Illustrator Cherie Dignam talks about how she completed a children's book idea

Hello, I'm Cherie Dignam...

I’m originally from Co. Dublin in Ireland but I have lived and worked in England for a number of years and I now reside just outside Perth in sunny Western Australia. When I am not working in a day job to keep my greedy cat supplied with tuna, I am at my drawing desk working on my ideas or doing something else creative.  I also like gardening and seem to spend a lot of time opening and closing the front door for the cat.

I would describe my style as quirky,
heartfelt characters created
with a lot of energy, fun and detail.

Why did you sign up to the 8-week Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

I was trying to break a crippling (involuntary) creative block which I finally managed to do in early 2019 and I came across Nina’s course whilst researching and participating in the 'Sketchbook Revival' online event.  I had wanted to complete my children’s book idea that I had originally started 8 years ago but had never ever finished.


Where do you illustrate?

I am fortunate to have my own studio in my spare room – but despite the extra space I still like to work in a small (always cluttered) area. I also use a notebook/or post-its and scraps of office paper/iPad on my daily work commute. I do find that I get some of my best ideas first thing in the morning!

Did you have a plan going into PBIC?

I had a vague plan to revisit my existing book idea and complete the story layout, with the added bonus that I might manage to produce a finished piece to flesh out my current portfolio. I was happy with my decision to go with my own idea as I felt that I had a real connection with the story and character. I believed in her/the idea, but it was definitely a gamble to choose this path at the beginning of the course.

It was a bit challenging working full-time but on average at least 3-4 hours a day during the week (including my commute to and from work), and a further 8-12 hrs a day at the weekend. In total, at least 20-35hrs. 

What was the best thing about the course?

It gave me more confidence and self-belief in my own artwork and the ability to review and self-critique my own work better.  I also learned not to be too self-critical and to keep going/working on a good idea and not give up too easily.  The best thing was Nina’s feedback and critiques, she was very supportive and detailed.

What was the worst thing about the course?

Time went too quick! I wish that I had 8 weeks working on it full time as I am sure I would have explored more layout options and pushed my visual story further but overall I don’t think there were any real negatives.

How did the course help with your character design process?     

It helped me make her character consistent in size when I placed her next to the other characters in the story. I had moved her around prior to the course but this exercise helped me firm up my main character's size.

The character map process helped me review my character and ensure that her key traits were obvious. 

What was your experience receiving feedback?

I thought that the feedback that Nina provided was very fair, practical and encouraging although there were varying levels of ability on the course. Some people may find that they could benefit from more ‘one to one’ style of mentoring, overall, everyone was keen to learn.   

Talk us through the process of thumbnail sketches.

I had used thumbnails sketches in the past for my general art composition but my first attempt at thumbnails for the course was not very good, possibly because I was trying to drag out my own original 11 pages to fit a 32-page dummy book template and all without any idea about a clear story arc! I found working with the larger storyboard format a much better process and it was easier to visualise and rework.

Making the dummy book was a useful exercise and highlighted the gaps, good exercise to get the overall pace of my story and encouraged me to keep going.

How did you choose your final illustration?

I thought that I would choose one of my more detailed spreads of the book, but this was a bit of an ambitious task as the finished attempt was very flat and disappointing, in reality, it was rushed and lacked the energy and charm of the original rough.

I was out of my depth basically as I still hadn’t worked out how what medium/style that I would do the finished book in. I was very disappointed/annoyed in myself personally, but I knew that I would/could try again, perhaps with something less complicated. 

Did your illustration technique/style change or improve?

After the course finished I set about correcting and fixing all my storyboard spreads and layouts that weren’t working and completed the missing pages too! I then selected another final piece to finish and this turned out much better. My layout and composition skills have definitely improved and I have a clearer direction of where I want the book to look style-wise. I would like to be more experimental but I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses and what I do well, so I am continuing to practise and refine the skills that I have at the moment, daily practice is very important for me personally.

Describe your final illustration. How you were feeling when you were painting this?

I felt happy and in control and very grateful to have learnt how to use my drawing skills better. I was not too daunted this time around and planned each section of the picture with regular breaks so I did not ruin it etc. I did not allow myself to be rushed or distracted and accepted that mistakes will happen, just work around them and deal with it, or perhaps even start again.

If you had the opportunity to do this course over, what would you have done differently?

I would make sure that I had my story plot firmed up and allowed myself more time to experiment with layouts and text.

Who would you recommend the Picture Book Illustration e-Course to?

I would recommend the Picture Book Illustration e-Course to anyone who really wants to learn the basics about children’s book illustration, or aspiring author/illustrators who are thinking about going into the world of children’s book illustration. It’s a great way to learn the basic guidelines which will stand you in good stead for working on your own ideas or any other work in the future.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on submissions and content for my portfolio and I have an idea for another book (with a different character) so that’s a lot of research, but fun. I get ideas all the time, hopefully, I can get some more exposure and eventually attend a major children’s book illustration conference further down the track.

For more information about Cherie Dignam and her illustrations, go to or follow Cherie on Instagram and Facebook.

To register your interest in the all-new self-paced Picture Book Illustration e-Course  >> click here << 

You may also be interested in reading about ... 

How Lily Emo illustrated Florence Fox

Sonya Leonello, putting the pieces back together with picture book illustration

Liane Tancock talks about her experience taking part in PBIC



Join my free mini-course

As my gift to you, here is my character design mini-course. All I need to know is where to send it. Valued at $20, it is 100% free. No credit card is required. You will also receive Nina news – I love to share, but not too often, not too much, and always in support of your creative journey. And you can unsubscribe at any time.