Class of 2018: an inspiring role model

Alumni Achiever of the Year Holly Sterling

Published on 30 November 2018

Holly Sterling studied Illustration and Design at the University and in 2009, graduated with a First Class Honours Degree, going on to work at design company, Big Bang Creative in Teesside creating designs for websites, e-commerce, branding and games.

In 2011 she decided to go back to university, to do a two year Masters at Edinburgh College of Art. She graduated with a Master of Fine Art (MFA) with Distinction in 2013. In the same year she was highly commended for the Macmillan Illustration Prize and the winner of the Seven Stories/Frances Lincoln Illustration Competition.

As part of her final year project for her MA, Holly wrote and illustrated a children’s book called ‘Hiccups’, it would be the first of 13 books where she would contribute artwork.

Holly’s other books include: 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby; 15 Things Not to Do with a Puppy; Everybody Feels Angry; Everybody Feels Scared and Everybody Feels Happy.

In recognition of her work Holly has been named the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year 2018.

Holly, who now lectures at the University, said: “She said: “My initial work focused on the different ethnicities in the books’ characters which were targeted towards children aged between three and seven-years-old.

“I want my drawings to be empowering for everyone; for girls and for boys. It’s important we subvert gender stereotypes.”

Q&A: “laugh together, learn together, explore together”

At this week’s winter academic awards, children’s book illustrator Holly Sterling was named the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year 2018.

The graduate has contributed her artwork to 13 books and is currently a Lecturer in Illustration at the University.

 

As a child Holly always loved to draw and would create her own pictures for the books she was reading. So it only seemed fitting that she would go on to become an illustrator of children’s books.

Holly’s books include: 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby; 15 Things Not to Do with a Puppy; Everybody Feels Angry; Everybody Feels Scared and Everybody Feels Happy.

Being from a mixed-heritage background, Holly often felt she did not see children like her represented in the stories she read as she was growing up. So she made it her mission, through her illustrations, to give other children the opportunity to recognise themselves in the books she created.

Here we speak to Holly about life, books, and why reading together is so important:

Hi Holly, when you were growing up, what children’s books did you read?

I mostly would read books about nature, animals and friendships.

What is your favourite children’s book?

I loved reading the Bramley Hedge stories and Percy the Park Keeper books as a young child. Another fond favourite was ‘We're going on a Bear Hunt’. As I got a bit older I loved the Roald Dahl books, my favourite being the BFG and Matilda.

How young were you when you started drawing?

I've drawn for a long as I can remember. But I remember starting to focus on 'practicing with purpose’ from about the age of six or seven after getting some positive feedback and encouragement at school and from my family, especially my granddad. I started spending time drawing and painting with my granddad at weekends where I would learn techniques on how to improve but it was also just fun to spend time together too.

What would you like to see more/less of in children’s books?

There is a growing list of books revealing the diverse world that we live in, but I believe there is still a way to go. We need to see more diversity both within character representation, and environmental and situational depiction. I believe that it is also important to represent strong female characters within children’s books for both young boys and girls to see.

With websites, games consoles, YouTube etc, do you think it is more important than ever that children look at books?

Most definitely. Reading a book is something that families can enjoy together. They can laugh together, learn together, and explore all the wonders of the world together. These are special moments to treasure time and time again.

What’s the best piece of advice you give your students?

To experiment. Embrace making mistakes because that is how we learn. I will always encourage them to tap into who they are as a person. I ask them what they believe in and help them to search for ways to visually communicate their voice.

What was the best thing about studying at the University of Sunderland?

Course wise...

Having the freedom to find my voice as an illustrator and communicating the things that I feel passionate about. My tutors and other university staff have always been very supportive during my time at university but also after I graduated.
Area wise...

I also love how friendly and helpful people are in the North East. As soon as I moved, I knew this was where I wanted to build a home.
The area is inspiring with its diverse landscape: the countryside, coastline and city centres being so close by. There are plenty of museums and galleries to visit for inspiration. My personal favourite is Seven Stories (The National Centre for Children's Books).