Ten years ago, Laura Carlin was an award-winning illustrator, creating imaginary worlds of melancholic beauty for children’s books. Then boredom set in. “There’s an illusion that if you’re doing something creative, you’re inspired all the time,” says Carlin. So she tried her hand at ceramics, hand-painting tiles with exotic animals and conjuring up funny little figures that one could imagine living under mushrooms.

In the wake of the 2008 recession, Carlin began selling her wares as a means of earning extra income. Today, she is as in-demand for her ceramics as for her illustrations. With gallery representation in her native London, as well as in Hong Kong, she works on both picture books (King of the Sky and The Promise, for example) and private commissions. Unlike many illustrators, who now work on a computer, Carlin draws each image by hand to retain a sense of wistful naïveté. A children’s book, such as the forthcoming History of London or The Nightingale (Walker Books), can easily take her one year to finish. Equally rare for an illustrator, Carlin switches tools depending on the commission, toggling between materials such as watercolors, charcoal, and ink. “There’s a slight arrogance to it,” Carlin says. “When the project comes, I find that a medium tends to suit it more than another one. It keeps me guessing, so I don’t make predictable images.”