Science Illustrated: Q&A with Rachel Tribout

October 19th, 2020

Meet Rachel Tribout, the talented illustrator of our children's picture book Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish. Discover how she approaches science illustration and her best tips for aspiring illustrators.

Illustrator Rachel Tribout sitting at her desk creating the illustrations for Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish


Cover of 'Hold on!' featuring an illustration of a spotted handfish on the ocean floor, surrounded by seaweed.

Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish

Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish, tells the story of a a quirky little fish that is famous for walking on its ‘hands’ (or rather, its pectoral fins).

The spotted handfish has been around a long time – since the time of the dinosaurs – but is now facing threats including climate change, pollution and invasive seastars. As a result, it became one of the first marine fish in the world to be listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rachel Tribout is the illustrator behind the gorgeous images in this story and we spoke to her about her creative process and her tips for making it as an illustrator.


Who or what inspired you to become an artist and illustrator?

I liked to draw from an early age, and I grew up devouring graphic novels; I was always drawn to anything illustrated and it didn’t stop when growing up. I am passionate about storytelling and I have always been drawn to its visual aspect, so I pursued it as a career.


Do you think science illustration requires a different creative approach?

I think most illustration projects require a different approach, depending on the audience, the people you work with or the type of project. I would say that science illustration requires a different level of visual accuracy, requires more visual references and has less room for artistic interpretation.

An illustrated page from Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish featuring an illustration of a spotted handfish in the ocean being inspected by a scientist in scuba gear. Scientific label on the handfish point out the physical features of the handfish.

In a page from Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish, a scientist measures a spotted handfish underwater.

Can you share a photo of your studio or workspace and tell us why you like to create there?

I have recently moved into my new space, so it’s not as decorated as it’s likely to become! It’s not very large, I like it because it’s cosy and bright, it has plants and lots of my favourite books.


A photo collage of Rachel Tribout's studio space featuring three photos, including her desk with a monitor and laptop, next to a bookshelf; a cabinet with a selection of books and antique items on top; and a small table with brightly coloured art prints and plants.

Rachel Tribout’s bright and beautiful studio. (photo: supplied)

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

I love the conceptual part, where I have to come up with ideas and I get to try new things, research and explore. Starting is always exciting. I also like the “production phase” where there’s less thinking and I can get into a state of flow and just draw and let my thoughts wander.


Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring illustrators?

If you intend on being a commercial illustrator, I would suggest working as much on your business skills than your drawing skills, as you’ll need both equally. Answering to a client’s brief is important and the smoother the process is, the better you’ll feel at the end. If your dream is to become a published illustrator, I would suggest joining organisations like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), work on your portfolio and try to meet lots of like-minded people. Being an illustrator can sometimes feel a little isolated, so it’s good to create an awesome and supportive network of like-minded people to support each other, give and receive feedback, etc.


Illustrator Rachel Tribout holding a copy of Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish next to a wall of books.

Illustrator Rachel Tribout with a copy of Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish

Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish is written by Gina Newton and illustrated by Rachel Tribout, and is available to purchase from our online store and from all good bookstores. To discover more about Rachel’s work check out her website (external link).