Hayley Elliott-Kernot is an artist, writer and illustrator based in Aotearoa New Zealand. Reading and telling stories has always been an integral part of her life, often wishing as a child that she could disappear into the magical worlds she read about. This is what led her to create her own stories. She writes and illustrates beautiful books for children with the hope that they can escape to these whimsical places just like she did. Here she shares her journey with the Natural Parent Magazine, talking about what inspired her to be a writer and illustrator, how she balances work and family time, and her hopes and dreams for the future.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I have always loved stories and children’s books. I still have all of my books from when I was a child and I have a bad habit of buying new ones. At least I have an excuse now that I am a mum-to-be! There is something about whimsical illustrations and their ability to transport us into beautiful worlds that has always captured me. So often I wished I could disappear into these magical worlds and that is what drove me to create my own.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
I was volunteering on farms around Aotearoa in 2017 and I wanted to create a story for my Stepfather’s birthday – called Paulie the Policeman. I often had no internet, moved a lot, and had to share rooms with the occasional sheep or goat, but I had a set of Faber-Castell colouring-in pencils and a pad of paper. Looking back now, I cringe at how terrible the book was, but that was the beginning.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
I moved from colouring-in pencils and poster paints to digital illustrations in 2020. This is what really turned my books from a fun hobby into something professional. I am not good with technology at all, so it took me a while to learn the basics of photoshop. However, once I did, I found it a lot easier to create, change and edit designs. Around this time, I started focusing more on the quality of my books. I began to get them professionally edited so there were no spelling mistakes (it turns out family members don’t pick up on all the spelling and grammar errors!) and I started spending more time on the text.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
I like to work at strange hours, which balances well with family time. I am not productive in the early afternoons, so I often use this as family time. I also absolutely cannot work alone in silence. I either need people around me or I must listen to an interesting audio book – otherwise I drive myself a bit silly. This means I can be illustrating in the evenings with my family quite happily.
The drive: What challenges have you overcome?
I didn’t do well at school and I left quite early. I always felt embarrassed by this because I thought it meant I couldn’t learn. In my 20s, I started studying via distance and told no one except my partner because I thought people would say I couldn’t do it. It turns out I learn much better via distance where I can set my hours and work schedule. However, this meant I didn’t develop a base knowledge of subjects at school that would have been useful to know. Getting the basics of design, photoshop and technology took a long time and many, many YouTube videos.