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Q & A with Julia Palmer, Illustrator of 'The Pixies of Little Wittenham'.

Partnership Publishing meets Julia to discuss her process whilst illustrating our Author, Clive Arup's magical, fantasy fiction book ‘The Pixies of Little Wittenham’.


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.



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



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



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

Favourite quote

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?

Henri Matisse

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?

An Artist

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

Your hero?

Jane Austen

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:-

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