Do you have a particular artist / illustrator / style of working which you draw inspiration from for your own work?
I've never been too directly inspired by one single artist or illustrator – I think that's a slightly dangerous place to make work from as it could end up being rather derivative, and that wouldn't be a nice feeling! However, of course no man (or woman) is an island, so little inspirations in terms of style will feed into my work from the general millieu of what's going on in illustration - some contemporary favourites of mine are Jonny Hannah, Michael Kirkham, Laura Carlin (who's recently started making beautiful ceramics) and Valerio Vidali. I'm also fond of the work of textile designer Ellie Curtis, and the work of artist John Byrne, who recently brought out a fantastic picture book. But in terms of inspiration I'm much more interested in looking at visual sources that don't come from illustrators, like old scraps, 19th-century engravings and books of photographs (or my own photographs from foreign holidays)- I think this is a much richer source of ideas, and helps you avoid the uncomfortable feeling of making work that's too close to something you've seen recently elsewhere.
- You have a very distinctive style, is there anything that has had an influence upon your style or the content of your work? i.e. Day of the Dead skulls seem to appear here and there within your illustrations...
Yes, I'm quite fond of all that ritualistic/religious imagery - in the latest project I've done, illustrating short stories - one of the tales was set in Haiti and involved some Vodou shapeshifting - so this set me off down a trail investigating Vodou art and religious altars. I was excited to discover photographs of amazing sequined Vodou banners with symbolic animals and patterns and home altars bedecked with dolls, skulls, painted bottles, scarves, crosses, and images of a black Virgin Mary. I'm not too sure why all of this fascinates me so much, I think it's the mix of Catholicism and natural religion that seems so intriguing and mysterious to me, since I have no religious beliefs of my own. Also, it's just visually rich, and ambiguous too.
- When did you first begin working with ceramics, and what led you to experiment in this way?
It all started in my final year at college when I was struck by a vision of an illustrated blue and white china plate. Years before I can remember seeing hand made cups and saucers in a Dundee gallery (I forget the artist, sadly), decorated with quirky figures in a charmingly naïve style. Then in 2008 I came across lovely pieces in a similar vein when I was on holiday in Berlin. My flat in fourth year also housed some very pleasing white Alessi mugs, simply decorated with amusing blue images. So I suppose all these things were probably simmering away in my subconscious and suddenly came together when I was back at home in the Scottish Borders, in my mum’s studio. She’s a ceramic artist and has a kiln, as well as glazes and extensive know how, which I decided to take advantage of. So I made a set of six blue and white china plates for my degree show (related to a children's pop-up book I'd created) and then went wild making ceramic brooches and earrings to sell in our degree shop illustration shop. It was so exciting getting the first plate out of the kiln. It all snowballed from there and now I show jewellery and plates in galleries and shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle and Margate. I've also had a solo ceramics show in Made in the Shade's Tiny gallery in Glasgow and have another showcase of my ceramic work coming up in Concrete Wardrobe in Edinburgh, where I'll be Maker of the Month this July.
- In one of your recent blog posts you mentioned being unaccustomed to working with Photoshop. Is there a particular reason that you work in more of an analogue way than digital?
Well, I'm not sure, I think it's probably come from the start point of preferring hand-drawn work - I used to occasionally look through those 'Illustration Now' books and just think most of the work was hideous, its soul Photoshopped out of existence! However, I've since come to see that in the right hands, Photoshop is just a tool like any other, and some people achieve brilliant results with it. It certainly speeds up the process, and having different colour options and the ability to edit easily is a bonus... however, I'd never use it exclusively; I think the hand-drawn still needs to feature within it. And for non-commercial artwork, working with coloured pencil and gouache is what suits me best. I think it's important not to lose the ability to make visual decisions without the option to 'apple z' them if you change your mind!
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Do you keep a regular sketchbook?
Yes, I rely heavily on the sketchbook when planning out ideas for all my work - I'm getting through them pretty fast these days! My thought processes are really clear to follow within my sketchbooks - they're a combination of words and pictures recording my approach to creating images.
What are your thoughts on Illustration as an industry at the moment, with Illustration degrees becoming more popular, despite claims that there is less work to be found?
Well, I kind of feel like there's maybe too many people trying to make it nowadays - it's overwhelming the thought of how many illustrators there are in the world, and all the new ones who come along every year hoping to make a career - but it's probably best not to think about that too much, and just concentrate on developing your own work and niche. It is kind of scary thinking about everyone competing for a ever-dwindling number of jobs - but I don't think I've been around long enough to be aware of a decline in commissions... anyway, hopefully these things go in cycles if that is the case.
Do you have a particular process when working? Certain stages of development which you go through?
I always begin by going to my sketchbook and writing down, often in the form of a question, what it is I hope to do, what the brief is, or what my idea is. Then I move to small, rapid sketching of ideas and hone to a certain point until I'm ready to start on the final piece, whether that be illustration or ceramic. In both cases I'd usually map out the drawing in pencil before moving in with paint...
What would be your dream commission?
I've thought about this before and I think it would probably be to decorate the entire interior and exterior of a bohemian café, with a combination of mural and painted ceramics tiled in to the wall. That would be so much fun - and I like the thought of it being permanent and also housing life and conversation. The other thing I'd like someone to commission would be a solo exhibition of handmade paper and cardboard painted objects, like little houses, boats, masks and the like.