Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
I have always had a real love for reading, and as a child, my favourite author was Roald Dahl, so Quentin Blake was probably the first illustrator I was introduced to. I fell in love with his illustrations immediately and the illustrations became just as important to me as the text. I began drawing at a young age, mainly pencil drawings, and it was something I have always wanted to do as a career. As I got older, other illustrators caught my attention, such as Tony Ross, and it was experiencing the excitement of these illustrations that made me want to do the same thing for other children.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
Yes, however I took a less traditional route because of family commitments and living quite a distance from universities. I enrolled on a part-time distance learning degree in Visual Communications with the Open College of the Arts, which later became part of the University for the Creative Arts. I studied graphic design, illustration and book design.
After graduating, I enrolled on another distance learning course, a Master of Arts in Illustration, with the University of Hertforshire, which I have just completed. My final project was a nonfiction picturebook about frogs, and I'm really pleased with it. I have found a new love in illustrating animals.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
I read a lot of books as a child. Every Saturday, I would go to my local library and choose six books. (Six was the maximum at the time!) My favourite books were anything by Roald Dahl, Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, Grimm's Fairytales, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little Women. I then gave these same books to my own children.
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
My work always begins with a lot of research, rough sketches and notes in my sketchbook, before developing into slightly better sketches and if required, storyboards or rough layouts. Often, more research will follow, more sketches and revisions, and then these sketches are scanned into my laptop, where I will work on them using a Huion graphics tablet and mainly Photoshop to digitally paint and develop the layout. Depending on the project, I might also use InDesign to create documents or page spreads.
I think my working technique will always be evolving to suit whatever my needs are at the time.
Do you keep a sketch book?
I keep several sketchbooks of various sizes, but I tend to sketch quite small, so lately I'm finding the A5 hardback sketchbooks more useful. Every now and then, I like to get out the older sketchbooks and look at past sketches and ideas.
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I hope children take away that little feeling inside that makes them want to pick up a pencil, a crayon or anything else they have that they can get creative with.
I would love for children to say to themselves, 'I can do that!'
What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?
I couldn't live without my sketchbooks! Without these, nothing would happen, because my sketchbooks are where I can let my mind and my pencil wander. Everything begins in the sketchbook. My research sketches and notes are the basis for everything that follows.
Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?
Probably, colourful, bold, shapely and fun!
Are you an author/illustrator?
Yes. I've written and illustrated three books, two of them fiction, and my most recent book is a nonfiction book about frogs. Working on the nonfiction book was surprisingly educational for me and I found myself with so much information that it took several stages to condense it down again!
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
'Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.' This was something my first tutor said to me right after I enrolled in the Visual Communications degree course with the Open College of the Arts. I was working my way through the Graphic Design module and looking back at one of the first assignments I submitted, I had a little bit of everything in it and not enough of anything. It was the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me and it sticks with me to this day.
What makes a good children’s book?
I think if a book brings a smile to a child's face and encourages them to read more, then it's a good children's book. The encouragement and confidence a book can provide is an essential tool in every child's individual learning journey and there are so many books out there just waiting to be discovered.
Which project are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of my frog picturebook because it's the first nonfiction book I have written, illustrated, and published, and it's renewed my love for nonfiction picturebooks. Additionally, I've always been interested in frogs and this was a good opportunity to learn more about them.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
I'm still scared of the dark.
What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?
I love to draw animals. All sorts of animals. Every time I draw a different animal, I learn something new about it and I love to learn new things.
Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?
Charlotte's Web would be a really interesting one. The challenge of illustrating a tiny spider and a big pig together sounds exciting. Re-telling it from a different perspective would be a fun challenge too.
Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?
Right now, I have three cats, two gerbils, and a turtle. The cats have been a big influence on my work because they get up mischief every day.
Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?
I enjoy listening to a wide variety of genres when I'm working, sometimes it's Savage Garden, other times it might be Pink, but there's something about the Disney soundtracks that always makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Powerful lyrics and dramatic music is a real energy booster!
When you are not drawing, how do you like to relax?
When I'm not drawing, I like to read. I like to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. The most influential nonfiction book I have read recently was '99 Ways to Tell a Story' by Matt Madden. I found it fascinating how the same story could be told from so many different perspectives, producing a different result each time.
I also like to read various genres of fiction, particularly crime, psychological thrillers, and horror. I'm currently reading the latest book in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, 'The Sentinel'.