Five minutes with my illustrator: Ainsley Knott


Last week, I shared with you the process that I went through when I hired the illustrator for my book, Diary of a Penguin-napper (which is coming out in about three weeks, by the way, but who’s counting?)  Today, I thought I’d introduce you to my wonderful illustrator – Ainley Knott.

Ainsley is a freelance illustrator based in the UK. He graduated from The Arts University College at Bournemouth in 2006 with a degree in Illustration and after leaving university worked as a storyboard artist for King Rollo Films on their CBBC animation Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies. He has produced work for local clients and also more commercially including Ecologist Magazine, Lightrhythym Visuals, Bluestone 360, Audio Visual Academy to name a few.


I’ve had a passion for drawing and doodling for as long as I can remember. From an early age I was crudely doing portraits of the heroes of my day such as He-man and The Ninja Turtles.

I also got a lot of practice in at school, drawing in the back of my exercise books when I should have been paying attention to my teachers.

I loved Art class and I guess this is where my technical drawing abilities gradually improved.

By the time school came to an end I wasn’t sure where I’d like to go with doing something arty as a possible career or what was available in terms of further education.

I recall originally wanting to get into animation as the idea of making cartoons sounded amazing.

It wasn’t until I went on a foundation course for Art & Design that I was exposed to all things creative and found out about illustration. Although animation seemed fun, illustration really appealed to me because it allowed me to fully engage my imagination and deliver something a lot more personal. I had a great lecturer during that year who was really encouraging and gave me a lot of self belief. This ultimately steered me towards a degree course in illustration and the passion has continued ever since.


I always find this one quite tricky to answer. Firstly, I should point out that it took me quite a while to find my own personal style and I also think that it’s something that constantly evolves, similarly to how our tastes in music gradually change.

Visually, I like to work with strong, dramatic shadows because I like the atmosphere it creates and just seems to create a more impacting image. Learning how to shade things is also something that I think came quite naturally to me early on and I thin one should always play to their strengths.

I’d describe my work as quite meticulous with lots of detail and I like to include a lot of things within the image which the viewer can take time over. Anthony Browne’s picturebooks influenced this a lot as I loved his stuff when I was small (I still do I might add) They had lots of little hidden things going on in the backgrounds which you’d only notice if you looked hard enough.

I’ve never been a rough, scruffy drawer so all my stuff is quite neat and (I hesitate to use the word) calculated. Thus I like using smooth intricate lifework. I also like using dynamic perspectives and try to make the image composition as interesting as possible, without compromising the overall theme/sentiment of the image.

In terms of subject matter, I’m inspired by everyday observations. Capturing scenes or objects that would ordinarily seem mundane and bringing them to life with a different perspective and often incorporating elements of humour or quirkiness. I like to engage the viewer by reminding them that the simplest things or moments can appear interesting or have a story behind them if they just slow down enough to notice them.


All my illustrations start as pencil sketches. Usually I plan how they’re laid out with lots of small thumbnail sketches and then narrow it down to a selection of ones I think work and then refine until I’m satisfied. I then start to work on the full size image in pencil which often requires looking at source imagery to find out how things look. For example, one recent image I did involved a gannet diving into water so I had to research what water looked like when something hits it.

When I’m happy with the pencil sketch I scan it into Photoshop. At this point I start digitally painting shades of grey to work out the tonal values/shadows of the image and to make sure everything seems balanced. This is where a lot of indecisiveness comes into play. After that it’s more a process of selecting colours choices and then adding various textures to give it an extra dimension.


I’ve always been into picturebooks from an early age but I wasn’t really a big reader until my late teens, which was about the same time I became interested in illustration.

If I was to choose a book I’d love to illustrate I’d have to say the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I really love the story and think the world he describes conjures up such beautiful imagery in my mind. Thinking about it makes me want to create some personal pieces on it actually.


I’m working with a friend on the artwork for a children’s story he’s written which we intend to create a series of picturebooks from.

If you’d like to check out more of Ainsley’s work or if you’d like to get in touch with him about a project you are working on, you can get in touch via:


LINKED IN: Ainsley Knott

TWITTER: @AinsleyKnott


2 thoughts on “Five minutes with my illustrator: Ainsley Knott

  1. Thank you so much for mentioning Ainsley – he was fantastic to work with and I cannot sing his praises too much. We’ve just completed the final illustration and they are fabulous!

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