'The place where inspiration hits the page running... A sketchbook to fail and reflect on my work and my process'

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Last week I was lucky enough to get a message from the lovely John Kilburn. I was asked to join a blog tour by John who was asked by Amber Hsu. Amber is the driving force behind the incredible artzine Tiny Pencil and a multi-talented designer, illustrator, editor and writer.  The idea of the blog tour is for authors/illustrators to answer the same set of four questions, then pass it on to few more people to do the same. So Amber passed it on to John and Alexis Deacon, Amber was nominated by Katriona Chapman who in turn was nominated by Jessica Lopez and also nominated Dan Berry. ..  but here are my answers.

What are you working on right now?
Right at this minute I am designing a book for my next exhibition. I have decided to make a catalogue of every show I do.
 Catalogue front cover
This month I have been working hard on starting and finishing a children's book and getting two more started, so little time to do my own authorial work. I'm also back at Plymouth College of Art, teaching on the Illustration course one day a week. My full-time job is as a commercial children's book illustrator with an authorial / fine art alter ego that comes out after dark. It is the alter ego voice I will be using for this purpose but that also means that the work I am doing for myself is minimal right now due to heavy deadlines and limited time.

So my authorial work currently consists of getting ready for an exhibition in the Picture Room in Newlyn Gallery. The work was born from a weeks residency in Studio no.5 at the Porthmeor studios in St Ives. Home to Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and other seminal artists, past and present. I will be sharing the gallery with the UCF Fine Art Midas Award winners with a separate show by overall winner Marc Messenger. I have the picture room to myself which is great and very cosy. Although this work lies firmly within fine art, as an illustrator I am constantly working hard on another body of work that brings the two together.

Press release for the show at Newlyn Gallery

You Are My Religion

X Marks the Spot

Swimming Upstream
The 'other body of work' I am creating in the background is my own children's book and a new portfolio. It is taking ages, years in fact, due to lack of time, but it is where my abstract / fine art work meets my love and passion for illustration. They are currently just backgrounds and landscapes while I am getting to grips with working in such a different way to my normal prescribed pencil, paper and paint. This is a more sketchbook style process and in fact came from sketching from life in the woods where I live. My dog walks seem to be where I make sense of the world and give me a huge feeling of freedom. I go out without my phone and just look up, listening to, and experiencing nature and the world around me. So one day I remembered how much I love to sketch from life, took my sketchbook and pencils and loved it. I just don't do it enough. So it starts in my sketchbook, I then scan the pages in and move them around, cut to white and add textures where needed.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work is a story of two parts. My life and my work lies in a world of contrast. I love contrast, but it means that strong contrast in my life means finding a middle ground is really hard. Because of my long background in Illustration and more recently the fine art, my work differs because I have two completely different ways of working and two different genres that I work within. It's an uncomfortable place when I look around. When I'm in each place, it's fine but when I look up and look back I wish I could stick to one thing and do it well, but I don't think that is my way? The paintings for exhibition seem to have a strength of their own, I have simply started the journey by creating them, they now have lives of their own and seem to be gaining their own recognition and pace, which is lovely. The illustration work is harder because I am well known for the commercial, colourful and very accessible work and therefore stuck producing work and books through demand, and with a style made within those constraints. But it pays for copious amounts of Lady Grey tea and art books, and more importantly the mortgage!

I therefore don't really know what genre my authorial work fits into really? It's a process that is born through my sketchbooks and finished in Photoshop. It hasn't really got an audience yet as it is still in progress. I guess illustrators such as Laura Carlin and Jon Klassen come to mind. I am very much influenced by painters as well as illustrators including Mary Newcombe who is a huge favourite of mine. So maybe my work differs as it straddles between fine art and illustration, still trying to finding it's final resting place? 

Growing Up ii

Growing Up i

How does my illustration process work?
When working to someone else's brief I sketch out pages and thumbnails so they can see exactly what I am planning, meaning the process is fairly formulaic. For my own work it happens more organically from making one mark or working with an idea that changes and morphs into something else. I always, and only, have a vision, a feeling that I want my work to have or achieve. It is only with my own work I can achieve that feeling in physical form. With a clients work my view is clouded by their ideas and ultimately isn't as good or satisfying and takes longer. So this means I often have to switch off my own brain and key into the brain of the brief and its genre.
When I'm in my sketchbooks or on my own time I am compelled to satisfy the thirst for self fulfilment, to quench a thirst for colour, texture, space, composition and a lightness of touch, while attempting to connect with a world that I covet and regard as home, in order to inhabit my true self. 

Why do I illustrate what I illustrate?

It's as simple as a compulsion to create something beautiful. For my own work it's a need and a strong will to reach that feeling of ultimate happiness and fulfilment. It's rarely easy and the long lived feeling of achievement has yet to come, but then that's what makes us strive and never stand still. The search for something new and enlightening is a lifelong journey which I am excited by on a daily basis.  

Even when working to brief as a children's illustrator I feel a passion for the structure and the genre and the fact that I can paint for a living and pay the bills, while educating and bringing colour to children's lives, like it did mine. It's not a bad life : )

I now nominate fellow MA graduate and illustrator Tom Hubmann. Tom is a great and very prolific illustrator who lives and breaths contrast in the work he does, but also has an effortless humour and quirk about his work that makes you want to have his work on your walls.

...and secondly another fellow student from back in the BA days, Andy Potts. An amazing artist who cannot only draw like no one else I know, (I've seen his drawing) his ability on the computer is second to none. Andy's ability to marry stunning colour, content, design and space, to produce a polished piece of art is incredible. 

Over to the boys...