Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
I'm from an artsy family, and have always loved painting. One of my earliest memories is drawing the family cat William with a brand new set of coloured pencils that I'd been given for my 5th birthday. When I was little I also adored my picture books, and can remember copying out versions of the illustrated pages, (Helen Oxenbury’s wonderful ‘Pig Tale’ was a favourite).
How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
As an academic kid, my parents and headmistress were very keen for me to study ‘serious’ subjects, so I did advanced maths and sciences, and then law. But I always kept drawing - it was my happy place! Once I started working at a city law firm I was able to quickly save my pennies, and ran off to Central Saint Martins, whoo hoo!! So much fun!! (I don’t think my poor parents were too chuffed at the time, but they love painting and creating too, so they came around, eventually.)
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I studied at Central Saint Martins (a BA in graphic design with illustration), and really enjoyed experimenting with different media. I spent hours in the print studio playing with techniques, and I think that's why I love working in mixed media. My new style is a combination of gouache, mono-printing, collage and digital.
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I currently live in central London, but grew up in a town called Marlow in the English countryside. It's a gorgeous place with the river Thames running through it. My family home was part of a group of houses with gardens running down to the river, so I spent summery days in rowing boats, and playing in nearby fields, with my brothers and our friends.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
'Pig Tale’ by Helen Oxenbury - I can’t tell you how much I love this book (still!!). If you don’t know it, check it out - the kitchen scene with Bertha (strawberry milkshake everywhere), and Briggs pushing the car into the pool - just hilarious and wonderful. It also has a special message about enjoying the ‘real' things in life, and the illustrations are so inventive, warm and funny - it’s a book that’s stayed with me.
What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?
I was very lucky after art school - encouraged by my best friend, I sent an envelope of pencil sketches to PanMacmillan. Thinking back I can’t believe this worked, but it did. They very kindly gave me a young fiction series ‘Witch Wendy’, which led to another series ‘Mermaid Magic’, (and then commissions with other publishers too like Penguin, Kingfisher and Ladybird). I have also been lucky enough to work with clients like Eurostar and London Zoo, and more recently, branded children’s packaging projects for Annabel Karmel and Young’s Seafood.
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
I work in mixed media - gouache, mono-printing, collage and digital - I love the unexpected textures and marks this can create. I think Photoshop is amazing, but I try (and hope) to ensure that my final pieces still have an organic feel with real paint and textures.
Do you keep a sketch book?
Lots of sketchbooks - some for character development/ doodling, and some for sketching outside. One of my favourite ways to relax is sketching with friends - usually with a nice big cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin.
How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?
Funnily enough, I often like the energy and feeling of my initial sketches. So all my pictures start fairly quickly in pencil and gouache. I then try to keep this spontaneity, and if possible try to avoid doing too many iterations. That said, a character needs to work in different poses, and working through this can take a day or two.
Talk us through the process of creating one of your latest illustrations or books.
My most recent commissioned work is a book project ‘Farm Friends’ – working with the wonderful peeps at Townhouse publishing. A dream project for me - sneak peak at the cover below.
Have you ever thought about trying out a different technique or a different style?
Yes, recently (last year) I developed my latest style – moving towards something that feels more textured and developed. I was super lucky – the first project was a big one for Annabel Karmel – re-packaging their children’s food range with illustrated little kids and props. I was even able to incorporate my mono-printing techniques for the pack backgrounds – an absolutely lovely project. I have since been commissioned for book projects in the new style, all very exciting!
How long does it take on average for you to finish a spread, from initial sketch to final colour?
This varies - but I usually spend a day or two on the pencil layout, and then 4 days creating the colour artwork. It takes perhaps a day longer if I need to nip out to make reference sketches (for example at the city farm/ London Zoo, or one of my favourite places for sketching people like the British Museum, or local cafes).
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I found a lot of happiness (and comfort) in picture books when I was growing up - I really hope I can create books that give children this feeling too - playful images that stimulate their imagination - hopefully a favourite book that they love and return to.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
Sir Paul Smith, when I was at CSM, said that your portfolio is only as good as the worst piece of work in it, (yikes, but so true!). But he also said that even he has moments when he wonders about his portfolio (hard to believe as a globally successful design icon!!). I think he was probably just being kind to his rapt student audience, but it made me realise as creatives we need to put our best foot forward, but also be brave and get out there.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?
Having run away from my job as a city lawyer to CSM art school, I think I was always destined to be an illustrator, (but my parents might disagree haha).