Book People: Illustrator Terry Whidborne

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Book People: Illustrator Terry Whidborne

‘Book People’ is a newish series for Children’s Books Daily. I’ve contacted some of my favourite authors, illustrators and publishers and invited them to tell us a little about themselves.  These are the people that start our children or students on their journey as lifelong readers, and I for one am completely in awe of them. Some people idolise movie stars. Me? I idolise the creators of children’s and YA books.

Each post is a great starting point for an author/illustrator study in your classroom, or just for learning a little more about your favourite creator of children’s/YA books.

Today we meet Terry Whidborne, co-creator of the new series ‘Word Hunters‘. Terry is the talented illustrator of the book and Nick Earls has supplied the text. Together this pair have created a series that warms a librarians heart (being about words and all!) and is incredibly popular with it’s readers.

Thanks so much Terry for joining us here toaday. I completely love his description of a book milkshake! Do check out his website, the artwork is astounding.

terry Ten Things You Need to Know About Terry Whidborne

1- Tell us about your latest book.

The Word Hunters series is about Lexi and Al, twelve-year-old twins who find an old dictionary in their school library. Something’s glowing inside it, and when they touch it, they’re blasted back into the past… Ok, yes this might sound familiar as it’s taken from Nick’s interview but hey, he’s better at it than me.

In my own words, it would be like this –

If the books were a milkshake I would add the following:

2 big scoops of time travel

3 tablespoon of etymology

1 tablespoon of evil essence

1 teaspoon of sibling rivalry

3 cups of adventure

 Mix well and serve with a twist of Steampunk.

 2- How did you get started as a illustrator?

My brother. Well, he didn’t actually get me started as such. I remember when I was young that he had drawn something and showed it to me. He quickly said and I quote ‘You’ll never be able to draw like me’. That was it, I had to out do him.

I practiced and practiced and slowly my drawings were starting to match his in quality.

After showing my mum she would say ‘That’s nice dear, now can you peel some potatoes.’ It turned out that our standards weren’t very high back then.

I gave up illustrating for a while and it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I picked it up again.

I did a couple of design courses which got me a job in advertising where I was a designer/art director. I did lots of drawing, illustrating and storyboarding for clients.

I slowly started to draw more at home but without the constraints of clients. I created worlds with characters appealing to all ages and really enjoying the process.

I met Nick Earls on a Brisbane Campaign TV shoot. I was one of the creatives working on the campaign. We kept in touch over the years and he knew I wanted to illustrate books.

After leaving advertising to pursue illustrating, Nick called me to ask if I wanted to join him on a series of books.

He told me about the story and how it involved time travel. He could of continued rattling off his shopping list as he had me at time travel.

So Word Hunters is my first book.

I have done a couple of small books for Scholastic which were done in between book 1 and 2 of Word Hunters.


3- What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually enter the Bunker (name for my studio) around 9ish. That time could vary if I have to feed the chooks or put a load of washing on.

I then spend a bit of time checking emails and twitter.

Depending on what stage I’m at with illustrating, I’m either thinking, doodling, scanning, tracing, researching or actually creating final illustrations. The final illustrations could either be done on the computer or hand drawn onto water colour paper (as per Word Hunters).

In between this I have lunch and let my dog run around the garden doing his business. He then retires to his Bunker pillow for the afternoon.

I do more illustrating then go for a run around 6ish. After returning I get dinner ready for the family. Tonight is Taco night.

4- Can you describe your workspace for us?

The bunker is a separate building. One end is divided up into areas. Computer, modelling (sculpture etc) and drawing. At the other end is a seating area for getting away from the computers and reading. It also has a retro games table for when I get illustrator block. Galaxian is not only a game but also a creative thought starter.

I have lots of toys on shelves which I use for research. Well that’s what I tell everyone anyway.


5- Any words of advice for young illustrators?

Have small sketch books around the house. I have a few in different locations. Could be in your bedroom or in the kitchen. One of mine is in the TV room. I draw and sketch a lot. Sometimes just scribbles appear on the page but other time a gem will appear and starts an idea for a book or something bigger. I’m working on a personal project at the moment which started from the smallest sketch I did whilst waiting for someone in a cafe.


6- Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or someone else’s)?

Sinbad was a favourite character of mine. I was a TV kid and didn’t read much when I was young so, I used to watch the films on TV. They were the stop-motion ones with the fighting skeletons, Medusa and 2 headed chickens. They were pretty cool and I think have an influence on what I do now.

7- If you were not a creator of books for young people what would it be?

Animator. I love characters. As mentioned earlier my childhood was full of them. Doctor Who, Wizard of Oz, and that Amazing series from Jim Henson called the Storyteller.

8- What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

I tend to listen to a lot of soundtracks and eat nuts and fruit.

9- How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

I don’t use people as such but I might use things/places in my illustrations that are part of me or people I know. For instance, the back deck in Word Hunters book one is actually the back deck of my old house in Indooroopilly.

10- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

Daydream. Everyone should take time out to daydream. Time away from email, internet, texting, TV, TV ads. Time to reconnect with you and time to clear away the media curtains in front of our eyes. To give you a clearer picture of what you want and what’s really important to you. Plus it’s a great time to come up with ideas.

Kids have mastered this art and somehow we tend to lose it as we get older.


Terry thanks SO much for this insight into your life as an illustrator! I’m pretty sure you will have a long and sucessful career as an illustrator if your first few books are anything to go by.

Word Hunters’ is the perfect series for middle to upper primary students and great for a class novel study. A series about the origin of words and some time travel…you can’t go wrong.

Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary‘ is first in the series and ‘Word Hunters: The Lost Hunters’ has just been released this month.

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Are you new here? Welcome to Children's Books Daily! I’m Megan Daley and you can find out more about me here and more about my offers here.

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