Picture Book Art: Meet the Illustrator Devon Holzwarth

Sophie’s Stories from Devon Holzwarth, is a bedtime book filled with imagination. Every time Sophie opens a book, it transports her to a magical storybook land. One story sweeps her away on a flying carpet. Another whisks her to Wonderland, with white rabbits and talking mushrooms. Brimming with gorgeous images of classic characters, we asked its creator, to give MyBookCorner readers a peek behind the book (and a look in her sketch book! What a treat!!)…

SophiesStoriesHooray, Sophie’s Stories is out in the world! I’m so proud of the work we put into making this magical picture book what it is and I’m very happy to share it with you!

Sophie’s Stories started as a personal challenge to come up with a story I could work on while was also doing final art for my debut book, “Found You”. Tapping into that energy made it much easier to get into a creative flow and feel open to fresh ideas. I try to make time for intentional “thinking walks” knowing at some point I’ll have ideas for stories and maybe they’ll even be a little clever or funny, or touching. And that’s exactly what happened with Sophie’s Stories!

I was at the top of a little hill (this is where ideas usually hit me – I don’t know what it is with this spot) and admittedly I was thinking about my kids and some of the annoying things they do, but in endearing ways of course! Every night it was such a struggle to get them to go to sleep, because all they wanted to do was read and look at their books. And while I wanted them to get their needed sleep hours, I totally understood how hard it was to put the books down. I was the same as a kid and spent so much time reading and imagining and getting lost in narratives I’d create, intermingled with stories that were read to me. It was like I was really in the stories and they had become part of my world.

And so with these thoughts (and the magic of the hill), the story of Sophie unfurled quickly in my mind, and I went home and wrote it down directly!

Once I had written the story into a paginated version, I started on the visuals. It’s funny to me that I work this direction, instead of the opposite way with visuals first then the words. But it seems to make the most sense to my brain so I don’t fight it – it’s hard enough just trying to extract a story and get it on paper! I tend to start with really awful scribbles, basically recognisable only to myself and then just cheer myself on and propel myself forward, eraser handy. Lately I’ve been using the iPad to do these first drawings, which after some adjustment, is pretty amazing.

I find speed and determination to be key when in the dummy book trenches. I know that once I have something down on paper I can revise and redo and I’m past that initial wall of insecurity and confusion on what fits where in the story. For this dummy, I printed my rough sketches on A4 and folded them into a nice little book. From there I could read and flip through and add sticky notes with thoughts on what to fix. I went through a couple rounds of dummy book progress before late night sewing the binding of the final dummy book, then zipping it into my bag for a trip to the Bologna Book Fair the next day!

The fair was inspiring and amazing, and a big highlight for me was finally meeting my editor Alison Green. We chatted a little about “Found You” and I met more of the wonderful team then we sat outside and I showed her “Sophie’s Stories”. I was more than delighted when she said they would like to publish it! This meant the real work was about to get started 😉

You may not know it seeing the final spreads with everything pulled together so nicely, but actually getting there wasn’t always easy!

Especially early on, I worked through a lot of doubt and hesitancy while illustrating the book. When I look through my painted spreads, the early ones are much lighter, with colour not extending as far as it should, or with an overall unfinished appearance. I was having to go back with digital tools to carry them through. And this was really frustrating! As the work continued, I was able to push through a lot of the fear that I was messing it all up and actually make some finished spreads that I was happy with. Usually this meant I had to make some very ugly work haha, and also many multiples of spreads, until I felt I had the look I was going for. It’s just another part of the process, but I think it’s important to share as it can feel really humbling when what you’re aiming for takes so long to reach (and maybe you never reach it, but come up with something totally different that’s actually a better fit!). I also had my wonderful art director, Zoë Tucker, pushing me along, with extraordinarily helpful insights and suggestions for how to solve those challenging parts.

If you got this far, then thanks for reading all the way through! I hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes and learning more about Sophie’s Stories. I do hope you’ll pick up a copy for your own readers!

If you would like to learn more and see what else I’m up to you can visit me at www.devonholzwarth.com, at Instagram @devonholzwarth, and at our new picture book site: www.thesecrettreehouse.com


One of the little dummy books I made while writing Sophie’s Stories, and the final version open to the title page.

At left, is another spread from my Sophie’s Stories dummy book, then the original tiger-riding back cover, and some colour impressions I made note of, when thinking about the first spread and the reference to Peter Pan.

Swooping swallow sketches and figuring our the mood and feel of the story. I like to experiment with different media and colour early on to see what fits.

Spreads from the dummy I like very much, but didn’t make the final cut. It’s just part of the process and you have to be willing to let go of certain things to make the best picture book possible.


Thanks SO much Devon, that was AWESOME!

1 Response

  1. Thank you, Emma, for sharing Sophie’s Stories on your wonderful blog! ❤️❤️

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