Maeko Bradshaw's Picture Book Illustration Journey

My name is Maeko Bradshaw 

I am from South Lake Tahoe, California, USA. I am a calligraphy artist by trade and when I’m not illustrating, I’m usually working on signage for weddings or special events. I’m also lucky enough to live in a beautiful place with lots of outdoor recreation opportunities, so I spend a lot of time out on my paddleboard, riding my mountain bike, or hiking with my two cairn terriers.

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

I'd been following Nina on social media and Skillshare for a long time. I’d taken most of her Skillshare classes (which I loved) and I'd seen advertisements for the Picture Book Illustration e-Course (PBIC). As a first step, I decided to take Nina's Animal Character Design course before jumping into PBIC. I’m really glad I took the courses in that order, there was a lot of foundation work I learned in the Animal Character Design course that helped me going into PBIC. It was a refresher on how to sketch from reference and how to anthropomorphize animals, and then jumping into PBIC I was able to focus on the process of creating a children’s book without worrying about my foundational art skills at the same time. 

What did you get from the 8-week Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

I saw just how much my illustrations developed and transformed over the eight weeks. I didn’t notice how much my drawings changed until the class was over and I was able to go back and compare week one’s work with my final illustrations. I was amazed at how much skill I gained during the whole process. PBIC made me want to continue to sketch or draw for at least 15 minutes every day. It also helped me to set a few goals for myself.

How much time did you dedicate to the course?

I tried to spend at least an hour a day on PBIC work. Sometimes that meant researching or just sketching and coming up with ideas rather than putting anything final together. Often, I’d get so wrapped up working on a piece that I’d be sitting at my desk for three to four hours without realizing how much time had passed. 

Did you work traditional or digital?

I mostly used my iPad for my artwork but found that I sometimes needed to go back to traditional pencil and paper to flesh out some of the ideas in my head. I think with digital art, I get caught up with the lines needing to be perfect and relying too heavily on the undo button. When I catch myself in those moments, I will put the iPad away and go back to basics with my sketchbook. It really helps me to not worry about unwanted lines or “mistakes” and to get down to the core of putting my ideas on paper. Once I have a better sense of my drawing, the iPad comes back out and I’ll resketch digitally what I already created in my physical sketchbook.

Did you have a plan going into the eight-week course?

I do have a manuscript that a friend wrote, which I considered using for the course, but I ultimately decided to use the class manuscript because it felt more cohesive to be working on the same thing that most of the other students would be working on. I’m glad I decided to use the course manuscript because I got to see all the different interpretations of the same text and there was a certain camaraderie that went along with working on it.

What was the best thing about the course?

It’s hard to pick just one thing. The course was special in so many ways. Ultimately I would have to say the best thing about the course is the online community. It can be scary to share your work with strangers, but the PBIC community encourages you to share and learn about constructive criticism in a safe space. I also appreciate the lifetime access to the course because I know I will definitely be going back to some of the lessons as a refresher.

What was the worst thing about the course?

Not enough time! Actually, the eight weeks is probably the perfect amount of time, I just loved the course so much I didn’t want it to end.

Character Design

How did PBIC help with your character design process?

Going into the character design week I didn’t know whether I would do human characters or just make all my characters animals. I decided to make Florence a human because I wanted to challenge myself with drawing the human form – and boy was it a challenge! The character mapping process really helped me because I’d never spent so much time with one character, getting to know her from all angles. Getting a better sense of who my character was, prepared me going into the thumbnail sketching stage because I already had an idea of how they might act or interact with other characters and how that would play out in the scene.

What was your experience receiving feedback for the first time?

Nina’s feedback is always so thoughtful and kind but also very informative. She’s very detailed in her approach and makes you feel like you’re learning with her in person rather than virtually. She really has a knack for showing you how to think of things differently or how making certain changes could enhance your illustration. I had so many lightbulb moments after reading her weekly feedback.


Talk through the process of thumbnail sketches

I had never gone through the thumbnail sketching process, but I found it really helpful. I was a bit intimidated at first because I’m not always great at coming up with ideas for an illustration, but I appreciated the process because it pushed my creative boundaries. It was helpful to have a plan in the form of thumbnails to see what pages would work best as single or double-page spreads and how the flow and arc of the story would play out.

How did you find working with the larger storyboard format? 

I loved the storyboarding project. I tend to get caught up in the details so it was nice to be able to spend time fleshing out my thumbnail ideas in a more detailed way. 

Dummy Book

Making the dummy book was probably one of my favorite parts. I can see how some people may not go through this process because it does take a little time to put together, but for me, it helped to see how all my illustrations were working together and what changes needed to be made. I also loved being able to flip through all the pages like a real book. My dummy book lives with all my other favorite children's books and serves as a great inspiration for my future goals.

Final artwork

Out of all the storyboards that you completed, how did you choose your final piece? 

I chose both a double-page spread and two facing single-page spreads that really had me excited when I initially drew them in my storyboard phase. I really like adding humor to my illustrations or little “hide and seek” moments in the picture that both have their own story but also add to the bigger picture. Both of the illustrations I picked had a lot of these moments.

During the thumbnail process, Nina talked about perspective and thinking about illustrations from unique angles. Throughout the whole course I kept this in the back of my mind, and the final illustrations I chose all had different perspectives. 

I was excited to see the final pieces come to life with color, but I was also nervous because adding color and choosing palettes probably could be a whole course on its own. I completed my final illustrations digitally and really focused on trying to capture realistic watercolor qualities in a digital format. I tried to push my comfort level and learned a lot during the process.

I was happy with the final results, but I know I could have spent many more hours working on developing the color in each piece. I’d also like to go back when I have time and complete the final images on watercolor paper with actual watercolors just to compare and see what that process looks like. 


What would you say to someone considering the PBIC course?

Jump off that fence and head straight for Nina’s course! I would definitely recommend taking the PBIC course when it’s offered “live” because you really get to be part of the community and interact with classmates in a way that might not happen in the same way when you take it self-paced. PBIC, the community, the lessons, and Nina’s fantastic teaching abilities will change your life in such a positive way! To join the waiting list for PBIC Live in late 2023, click here.

What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to take classes (lifelong learner over here) to further my illustration style. I would love to add “children’s book illustrator” to my resume in the future, but I’d like to get a few more portfolio pieces done first. So I’ll be continuing to illustrate in my spare time and eventually reach out to publishers and maybe even land a book deal!

To find out more about Maeko and follow her illustration journey go to;


Join my free mini-course

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