5 Questions with DDSB Staff Illustrator Shannon O’Toole

Posted On Tuesday May 17, 2022
Shannon O'Toole
Shannon O’Toole is a DDSB teacher and freelance illustrator.

The Durham District School Board (DDSB) is home to many diverse, skilled, talented, and creative staff across the District. This multi-part “5 Questions With…” series will highlight the success that DDSB staff have achieved in a variety of industries.

Shannon O’Toole is a Grade 6 teacher at Carruthers Creek Public School in Ajax. When she’s not in the classroom teaching, Shannon works as a freelance illustrator. Her most recent release is a book called The Math Kids: The Triangle Secret. It’s the sixth book in a series that Shannon has been illustrating for the last few years. The book is about a group of four Grade 5 students who have a math club that solves crimes and mysteries. Shannon also recently worked on a picture book called The Helping Rock and the cover of a fantasy novel called Lucy & Dee: The Silk Road.

We spoke with Shannon about her work as a freelance illustrator, her creative process, and hopes for the future.

Q. What inspires your art/illustrations?

For all my illustration projects I am inspired by my family and friends. My art is always people and character focused. I often think about people I've known in the past, clothing, facial expressions, and personality traits of the various characters I have met. I was originally a portrait artist, and love painting people and creating new characters. I also love hiding my family and friends into the backgrounds of my illustrations!

Q. What message do you hope audiences take with them after reading books with your illustrations?

To pursue their passions and recognize their strengths. Many of the books I have recently worked on center around this theme of believing in yourself, so I hope that message is something audiences take with them.

Q. Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators or authors who are considering publishing their work?

I think for anyone who is interested in writing or illustrating books, I would recommend doing some research into the process of creating a manuscript or building your artist portfolio. For me, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which has chapters in various cities. I attended a workshop, took notes furiously, and read all the resources they shared. I was able to ask questions of published illustrators, and have my portfolio reviewed by art directors. I got helpful feedback from established and new illustrators. I also joined the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP) which provided me with great networking and learning opportunities. I would also suggest to just write or draw what you're passionate about and continue to build this portfolio of work with things you genuinely care about. It will reflect in your work and other people will feel that love.

Q. What’s next for you in the world of illustrations and storytelling?

I am continuing to illustrate the next books in The Math Kids series and have recently completed the third book in a picture book series called The Adventures of Grandmasaurus which will be released next spring. I am also currently working on the cover to the Lucy & Dee sequel. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to these series. I love illustrating characters over the course of a series and watching them grow and develop.

Q. Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

My work can be found on my artist website shannonotooleart.com and some of the books I have worked on can be found at commondeerpress.com.