Meet the Illustrator: Jen Betton

by the Brightly Editors

In her new picture book, Hedgehog Needs a Hug, Jen Betton tells the story of a hedgehog who wakes up feeling a little down in the snout. Surely a hug will cheer him up, but Hedgehog’s forest friends all turn him away. Will he ever get the hug he needs to feel better? Featuring dazzling watercolor illustrations and lyrical text, Hedgehog Needs a Hug is a wonderful reminder that while we may at times be a bit smelly or prickly, we all still need to be loved. In this Meet the Illustrator chat, Jen shares how art changed the way she sees the world, the surprising challenge of drawing a fox, and the picture books she’s loving right now.

What first made you excited about art? 

I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t enjoy it! I’ve been drawing since I was small, like a lot of people, but a turning point came at nine years old when my mom enrolled me in lessons with a local artist. I found that the more I drew, the more I saw, and doing art really changed my perception of the things and people around me. I noticed light, patterns, expressions, subtle color shifts — our world is incredibly lovely.

What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment?

I love drawing animals — you can get away with exaggerating expressions and poses, while still keeping them naturalistic.


Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?

This image of the Fox is my favorite. It was also the hardest for me to draw! I knew from the beginning that I wanted a circular pose to make little Hedgehog feel surrounded, but that ended up being challenging for me — both to figure out the anatomy and also to avoid having any key elements fall in the gutter, the center crease of the book. I collected a lot of photographs of foxes, watched videos of them playing, even created a small model, and consulted with my critique group to get it right. Once the drawing was done, I had a blast painting it! I also added the saturated lime green shadow to create a contrast of color complements — which can be a bit jarring when done with bright colors.


Which characters from your books would you like to spend time with?

Hedgehog — he reminds me of my kids, who are still pretty small. When I was writing the manuscript I thought of him a bit like a toddler who is sick or covered in mud — you want to comfort him but you don’t really want to pick him up! Hedgehog is forthright about what he wants, but he’s also compassionate and capable of looking beyond his own needs. If you don’t mind a few prickles, I think he’d be good company.


Can you draw us a self-portrait?

This is a detail from a painting I’m working on, where I used myself and my family for the secondary characters. Illustrators end up using themselves as models quite often!


What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by? 

Oooh, so many! I got to see an early copy of Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, illustrated by Corinna Luyken. I just love her work.

Also Pie Is for Sharing, illustrated by Jason Chin, and Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor, illustrated by Felicita Sala.

Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art?

Three reasons I think art is important for kids: 1) Kids are still learning how to express themselves, and art supplies another language they can use to share their thoughts, feelings, and imagination. 2) It can be a way to process what they are thinking and also a positive escape from the stress and pressures around them. 3) Kids are endless creators, and drawing is one of the first ways they get to experience the magic of making.

I think most kids enjoy drawing, so encouragement can be as simple as providing opportunities and admiring their work!

What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?

Cinnabar — it just sounds yummy!