitaries. I got the historic guildhall. It’s not an easy building to draw, I can tell you. It’s got all sorts of decorative carving on it and is so well known in Exeter that I knew I couldn’t miss out a single twist of ornate masonry or it would be noted! Here is my final illustration. As I drew, I kept reminding myself, at least I hadn’t got the cathedral!!!

Posted in Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

November flowers

Hannah Foley, Illustration, illustrator, natural historyRain pounded down all day yesterday. My pink geranium, still flowering copiously in the shelter of the side return, looked a bit absurd against such a grey November backdrop. Funnily enough pink geraniums don’t appear in Margaret Erskine Wilson’s page on November from Wildflowers of Britain Month by Month. Instead we get another lovely pink flower, that of Euonymus europaeus, otherwise known as Spindle.

Spindle gets its name from its use in making spindles for spinning and holding wool. Its wood is creamy white, hard and dense. It was also used for making skewers, toothpicks, pegs and knitting needles. Apparently the fruit was often baked and powdered as a treatment for head lice. That’s one to try out on the kids if we get a visit from the dreaded nits!

Like Dogwood, Spindle is one of those small broadleaf shrubs that I barely register in amongst the undergrowth. In the park more showy cultivated varieties of both plants are at their best at this time of year. There are some particularly wonderful dogwoods with brightly coloured gold and red stems that we pass every day on our way to school.

For myself, I find that something important happens when I can name a plant or animal or insect. Suddenly it seems to pop out everywhere. By naming it, I recognise it as distinct, with a whole set of unique qualities that contribute to this funny little patch I call home. So from now on I shall make the effort to notice Spindle and Dogwood, although I don’t think I’ll be making my own knitting needles any time soon!

Posted in Countryside, Growing things | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments