sarah grateley

sarah grateley

sarah grateley Interview

sarah grateley

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

I was 13 years old when I realised drawing wasn't just a hobby that I loved (and tap dancing really wasn't for me!). Art was a passion that I really wanted to turn into a career. While I was studying on the Art Foundation course in Stafford, my home town, I was so torn between choosing illustration or textiles to study at University and witnessed my two tutors having a very heated discussion about which I'd be best at, in their opinion! Obviously I chose Illustration and graduated from the UCE in Birmingham in 1998 with a First. Funnily enough I then worked for a surface pattern studio on their children's collection, and learnt how to create repeat patterns for textiles! 

What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?

I was over the moon to get my first commission from International Greetings, not long after graduating. This was back in the good old days when work was done purely by hand then posted to the company by special delivery! The art director asked me to create mood boards for potential Christmas cards to begin with, then they commissioned me from my ideas to produce the card designs. At the time, I used gouache with a monoprint line to create funky characters like reindeer, penguins, snowmen etc. Not long after that I worked on some Snowmen cards for CCA Art and Design and this artwork was the first of my designs to be spotted for sale in Beatties department store in Wolverhampton! Very proud moment, especially for my Mum!

Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

Like many like minded Illustrators my ideas come to me at the strangest times! Usually on a run, or when I'm with my 3 year old whose imagination is wild at the moment! 

My designs begin with a pencil sketch which is scanned into Illustrator CC. I love my work to have some textured elements so it doesn't look too digital and clean, so some of my motifs will be drawn using Illustrator and others are hand drawn or sponged from a stencil and scanned into photoshop to add to the piece and layer on top of the vector artwork. I colour up the artwork in Illustrator and play with the texture a bit more too, 

I still love to experiment with different materials when time allows. I believe there is always room for developing your technique and offering something new.

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Sponged Motifs

Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

I've always been really drawn to artists who use mixed media and like to add texture to their work. Eric Carle (Hungry Caterpillar) has to be one of my favourites for this reason, with his beautiful, clever use of collage for his picture books. I was very influenced by the wonderful Lauren Child while I was studying illustration, for her mixed use of materials, such as photos of patterns to illustrate curtains and sofas combined with quirky pen drawings of gorgeous characters! My aim with my own work is to make people stop and think "wow thats different", just as these illustrators did for me.

What is your favourite children’s book and why?

There are so many! I read to my 3 year old every evening and at the moment we both love the "Oi Dog", "Oi Frog", "Oi Cat" series by Claire and Kes Gray. The concept and rhyming text is hilarious, as are the illustrations! My absolute favourite has to be "There's a Monster in my book" by Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott. Such a simple idea that makes the book so interactive for little ones and the monster is so cute you couldn't possibly be scared of him! 

Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.

My studio is in the corner of our conservatory at my home in Stafford, UK. I have shelves full of books to inspire me, like the "Print Pattern" series by Bowie Style which are full of work by fellow creatives. As I love to mix my media in my illustrations there are also pots full of various materials like brush pens, charcoal, print rollers, old toothbrushes etc. I have a notice board on my window sill to pin illustrations of my own work that I'm proud of, and also inspiration from other artists or work by my children that just makes me smile! 

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Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?

Yes! I really love working with children so I very often run art workshops in schools, libraries and public events. Schools have asked me on many occasions to help the children design and paint a mural that will be a permanent piece of artwork to brighten up an area in the school. My local borough Council employed me to run workshops in primary schools several years running, to make large Christmas ScuIptures for our towns "Santa Parade". We used willow and carrier bag material to create characters like reindeer, snowmen, santas and elves!

I also run an after school art club at my sons primary school teaching a variety of art skills including drawing, painting, printing and sculpture. I love to teach children that there are no rules with art and to be proud of their own unique styles.

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If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?

I really can't imagine a career without some sort of creativity, however I do really love watching hospital based TV dramas or reality programs so maybe in another life I would be a nurse or a doctor!

What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?

I think maybe it comes across quite stongly from my portfolio that I really love to draw animals and make them into little characters, but I do like drawing foliage and flowers too. On holidays you can often find me sitting in a harbour sketching the boats, just for fun.

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Share your favourite piece of artwork from your portfolio and walk us through its creation.

This is a promotional piece of work based on the rhyme "Row your boat". I'm really pleased with the cute crocodile in particular and the idea of him hiding behind rocks to make the other characters jump! As with a lot of my work I created many of the motifs using a hand drawn and cut stencil with block printing ink and a sponge. The flat background areas are created using Illustrator CC, then the textured motifs are scanned in and image traced on top of the vector artwork. The sponged areas are great for adding texture to the trees, ripple in the stream and the little teddy in the boat!

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Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?





Outline your dream project.

Over the years I have been very privileged to see my work on children's fabrics, bedding, curtains, clothes and many greeting cards, however its my dream (sorry, my aim!) to illustrate books. My characters very much lend themselves to a younger audience so maybe a board book or younger aged picture book, or even a bath book! I'd really like to have a go at puzzles or activity books aswell.

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What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

Never give up! I have always had a very positive attitude towards this industry and being freelance. There have been many knock backs in my career, as with any illustrator, but I don't take them personally because I believe in myself and my work. Just because one company/publisher has said no doesn't mean that your work isn't good or that someone else won't like it...just keep trying!

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