Partnership Publishing meets Julia to discuss her process whilst illustrating our Author, Clive Arup's magical, fantasy fiction book ‘The Pixies of Little Wittenham’.
Imprint: Magic Mouse Books
When did you start drawing and what inspired you to start illustrating?
I’ve drawn all my life and from an early age. I decided to be an Artist by the age of 12, beginning my Art School Education at 17. At 18 I started a degree course in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London specialising in painting.
As a small child I began drawing my family and have always been fascinated by the human face and form.
Last year I was approached to make some illustrations on a story based on a landscape I have known well and painted for over 30 years. It came very naturally to develop the characters in The Pixies of Little Wittenham.
Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?
I haven’t always wanted to be an Illustrator, but throughout my life have been compelled to document people and places that I have visited. In recent years I have spent extensive time in Istanbul, drawing the many refugees and the city. As well as going as “Trip Artist’ to Tanzania
What advice would you give a new illustrator, someone just starting out?
My advice for any illustrator starting out would be to start from the place you know or are fascinated by, and learn to make observational drawings for real life and not rely solely on photos.
How do you handle a creative block?
I don’t have creative blocks, just breaks to refresh and refocus
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Plot and description
Describe your creative space.
Large, light and plenty of space for mess and experimentation
What time of the day do you usually design?
Normally during daylight
Describe a typical illustrative day.
No such thing as a typical day
What is the most difficult part about illustrating for you?
Being interrupted when in the flow
How do you do research for your books?
Work from what I know, previous artwork, if stuck may search the internet to find a particular viewpoint for a figure
What are the tools of the trade?
Acrylic paint and Ink
What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?
That somebody reads it and it gets noticed and leads on to further creative opportunities
On a typical day, how much time do you spend creating?
Anything from 1 to 6 hours would be typical
How do you handle criticism?
I’m getting better at handling criticism, but it's always hard. Encouragement and wise advice is better.
Is there lots to do before you dive in and start designing the illustrations?
No I tend to dive straight in, usually with a large wash brush
Describe your perfect book hero or heroine.
Matilda, by Roald Dahl. From a desperate terrible family, she survives.
ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER DESIGN
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while designing this book?
The characters emerge almost fully formed, and then just need tweaking and then some minor adjustments
Who is your favourite character?
Do you have a favourite character that you have drawn? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
Hogarth, he became real and a bit of a thug when I put him in a camouflage t shirt
Where do you get your inspiration?
Observations of people in real life, that you can then play around with and reinvent according to where you place them in the picture
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT PROJECT
The next Pixie story with Clive Arup about a cat who finds its way home, over 100 miles (this bit is true), with the help of pixies (this bit might be).
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
Yes, the Cat and the great affection his family have for him
What was the inspiration for the design?
Playing around with puddles of watercolour paint, I created the cats tabby marking very simply
Do you draw listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book?
Yes, I listen to music on Spotify, Radio 4 or a story on Audible. But often I need to turn the sound off if it starts to distract in any way.
What were the key challenges you faced when illustrating this book?
Ideas flow and inspiration often comes from actively starting a painting, not just thinking about it. Blank canvases or paper are inhibiting and need to be quickly covered and obliterated.
What was the highlight of illustrating this book?
Finding the shape and colour of the cat
ABOUT OTHER ARTISTS, BOOKS AND READING
Who is your favourite artist and why?
My favourite illustrator is Quentin Blake, I love his expressive lines and strong characters that are usually very funny
What are you reading now?
Instruction for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
What book is currently on your bedside table?
The Bible as I particularly like to read the Psalms at night if I can’t sleep
What books or artists have most influenced your own design?
Henri Matisse, André Derain, Pierre Bonnard
When I haven’t any blue, I use red by Pablo Picasso
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult
I captured the Castle by Dodie Smith
Favourite book when you were a kid
What famous artist do you wish would be your mentor?
If you could ask one successful artist three questions about their design, process, or medium, what would they be?
How long did the piece take, in time and over what length of time? When and how did you know it was finished? Are you able to produce work that you feel like doing or do you always have to produce work that fits into your known cannon, or oeuvre?
What do you like to do when you are not getting creative?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your dream job when you were younger?
To be paid to be creative
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating?
Not having supper, but will be having drinks and canapés at 8pm
What’s your favourite food?
Italian and any seafood
What is the best part of your day?
First part of the morning when all is fresh
Favourite artist and favourite song?
Elton John, Your Song
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
My 3 sons because they are always so lively when we get together and we’d have a laugh as well as have some intense, no holds bar discussions
If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
My husband, duck breasts with plum sauce
Share something that readers wouldn’t know about you.
I wish I’d spent more time in my youth and 20’s study history, which now fascinates me
If you could only have one season, what would it be?
Autumn, the perfect colours, warm and mellow
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Curious, emotional and thankful
If you could cure a disease, what would it be?
If you could choose celebrity parents, who would you choose?
Leonardo Da Vinci
If you were a tour guide, what would you like a visitor to see and what impression would you want them to take away with them when they leave?
The richness of our history in these Sceptred Isles
What’s your favourite spot to visit in your own country? And what makes it so special to you?
Burlington Gap. The meandering river.
To find out more about 'The Pixies of Little Wittenham' you can read our Q&A with Author Clive Arup here:-