Cathy Olmedillas Interview

Cathy Olmedillas

Founder, Anorak Magazine

Studio Anorak has been going from strength to strength since you were established in 2006; can you tell us how your career in publishing first began and how it’s evolved?

I started my career in publishing in the 90s at magazines like The Face and Sleazenation. I had been an avid reader of magazines before that, as a child and a teenager. With these titles, I was lucky enough to ‘go behind the curtains’ and learn how to create them. I always secretly wanted to make my own and it is when I became a Mum ten years later that the dream became a reality. Anorak is now in its 12th year of publishing which officially makes us veterans on the indie publishing scene!!

The concept for Anorak Magazine was inspired by the birth of your own child and the desire to create something fun and immersive that would spark imagination. Which publications from your own childhood did your draw upon for inspiration?

I read anything when I was a child, from Marvel comics to The Famous Five books, or my mum’s womens or TV listings magazines. As a family we moved around a lot and magazines were constant companions. When we lived abroad, we used to get comics and pop magazines sent over to us as this was a way to stay in tune with what was happening on the Continent. When I became a Mum, I started reconnecting with children’s magazines and realised things had changed hugely and not for the best. Magazines had become commercial and gender-specific and I thought about creating a magazine that I would love to read with my son and would be more about childhood than a brand extension.

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Can you give us a glimpse into a day in the life of a magazine founder – what does a typical ‘day at the office’ entail?

I wear many hats so every day is different. My favourite day is when I have no admin to do and instead I spend the day writing stories and commissioning artists. If I have to do some admin, I will tackle it first thing, early morning, and then give myself the rest of the day to think, write or visit a Museum for inspiration. One of the things I have learnt over the years is not be a slave to my Inbox! I usually stop around 430pm/5pm (for ice cream and spending time with my son) and start again later after dinner to answer emails.

Do you have a particular theme for each issue and if so, what are they inspired by?

Every issue has a theme and they vary hugely, from the more conceptual (Art, Myths and Tales, Words, Dreams) to the plain fun (Cakes, Sweets, Party). The themes we explore are sometimes connected to the British Curriculum, or inspired by a documentary or a podcast. They also come from conversations I have had with my son. We never repeat themes and never shy away from the more ‘philosophical’ ones, such as Friendship, Fear and Kindness. One of the things that frustrates me with mainstream culture for kids is that it always revolves around the same topics like Princesses, Robots and Dinosaurs and yet childhood is the perfect time to be inspired by and absorb everything.

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There are so many beautifully illustrated stories in every edition of the magazine. Can you share a few recent examples with our audience and offer an insight into the commissioning process?

I simply love illustrations so I feel like a kid in a candy shop when I get to commission artists! The process always starts with me writing a story. For Anorak, I tend to write in a short story format, thinking about the narrative and the words (obviously!). For  our younger children’s magazine, DOT, I tend to think of it more visually and would often sketch it out before I write it. That’s because DOT’s audience is made of very young readers so the approach has to be more visual than wordy.

Once the first draft is done, I look for the style that would suit it better. It’s a subjective process as it is down to tastes a lot! Sometimes I already have a visual style in mind and it is then about matching that to an illustrator and at other times, I have no idea and just look around in search of the perfect one!

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What are the keys factors that influence you when commissioning artwork for Anorak? What advice would you offer to illustrators aspiring to feature?

It is hard to put into words such instinctive process but generally I look for consistency and craft. Consistency because I’d like to get a good idea of how the story will come back and if a portfolio has too many styles, it can be confusing. Craft because I love detailed and fun scenes that will ultimately inspire our readers to immerse themselves in a story and pick up a pen and draw. I also have a bit of a white page phobia so bright colours are best! Anorak, to me, should be this box of surprises where every page is visually stimulating and gives children a sense that every drawing is a great drawing and there is not one way to draw.

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What are some of your favourite covers and why?

It’s hard to pick one amongst the 46 of them but if I had to choose just one, it would be the one Amandine Urruty did for our Cats & Dogs edition. Amandine is one of my personal favourite artists so I was really humbled when she accepted to do it. I love it because it captures the theme in such a beautiful and intriguing way. It is weird but completely enticing, and looks like it could have been produced over 60 years ago. And the egg on top of the dog is hilarious and bizarre, which is just perfect!

We love that you use Little Editors – can you explain to our audience what this is and how it came about?

Children are invited to take part in drawing missions and/or they review books for us. Anorak has always been about involving children, as frankly, they are the best drawers and editors. At first, Little Editors were friends of friends but now we have around 300 of them scattered across the world and we also involve schools for some missions.

I think the illustrations we use in Anorak are often very child-like so artists and children’s drawings live very well side by side. We get a huge amount of positive feedback about this scheme as it does wonders for children’s confidence to see their stories  and drawings published.

Anorak Magazine is all about culture and creativity – as Creative Director how do you get the right balance of fun stuff and educational content?

The fun stuff is educational and we make the educational stuff fun! There are subjects that come back every edition such as Nature, Space, Food, and with these, we always look for interesting and fun facts. We approach everything through the lens of child wonderment and when we plan every issue, we access our 8 year old within!

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Can you tell us about any current projects that you’re working on?

We have just launched a Spanish edition of DOT and are doing events in Barcelona and Madrid to spread the word. It is distributed in mainland Spain and South America.

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What is Studio Anorak’s proudest achievement?

It is too difficult to pick a single one but I am proud of the fact that we just keep thriving with products that people genuinely love. It amazes me the level of support we receive year in year out from parents, teachers, who really champion everything we do. I am also massively grateful that we have been asked to create magazines like Anorak for brands such as The Scouts, 2017 City of Hull and Airbnb.

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You are passionate about our environment. How do you convey that message to your young readership and eco-conscious parents?

Our editorial policy is ‘EVERYTHING IS FUN’ so we hope that by highlighting how fun food, nature or the world are, we inspire them to treat everything and everyone around them with kindness and respect. I truly believe that learning while having fun is the easiest way to learn and stay connected to the world around. But, ultimately, we are very conscious that publishing magazines means chopping down trees so we don’t overprint and ensure we use recycled paper. I also don’t want to add to the sea of throwaway magazines that are available on the shelves (only to end up in a landfill a few months later) which is why Anorak is printed on really nice paper and it is designed to be kept and passed on.

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