PK 043: Nancy Drew Illustrator Erin McGuire on Self-doubt and Getting Your Art Noticed

PK 043: Nancy Drew Illustrator Erin McGuire on Self-doubt and Getting Your Art Noticed 2 043 Erin McGuire Podcast 01

Subscribe to the Pencil Kings Podcast: | iTunes | Stitcher
Like many artists, Nancy Drew illustrator Erin McGuire still struggles with self-doubt

“The Biggest Demon I Wrestle With is Self-doubt”

Children’s book illustrator Erin McGuire is well-known for her Nancy Drew book covers and work with Disney Hyperion. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, she started her creative career as a concept artist.

So how did she make the transition from one style of art to another? And how did she get her first break in this incredibly competitive industry?

“I was working at Reel FX when a blogger from Publisher’s Weekly picked up an illustration that I’d published on my blog,” she explains. “This led to my work being featured in their newsletter, and my website suddenly started getting many more visitors.

“From this, I landed my first freelance job as a children’s book illustrator. This led to more and more work, and eventually I decided to quit my job and go full-time freelance!”

How to Get Your Art Noticed

Erin puts a lot of her success down to luck, but keeping her blog and social media feeds regularly updated with new work must have helped.

She says: “Always be putting up new work and engaging with other artists. Don’t just try and sell your work – talk to people, get to know them, and support their work too.”

Erin also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which she says was a big help. “Attending conferences and talking to people is a great way to get noticed,” she explains.

She also started working with a literary agent some time ago, which she describes as a great relationship which has led to a constant stream of new illustration jobs.

“It’s great to have someone like that on your team,” she explains. “My agent looks after all the stuff like invoices, contracts, and dealing with any issues that very occasionally arise.”

How Erin McGuire Copes With Self-doubt

It seems like Erin McGuire’s career has panned out pretty nicely, but she still struggles with the demons many artists face, saying: “The biggest demon I wrestle with is self-doubt. There are just so many great artists out there posting their work on social media, and it’s easy to start questioning your abilities and telling yourself you’re not posting enough new stuff.”

Her solution? Just to keep working regardless, plus a handy app for her smartphone that blocks all those distracting Facebook and Twitter notifications.


Happy Reading – an illustration by Erin McGuire

Making The Transition From Concept Art to Children’s Books

When she started out as a concept artist at Reel FX, Erin McGuire says her style was “All over the place”, but thinks this was what helped her land the job. “Looking back, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but this actually worked in my favor. The people at Reel FX were looking for artists with varied styles, so this suited me well!”

While at Reel FX, she became friends with writer and illustrator, William Joyce, who helped steer her work in the right direction and introduced her to the possibility of making art for children’s books.

What the Children’s Book Industry is Like for an Artist

The children’s book industry has never been stronger. It seems we’re in a golden age of publishing, where families just can’t get enough of the thousands of new titles that come out each month.

But what’s it like for an artist working in this industry?

“It’s very competitive, but there are lots of opportunities,” says Erin McGuire. “It’s a great time for children’s books – sales are up, and this is one of the fastest-growing areas of publishing right now. It’s great for artists too, because there’s a snowball effect – you’ll do work for one publisher, and this will get picked up by other book publishers and lead to more work.”

Like many other artists, the average working day can vary quite significantly for Erin McGuire. One day she can be sketching away happily with a mug of coffee to hand and her cat sleeping peacefully by her side. At other times, she can be hunched up over Photoshop and burning the midnight oil to meet a looming deadline.

Jobs can be very slow-moving, so she says it’s important to keep a steady flow of work going and work on something else in the meantime.

Why Children’s Books Are So Popular

So why does she think the children’s book industry is so successful?

“One theory is the Harry Potter effect,” she explains. “All the kids that bought these books a few years ago grew up and started getting into Twilight etc.

“Then, when they had kids of their own, they passed on their love of books to them. It also helps that there’s so much talent out there – it’s a really exciting times for creatives.”

But is the success of the children’s book industry down to innovations in publishing such as the iPad? Erin McGuire doesn’t think so.

“The majority of sales are still in paper books,” she says. “Parents and their kids love sitting down together and turning the pages. It’s a tried-and-tested format that kids still really enjoy!”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How to get your art noticed online
  • Why joining a group can help you make new connections
  • How to deal with self-doubt
  • Why a career as a children’s book illustrator is so rewarding

People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Erin’s Website
Erin on Instagram
Erin on Pinterest

Listening options:

Subscribe via iTunes.
Listen on Stitcher Radio.
Android users can grab our RSS feed here.
Right-click and “save file as” for direct download.

Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.



PS, there is also Pencil Kings content on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.