Creatives across borders: Lola Usupova

Adebayo Adegbembo (Baba Funke)
Creatives Across Borders
7 min readMar 16, 2024


Lola Usupova
Listen to the full interview with Lola Usupova on Spotify

Lola Usupova is a children’s book writer and illustrator. Born in Uzbekistan, a sunny country in Central Asia, Lola spent her childhood there and had dreams of travelling around the world. In her 20s, she moved to neighbouring Russia taking one step towards her dreams. Though difficult at first because she had no family, or friends around, she landed a job as a marketing specialist in an IT company. With that, she started her education in marketing bagging a bachelor’s degree.

Along the way, Lola met someone from Ukraine who shared her dreams of travelling the world. They got married, moved to Poland, then Sweden before eventually settling in the UK.

From marketing to children’s book illustration

It was while living in Sweden that Lola found her calling in children’s book illustrations. She’d quit her job as a marketer in an IT firm and was shopping for another marketing role. It was very difficult in Sweden because with the English-speaking companies, they wanted someone who could speak English and Swedish for marketing positions. She was faced with having to learn Swedish while improving her English, or to switch professions. That’s when her hubby stepped in reassuring her to be patient in finding her passion. In her words,

I tried different things. I tried frontend development, graphic design, and illustrations. Even when I found out that I wanted to do illustration, it was very difficult to choose which type of illustration I liked because there are a lot. I tried canvas painting and watercolour. Then, my husband bought me an iPad, and I tried some illustrations on the iPad, and I liked it. And I finally decided to make digital illustrations and cute children’s picture books because it’s what I love to do more.

Impression of arts at childhood

Though, Lola loved drawing as a kid, she couldn’t imagine its possibility as a self-sustaining professional career. Growing up as a kid, no one asked if she wanted to be an artist. Instead, people asked if she wanted to be a medical doctor or lawyer, hence she grew up with the impression that art wasn’t a viable career option to pursue.

Artistic influences from her native Uzbekistan

Lola says she didn’t have any. Back then, Uzbekistan was part of the USSR, so she read some Russian children’s books while growing up. However, her favourite story was Harry Potter’s which she read in a special newspaper for kids called OK. It was just one spread in every newspaper, and she bought it regularly just to continue reading the story. She didn’t even know about the Harry Potter books, thinking the newspaper spreads were isolated stories. All together, she ended up reading 3 Harry Potter books from these newspaper series!

Other influences on works

Benji Davies, a picture nook author and illustrator is one of Lola’s preferences because of his simple style of illustrations. She stumbled upon his works in a library while she was researching the children’s book industry in Sweden. Though, she couldn’t understand what was written in these Swedish children’s books, she selected a few based on the illustrations she loved; one of them happened to be written and illustrated by Benji Davies. She read it using Google Translate and went back to the library requesting for all other books by Benji Davies.

Cultural inspirations

Lola cites a memorable illustration that paints her childhood. These illustrations depict her time at her grandma’s bakery in a small Uzbekistan village. They show her riding donkeys with her dad, jumping from the roof of the bakery onto dried hays. These collections form part of her entry for the upcoming Bologna Children’s Book Fair illustration competition.

Lola Usupova’s art captures her childhood memories of Uzbekistan

Big breaks

Lola says her big breaks are still unfolding. However, she cites winning a scholarship to attend the SCBWI British Isle conference 2023 as one. Her recent move to the UK with her hubby had been an expensive one so she’d considered attending the SCBWI conference another year until she came across SCBWI’s scholarship opportunity. She applied for it, got it and attended the conference for free! Lola says it was incredible meeting so many inspiring people at the conference.

Game changing workshop

As a freelance illustrator, she spent a lot of time illustrating children’s books for independent authors who self-published their books. During her free time, she learned more about illustration and colour theory, composition from various online masterclasses and workshops from different illustrators. She’d come across them on Instagram and went on to enrol in some of their paid workshops. She experimented with different styles before she found her signature style.

One of her favourite workshops helped kickstart her career. It was organized by the famous Ukrainian artist, Alexandra Dikaia as a charity project to help Ukraine. In it, Alexandra explained how to write and illustrate a children’s story to attendees like Lola. In the end, they all created their own stories, illustrated them, and the best stories were chosen for the final big book of story tales. The book can still be bought on her website with proceeds going to support Ukraine. Lola says she loved the process and went on to create a 32-page picture book of her story which was about plastic bags. The story was inspired by her time in Sweden and the manner in which Swedes embrace recycling which found very impressive.

Lola Usupova: illustrations from the books “Plastic Bag’s Journey” and “”Hamster Tim”

Landing clients

Lola started out applying for different jobs on Upwork or Fiverr when she didn’t have a lot of experience. She’s since moved on because of limitations around sustainability after considering platform commissions and taxes. Now, she markets herself directly to prospects on Instagram. Some people find her by hashtags on Instagram accounts which share different works from different illustrators including hers. She also runs ads targeting self-published authors.


She’s a member of SCBWI British Isles as well as The AOI (Association of Illustrators). She cites the business-related offerings of AOI as an important benefit given her ambitions. For example, she says, they offer workshops on pricing, agreements, taxes for illustrators in the UK etc. As a newbie in the UK creative space, it’s been very enlightening for her.

Current Projects, goals

Lola’s currently illustrating two children’s books; one is about a grumpy parrot and the other’s about hiking. She says the author of the latter already has her booked for a second book because of their great working relationship.

And it’s just a small part of what she wants to do this year which includes creating and publishing three books of hers.

She’s also keen on attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for the first time.

In the future, she plans to illustrate two children’s books about her nephews. One of them will be about Mermaid Elena and another one about Flower Fairy Katalea.

Given her love for marketing, Lola plans to keep learning more about marketing in the children’s book industry so she can keep promoting her own books.

Wishlist of collaborations

Though Lola usually works with self-published authors who are new to publishing, helping them with every aspect of the process including illustrations, book layout, files prep for Amazon, marketing, she’s also keen on working with established publishers like Penguin Random House.

Agents, business goals and preferences

On agents, Lola would prefer working with an agent that guarantees her freedom to take on different projects and roles beyond just illustrating. She likes the other things that come with her profession such as agreements, sourcing clients, marketing etc. In other words, she is comfortable with the business sides of her craft. This goes back to her marketing experience working with start-ups across Russia, Poland and Sweden. Working on multiple tasks at those firms, she understands the wider aspects of running a business and is keen to keep growing hers.

Her preference is to consult for other authors, working with them to bring their children’s stories alive via her illustrations. Also, to create her own products/books alongside.

Contacting Lola

You can reach Lola via her website and socials @usupova

Tips for others

Lola says, “Just dream and take a small step towards your dream every day, and you can achieve everything you want. Keep at it!”

Lola Usupova: Hamster Tim



Adebayo Adegbembo (Baba Funke)
Creatives Across Borders

Writer, Backend & Interactive Story App Developer (Unity3d/.Net). Building a library for Funke one resource (books and apps) at a time.