Shelley Ann Jackson

That Dreaded Word ‘Style’: Thoughts on Guiding Students to Find their Own Visual Languages


Often, the books that stick with us from childhood into adulthood resonate an interest, experience, character, or even place that made us feel that somehow, this story was our story, too. These connections are built through text and illustration, carefully crafted to communicate to the reader. Yet, many students enter postgraduate children’s book illustration education with one clear goal: finding a ‘style,’ as if this is the key to a successful illustrated book. Our aim as educators is to guide them away from this narrow outward search and instead towards an expansive inward exploration of their own interests, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Ultimately, we strive for students to leave our course with more than just a consistent, aesthetically pleasing style but rather, a visual language that communicates each artist’s unique viewpoint, so they can meet young readers in a place of authenticity and build connections through their own stories.

Shelley Ann Jackson is an associate professor and course leader of the world-renowned MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. She is an award-winning illustrator, designer and author of children’s picturebooks. Shelley is a graduate of both the prestigious MFA Illustration as Visual Essay at the School of Visual Arts and the MFA Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Cambridge, England with her author-illustrator and frequent collaborator husband, their creative teenage daughter, two silly dogs, and one frisky horse.