Q & A with Illustrator Grace Sandford

I was delighted to talk a bit with Grace Sandford, an upcoming illustrator of picture books and other books for kids. Grace reveals her inspirations, her illustration process, and a very “haunting” pastime! The original post appeared  on September 12.


What inspired you to become an illustrator and a picture book illustrator specifically?

Growing up, I loved drawing and creating characters from my imagination. I believe a lot of that stemmed from picture books and animated film and television. I love Disney and Pixar and as a teenager I was fascinated with the concept art from Pixar films. I always knew that I wanted a career in art of some form but it’s hard discovering what jobs are out there when you’re at school! I did some studying in Graphic Design and eventually went to university to study Illustration, which is where I got truly passionate about picture books. I always admired the art of picture books and they have been a huge part of my life but having a reason to dissect them and create your own really made me want to be a children’s illustrator.

What were some of the books and/or artists you liked most as a child?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, I am a Bunny illustrated by Richard Scarry and when I was 16 I stumbled across Catherine Rayner’s debut Augustus and his Smile. I think that book was a huge influence in wanting to be a children’s book illustrator, both the writing and illustrations are perfect! 

Can you describe your process when illustrating a picture book?

It usually begins with the editor sending you the story/text. Then I start to do lots of sketches of the main character, the secondary characters and the environment around them. Pinterest is a godsend during this bit as you can flick through and look at photos of certain animals or buildings for reference to make sure you’re creating characters that will look believable (even if it is a walking, talking gingerbread man!) 

Then I create roughs for each spread showing how the pages will look and which parts I have chosen to illustrate. This gives the editor a rough idea of how the final artwork is going to look and this is where most of the edits happen until it’s approved. Once all edits are approved I can create the final artwork which is my favourite part seeing all the hard work come together! 

Can you describe your work space a little?

I now have a studio where I live, but when I worked on Tough Cookie I lived in a one bed apartment with my boyfriend straight after university and I had to work on the kitchen table! I’m so glad I have my own room to work in now (and I’m sure my boyfriend is too!)

My work space now involves a desk, my iMac, an A3 scanner, a windowsill with lots of pens and paints (and most importantly plants!) and I have a space that alternates between a lightbox and a graphics tablet. I also have a bad habit of putting all projects I’m working on into separate piles around the room until they are done! 

You say in your bio that you like ghost hunting. How did you get involved in that? What is your favorite place to hunt ghosts?

Haha, this is the best question! I love Ghost Hunting although it’s been a while since I’ve been on a walk. It started off when I was a teenager living in a small village in England, being bored with friends and wandering around abandoned churches at night, hunting for things that go bump in the night, and it grew over time into a huge interest. When I went to University in Lincoln, a historical city, I got very interested in the social history of the place. Ghost stories are ultimately another fantastic way of storytelling. There are some very scary but interesting stories about Lincolnshire if you’re ever interested! Fun fact, Tom Hank’s bodyguard tripped over a phantom ghost head rolling down Steep Hill in Lincoln during a Professional Ghost Tour!

What are you working on next?

This year I’ve been working on a four book series based on Minecraft which has been a complete joy to be a part of! It’s been hard work as I knew very little about the franchise before this and knowing how loyal the fans are, I’ve wanted to draw everything right whilst staying faithful to my style! I just finished some more colouring books for a Spanish publisher and I have also been writing a picture book that I have a good feeling about (fingers crossed!)

What is your favorite holiday?

I personally love Christmas just because I get to spend time with my family and chill out but I love Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday too. It is such a vibrant and beautiful celebration of something that we all sadly experience in life. 

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

Every Christmas it’s become a tradition to be at home with my family playing Jigsaws, watching films and eating a little bit too much! 


Thanks, Grace, for sharing about your work and your favorite places and pursuits! I wish you all the best with Tough Cookie and your other projects!

Tough Cookie can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sky Pony Press


Tough Cookie

Written by Kate Louise | Illustrated by Grace Sandford

Although one gingerbread man in the bakery looks like all the others, there is one important difference. Yes, the batter had “eggs and cinnamon and flour and butter and sugar—but wait! The baker forgot to add the ginger!” Without this signature ingredient the gingerbread man just doesn’t feel like a gingerbread man at all. In fact his whole life has been turned upside down. He’s different from his friends, and what’s worse, he can’t be sold. Instead, he lives in the back of the bakery  and in his sadness makes all kinds of mischief.


Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

The gingerbread man chases the cat, splatters icing on other cookies, and squirts icing on the walls. “‘I need that for my cupcakes!’” the baker yells, but the gingerbread man just laughs. He moves on to the decorative candies, stuffing them in his mouth as fast as he can even though the baker needs them for his other treats and stands by tapping his foot. Next the gingerbread man scatters sprinkles all over the counter and slips and slides along on his belly—“‘woohoo!’” But the baker is not amused. “‘I need those for the donuts!’” he shouts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tough-cookie-gingerbread-man-causes mischief

Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Finally, the baker has had enough. Not only is the gingerbread man upsetting the other gingerbread men and women, he is ruining the business. The baker orders the gingerbread man to leave the store. But this is one gingerbread man that does not want to run away. “‘I don’t want to leave!’” he cries. The baker relents. He takes the little cookie in hand and teaches him that even though he is missing an ingredient he can still be kind. The baker shows him by being nice he can become one of the group. 

Now, the little gingerbread man is happy. Instead of gobbling up all the candy, he helps create the other cookies. He no longer shoots icing on the walls or flings sprinkles around the kitchen. Rather, he helps the baker decorate the cupcakes and the donuts. He’s even learned how to sift flour and roll out dough, and he uses the cookie cutter to make new friends. And he never forgets to add the ginger!


Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

In her sweet story, Kate Louise reminds readers that true happiness comes from within and that each person can decide for themselves how to perceive the world around them. While each of us is human, we all have different ingredients that make us unique. We can use those qualities to be kind and make positive changes in the world. Kids will recognize and giggle at the mischief the little gingerbread man makes with icing and sprinkles, but will also realize that friendships are built by using that same energy to help others. Sometimes tough cookies are actually softies at heart.

Grace Sandford’s bakery gleams with the golden hues of fresh-baked bread, the festive colors of sprinkles and icing, and the sparkle of sugar. Kids will love the vibrant pictures of cupcakes; lollypops; stacks of cakes, donuts, and candy; and decorated gingerbread houses surrounded by cookie forests. Her expressive gingerbread men and women register dismay at the wayward gingerbread man’s shenanigans and joy at his kindness. And the hero of the story? When he leaves behind his impish pranks he becomes a charming baker’s companion, sifting clouds of flour, running on the rolling pin to flatten dough, and passing out sugar-shiny gumdrop buttons to his new friends.

Young children will ask for this fun and funny read over and over. Tough Cookie makes an especially delicious accompaniment to an afternoon of baking or decorating gingerbread houses!

Ages 3 – 6

Sky Pony Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1634501972

View the colorful world and signature style of Grace Sandford’s artwork on her website!

Discover more of Kate Louise’s books for kids and young adults as well as Tough Cookie Coloring Pages on her website!

Gobble up this Tough Cookie book Trailer!

 National Day of Encouragement Activity

CPB - Random Acts of Kindness cards

Kindness Cards

Encourage your friends – and even strangers with these printable Kindness Cards! You can hand them to people and tell them how much they mean to you or slip them into a lunch bag, locker, shelf, backpack or other place and let the person discover a secret day brightener!

Picture Book Review