Lillian Jones: Illustrator

How a pandemic passion project birthed a small business and the illustration of a children’s book


Aideen Velez

Theatre junior Lillian Jones, illustrator of “The Very Hungry Little Girl”, poses arms crossed in the muse studio.

By Aidan Smith, Dreyfoos School of the Arts

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while many were stocking up on toilet paper or finding a new show to binge, theatre junior Lillian Jones was working on her book.

For the last couple of years, Jones has been playing a part in the illustration of a children’s book titled “The Very Hungry Little Girl”.

Jones has found expression and meaning in the arts her entire life, quoting animated TV shows as a major source of inspiration. Through Cartoon Network shows like “Steven Universe” and “The Amazing World of Gumball”, and Pixar movies like “Zootopia” and “Wall-E”, she finds the inspiration to create characters of her own.

“I really feel the most inspiration whenever I’m watching a good series that’s animated,” Jones said. “I’m just like, man, I really could create something like this if I wanted to, I just need to put in the effort. And then I just start drawing, creating characters and world building and stuff like that.”

Jones took this love for art and began to use it as an outlet. During the pandemic, she started a small business selling her drawings to friends and others after her mom encouraged her to pursue it.

“I had my iPad, Procreate, and my Apple pencil, and I would just draw my friends, for the fun of it. But then my mom was like, you should create a business out of this.” said Jones with a smile on her face, “So I would do drawings for like $20 a piece and give them to people. In a couple of weeks, I basically started this business and I was able to buy like my own MacBook because of it, which is pretty cool.”

Lillian began working on “The Very Hungry Little Girl” when she was connected with Dr. Faith Roberts-Graham, the the principal of Ruth N. Upson Elementary School and a personal friend of Jones’ mother. Dr. Roberts-Graham was in the process of writing a children’s book about a young girl and her adventure one night to try new, healthy foods. After seeing Lillian’s illustrations, Dr. Roberts-Graham decided that she would be the right person to create visuals for the story.

“I was introduced to Lillian through her mother, who I met as an educator, and very quickly I thought that she would be the right person to assist on this project,” said Roberts-Graham.

“She showed me some of her pieces, and I was very impressed, so I started communicating my vision to her, and she was very quick in understanding and applying what I told her to change. It was really a pleasure.”

Jones shared a similar view of what their collaboration entailed.

“One day, she reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to illustrate this book?’ Immediately, I thought it would be a nice opportunity.” Jones said, “We had meetings on Zoom, where we discussed our ideas, I had to give her the price ranges, everything. I had to show her the sketches, and she would tell me what she wanted to change and what she wanted to stay the same.”

The book was published in October of 2022, going on to sell copies on Amazon and in person. Dr. Roberts-Graham and Jones recently did a meet-and-greet at a local library, signing copies of the book for children in attendance.

“It makes me feel like anything’s attainable at this point, because that’s a whole published book out there. People are buying copies of this and it’s just like, ‘Oh wow, that’s my work!’” Jones exclaimed, “It’s honestly kind of unreal in a way. I don’t know what to feel, but I definitely feel proud.”

While Lillian stated that she doesn’t like to talk about many of her artistic pursuits at school, her English teacher Nathan Hesse noticed her clear creativity and artistic ability in her school work.

“I would say she is lively and creative,” Hesse said. “She is outgoing and fully engaged in class — asks great questions and contributes to our convivial setting.”

Jones also falls into a growing category of multitalented Dreyfoos students who major in one passion, but also focus on other artistic pursuits. In fact, there are times when components and techniques of different arts come together to improve the overall product.

“I think it’s all about storytelling, for sure. It all goes back to storytelling because of theater. I love that aspect of getting to tell a story through a play.” said Jones, “But I can also do it while creating art, like drawing comics or something like drawing pictures to tell the story as well. So I think that’s where they kind of correlate and I get to perform and entertain but also I get to create.”

Like many creatives, Lillian Jones looks to the future with excitement and hopes of being a multimedia artist, citing a dream job at Pixar Studios. But at the end of the day, it’s Lillian’s message behind the stories that she tells through her art that really matters to those around her.

“I went to an elementary school and seeing how their faces lit up and how much the story means a lot to them. I think I see a lot of my younger self in those kids. Growing up, I just didn’t have stories to read about people of color. That’s just not what I had that much and I want that to be normalized,” she said with conviction, “I don’t want it to be like, ‘Here’s a black story’, I just want that to be such a normal thing that a black story is just a story.  That’s what I want to be able to give them.”

This story was originally published on The Muse on April 25, 2023.