Born and raised in Goderich, Mathias Ball (he/they) is a trans-identified illustrator who draws inspiration from animals, emotions, and warm bright colors. He is a graduate of the Illustration program at Sheridan College and his dream is to illustrate a world depicting cute characters and lots of dogs.

Still my Tessa written by Sylv Chiang and illustrated by Mathias was championed by Gary the Unicorn and won the second edition of ‘Canada Reads for kids’ in 2024. Gary the Unicorn said they picked this title because, “it feels like a warm hug for the heart!” 

Other picture books they’ve illustrated include Every Body Is a Rainbow by Caroline Carter, What If Bedtime Didn’t Exist? by Francine Cunningham and These Cookies Are Not for Puppies by local author, Larissa O’Donnell. You can also find his work on their small business website, Sulkypup, where they sell prints, original plush (coming soon), gender neutral clothing and other items.

The Clinton Branch was proud to have Mathias come visit and share their journey to getting published and starting their own business based off their gorgeous digital artwork. The following is a conversation between Branch Assistant, Shannon O’Connor and the local illustrator/artist, Mathias Ball:

Q. How did you get your start in picture book illustration and what draws you to that medium?

Illustrating for picture books is something that I was always interested in! My style of work has always leaned more toward the cute, colourful, and bubbly, so creating illustrations for picture books felt like a natural fit. As for getting started, I went to school at Sheridan College for their Bachelor of Illustration program. After graduating in the lovely year of 2020, I started posting my work online which got the attention of some Art Directors and Literary Agents. In 2022, I teamed up with my agent, Natascha Morris, who has since helped with connecting me to book projects such as Still My Tessa and What If Bedtime Didn’t Exist? along with some more books yet to be released.

Q. Are there any particular subjects/authors/topics that attract you most? If so what and why?

As a queer individual, I’m always drawn to topics having to do with LGBTQ+ themes. A handful of the books I’ve illustrated so far are ones that I would have loved to have as a kid–not only for LGBTQ+ folks, but being able to see stories where you feel represented and shown in a positive light can mean so much to a kid, and really pull out their confidence.

In addition, I love books that feature animal characters or take place in nature. Growing up in Goderich, I spent a lot of time outside in the surrounding forests and trails, trying to befriend critters here and there. It’s always a pleasure when I can pull inspiration from that and bring it into a project.

Q. Do you have any favourite illustrators or artists that inspire(d) your own work?

Always a fan of any artist with blocky shapes and lots of colours. To name a few, some artists are Anoosha Syed, Jon Klassen, and Paige Bowman.

Q. What has been your favourite project to date and what are you most excited about working on next (if you can share anything about that)?

It’s tough to answer, but I think my favourite may be an upcoming book, Little Wolf’s Howl published by Marble Press. Going back to one of my favourite subject matters, this book follows the story of a Little Wolf who gets lost and needs to find her way back to her mother. She encounters some new animal friends who help her along the way. Illustrating this book felt the most natural to me, and it was very easy to picture the illustrations as I did my first read of the manuscript.

For what I’m excited to work on next, it’s a bit up in the air at the moment! I don’t have any book projects on the go at this time, but I have my online business, Sulkypup, where I’ve been designing and releasing gender-neutral clothing on a triannual basis, along with designing some accessories and stationery goods. I have a Summer Update that will be happening in mid-July and I have been prepping some new items for my Fall Update later in October. I’m hoping to release a plush for the Fall Update of one of my original characters as well, which I’ve been very excited about, as designing a plush is something I’ve always wanted to do.

Q. What are you currently reading or what are some of your favorite books?

Some favourite series of mine are the Scott Pilgrim series and anything done by Tatsuki Fujimoto. I tend to read more comics and manga over just text-based books, as I always enjoy seeing what other illustrators are up to and how they share their stories.

Q. What advice would you give to any young aspiring artist/illustrators?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; embrace the things you love. To develop your skills, you need to allow yourself the opportunity to draw things that may look quirky so you can know what to do differently next time. The more you draw, the more you will learn. Also, you may eventually look back at your old art and think it’s embarrassing and cringy, but please don’t throw it out. You were just as much an artist as you were then as you are at this moment. Don’t be ashamed to celebrate the growth that you have had between then and now.

As for embracing the things you love, as an artist, you may gradually become more concerned about finding your artistic voice. What I’ve advised mentees in the past is that style is something that grows out of the things that you love about creating. For me, I really like playing with colour and traditional textures, and I like drawing animals and creatures. Meanwhile, others may embrace black & white art with a much more graphic appearance. In the end, what we love can help define who we are as artists.