Elise Morse Shares Her Illustration Journey

My name is Elise and I live on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia. When I’m not illustrating, I’m raising my family as a stay at home mum. I’ve spent the last 15 months setting up a business; with commissions for pet and wildlife drawings, selling prints in local cafes and creating wall decal artworks for a local business. It’s been a juggling act with family life, but I’ll have the time this year to produce more illustrations when my youngest starts school.

I would describe my illustration style as realistic. Because I've only just started my journey in character design, my children's picture book style is still evolving.

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

I’d been drawing for about a year-and-a-half when a friend of mine saw my work and said that I should become a children’s book illustrator. Around the same time, another friend sent me a link to Nina’s Project Portfolio online series, which got me curious about children’s book illustration. The stars aligned! After watching the Project Portfolio video sessions, I was able to sign up to Nina’s Picture Book Illustration e-Course.

Where and when do you illustrate?

I don’t have a studio at my house, so use a small section of my bedroom where I do all my creating (lucky we have a large bedroom). As far as time goes, during the course, I mainly worked at night when the children were asleep. Each week varied. On average, I would say that I dedicated about 8-hours per week to the course.

Did you have a plan?

I didn’t have a plan going into the Picture Book Illustration e-Course. I’m not an author, so I was happy to use the course manuscript (‘Florence Fox Goes to School’ written by Ben Whittacker-Cook) and to use the 8-weeks to concentrate on the illustration process.

What was the best thing about the Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

The highlight for me was having Nina critique my work. Having this feedback pushed me to develop my characters further and it gave me insight into how illustrators think creatively. Nina’s additional Skillshare courses also helped tremendously.

What was the worst thing about the Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

The worst thing about PBIC was not having more time. I would have liked more time to develop the characters. I sometimes struggled with the proportion, size and scale of my animal characters alongside my human characters.

Character Design

How did the course help with your character design process?

Usually, I would draw from a photo reference, so the course taught me how to develop and draw the same character at different angles and scenarios. Starting from initial messy sketches, I learnt how to map out my character. The character mapping process helped build my confidence and it stretched my ability to experiment with different angles and body movements, instead of the flat, one-dimensional drawings I usually draw.

After the character map, I learnt how to use wireframes to move my characters around. I then took these characters and placed them into the story, all the while developing a visual storyboard. So, you can imagine, a LOT of sketches (and practice) in order to produce the final artwork.

What was your experience receiving feedback?

Nina’s feedback was an enormous help. She was very generous with her time and her critiques made me think about what was missing and what I could include to enhance each illustration.


I’ve known about thumbnail sketches, but I’ve never had to put them into practice until this course. Developing thumbnails helped me bring the manuscript to life by seeing the visual flow of the entire story.

Once I completed the thumbnails, I then worked these into the larger storyboard format. I’m a detail drawer, so it was great to finally work larger, where the details were more visible. It was exciting to see all of my work come together at this stage.

What is a dummy book?

The dummy book shows how the visual story worked, with its turning pages. You get a real sense of the pace, rhythm and flow of your illustrations. As well as showing me just how many drawings I had nutted out! I felt a sense of achievement looking back at all the work I had done. At this point, I was really eager to see at least one of spreads finalised in colour.

Final Artwork

How did you choose your final piece?

I pulled out five of my favourite pieces that I really wanted to finish and looked at them side-by-side. I thought the pool party piece stood out the most. It had a lot going on and I really wanted to push myself and take on the challenge to develop it further. I also think it was one that Nina suggested, so that was confirmation that I was on the right track.

Describe your final illustration.

My final illustration is very colourful and detailed with lots of action. I’m new to watercolour so even though I finished my final piece, I will no doubt attempt it again, change a couple of things and try to perfect my watercolour skills. I felt a real sense of achievement when it was completed.

How did your illustration technique/style change or improve?

I’m still relatively new to drawing. My usual style is fashion and wildlife/pet illustration drawn from photo reference, so it’s a completely different style than what I’m used to. It was great to create something from my imagination and to see it come to life on paper. I usually just draw with a lot of white space, so I enjoyed the challenge of thinking about what’s going on in the background, which is something I tend to avoid.

If you did it again, what would you have done differently?

If I had the opportunity to do this course again, I would try my hand at creating my own manuscript and seeing how my illustration style evolves.

Who would you recommend this course to?

I would recommend PBIC to anyone really. From the curious like me to someone who doesn’t think they can draw. A budding children’s book author or someone with drawing skills who wants to challenge themselves further. The course was easy to follow, very thorough.

What’s next for you?

I’m so inspired now and really want to grow as an illustrator. My plan is to challenge myself to do at least one new sketch a week and to do drawing challenges like Inktober and Folktale Week and any other illustration challenges that I come across. My overall plan is to build up a professional illustration portfolio to present at the KidLitVic in 2021. Where I hope to get some feedback and (fingers crossed) possible work.

You can find more of Elise’s work on her website


To follow Elise on Instagram, go to …

elisemorseart  for children’s picture book illustration

blisscreative_graphicdesign for wildlife, pet and nature illustrations

ebmorse_illustrations for high-end illustration

Interested in participating in the Picture Book Illustration e-Course? Then sign up to Nina’s mailing list. You ill receive an invitation you to register for Picture Book Illustration e-Course (starting October 1) in August 2020.

In the mean-time, Nina has a series of character design classes on Skillshare.

In her blog in shares 12 classes that walk you through the process of how to illustrate a picture book character. Working through the character design series is a great way to up-skill while you wait for the Picture Book Illustration e-Course.


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.