Shelagh Armstrong — Illustrator

Shelagh Armstrong headshot


If the World Were a Village, 2011
This Child, Every Child, 2011
If America Were a Village, 2009


Shelagh Armstrong graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in studio arts and art history before studying Communication and Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design. She grew up with an awareness of the fine arts through her mother’s love of the fine and editorial (Victorian) arts.

Professionally illustrating for over twenty years, Shelagh’s career has spanned across a variety of industries including retail advertising; courtroom sketching for television; package illustrating for private and public companies; and commemorative coin designing for the Royal Canadian Mint, including commemorative coins for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Her acclaimed design work and revered illustrations allowed her to reenter the editorial world when she was asked to illustrate If the World Were a Village for Kids Can Press, winner of the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award. Following the success of her first children’s book, Shelagh also illustrated If America Were a Village.

Q & A

January 1st.

Where do you live now?
Toronto, Ontario.

When did you start drawing?
I was very young, probably three or four years of age. I showed notable skill in the drawing of chickadees!

Do you have any tips for young creators?
Learn to draw well from many different sources. Explore many different materials. Ponder styles. Take time off school to develop your own language. Don't be driven by the dollar. Strive to be individual. Draw a lot. Live a balanced life. Pick up a sport. Be nice to people. Enjoy friendships. Life is not all about work — it’s about experiences that will enrich one’s own work … given a good balance.

What is your favorite book?
My favorite illustrative (children’s) books are many: A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh; P. Opie, I. Opie and M. Sendak’s I Saw Esau; G. Saunders and L. Smith’s The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip; Sara Midda’s South of France: A Sketchbook and any of David Kirk’s books and Eric Carle’s books.

Do you have any pets?
I used to have a cat named Princess.

What is your favorite food?

Do you have any hobbies?

What was your training or schooling?
I studied arts and humanities at university and college levels.

How did you get involved with children’s books?
Through the encouragement of my husband and early career dabblings.

What materials do you work with? What is the difference between different materials?
Acrylic paint on board and watercolors usually — I rarely use oils anymore. Some ink work combined with computer graphics programs.

What is your favorite movie?
It’s too hard to choose! Many animated films … or biographical/historical ones.

What is the thing you like the most about creating kids books?
Keeping things simple but lyrical, and keeping them colorful.

Where do you work?
At home in the studio … or outside in the garden … or on the deck … or in a local cafe …

How do you research or create your stories?
The reference library and other local libraries, book shops, my own picture files/photo references, in the local park, on the street.

Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from working at length with designers and keeping visually aware of what my contemporaries are creating, and from past artists.

What’s your greatest childhood memory?
There are many — but in general, I loved the simplicity and carefree nature of it all … the joy of learning something new and the encouragement my parents gave me. And that trying my best was always good enough. Also, I remember clean air and warm summer nights on Lake Superior, and the Northern Lights.

What is your favorite animal?
The black jaguar.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist.

What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was employed as a court room artist.

What is your next project?
Another book, I hope! Though there are many commercial pieces on the horizon.

Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
The people are primarily drawn from my imagination, or from the photo bank in my mind — with embellishments from real-life references.


If America Were a Village

2010 - Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, NCSS-CBC, Winner

If the World Were a Village

2012 - Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Winner
2004 - Alberta Children’s Choice Rocky Mountain Book Award, Short-listed
2003 - Nautilus Award, Winner
2003 - Our Choice - Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Winner
2003 - Children’s Choices List, International Reading Association, Winner
2003 - Parent’s Guide Choice Award, Winner
2003 - Independent Publisher Book Award, Winner
2003 - ABC Choices Award, Association of Booksellers for Children, Winner
2003 - Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, Winner
2003 - Children’s Book Award, International Reading Association, Winner
2002 - NAPPA - Children’s Resources Gold Award, Winner

This Child, Every Child

2012 - Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Winner
2012 - Outstanding International Book, USBBY, Winner