I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. It was always a way of keeping me happy and occupied as a wee one. I’d be doodling away, deaf to my parents’ calls to come downstairs for lunch, as I was lost in my bubble of imagination. I told my parents I wanted to be an illustrator when I was just six years old.
Art was always my favourite subject in school and the obvious direction for further education. Having completed an Art Foundation course at Bangor Uni, I then went on to do a BA(Hons) in Graphic Design, specialising in illustration at De Montford Uni. At my degree show, I was fortunate enough to be one of the few students to get approached by an agent, a lovely French lady called Sylvie. I remember meeting her for a coffee after the exhibition and handing over my entire portfolio without a second thought, possibly a bit naïve, but luckily it worked out for the best!
Commissions were slow at first, so I went on to study for my PGCE, qualifying as a secondary school art teacher. However, during my teacher training, the commissions picked up, and I didn’t have time to take on a full-time teaching post.
Over the years, I have worked for almost all of the major UK-based and many international publishing houses, primarily working on children’s books and educational material. Working for a South African based client was straightforward as it has the same time zone as the UK, but the Chinese Education Authority was a bit more challenging as I used to have to get up at 4 am to attend meetings.
Sometimes I stumble across my books on Amazon printed in Spanish or Swedish, not even aware they had been translated and published beyond the UK!
One of my favourite commissions was working on Thornton’s Halloween and Bonfire Night range. My little characters were made into chocolates! I had friends calling me from each end of the country, excited to see my illustrations all over their local store with multiple mobiles of ‘Scaredy Spider’ hanging from the ceiling, all the packaging and big window displays too.
Other projects outside children’s publishing include the many murals I have created, mainly in schools. When visiting one school, Joe Wicks, ‘The Body Coach’, liked one of my murals so much that he put a photo on his Instagram page—I was super chuffed.
However, my all-time hero in the world of illustration has to be the legend, Quentin Blake!
I love the scratchiness and spontaneity of his work; it just makes me tingle. He regularly sold his work at the Chris Beatles Gallery in London, and on one occasion when I visited, he was actually there. I was completely tongue-tied, star-struck. Luckily, my sis was with me, and she explained that I was an illustrator. He autographed books and signed a print for me. I treasure them.
I think what has helped me with my success is my ability to adapt my style to suit my client’s needs. Ironically, my college tutors were dead against it. In fact, my tutor even ripped up over half of my degree artwork just six weeks before my degree show because he wanted me to ‘focus’ on one style/way of working! In ‘real’ life, however, it has been a blessing to put an alternative slant on how I work to ‘fit’ any given project.
Since meeting the amazing Sue Miller, founder of TAUK Publishing in the summer of 2018 at a random networking event in Llanrwst, I’ve been working closely with many self-publishing authors and the wonderful team at TAUK Publishing. It has been a real joy helping to bring their stories to life. The warm feedback and emotional responses are incredibly fulfilling. It’s just a pleasure communicating directly with the authors, which is not usual in traditional publishing. I often start my day at about 6.30 am, just checking emails, writing my ‘to-do’ list and catching up with social media posts. I stop for breakfast and take an hour out in the afternoon to catch up on chores or walk my little dog Cookie, but then I probably carry on until about 9 pm to limit my screen time before bed.
When I’m really absorbed in a book, I often work through weekends. It’s not unusual for me to work at least one full day over the weekend. It’s difficult to say how long it takes to complete a book from start to finish, as some days I work twelve hours instead of eight. With working through weekends, too, I might complete a book in two and a half to three weeks. Some books require a lot more hours than others.
The illustration process has changed massively over the years. Initially, after I graduated, I used to fax sketches to the publisher—most other illustrators were posting photocopies at the time. I was lucky as my dad had a fax machine in his office, which quickened my pace—Marvel Comics even nicknamed me ‘Speedy’. All the illustrations then had to be packaged, ensuring they were carefully protected and posted by ‘snail mail’ recorded delivery. Later in the 90s, images were scanned and emailed, which was a real blessing.
For many years, I worked over a lightbox with a dip pen and waterproof inks. Today, of course, everything has moved on again.—it’s ALL digital. All my paper and paints have been put away these days as the iPad Pro has totally transformed the way I work. It’s fantastic, as it has such a natural drawing process; the techniques seem limitless.
I never take it for granted and am always grateful that someone has commissioned ‘me’. One of the things I love about my work is that I never know what projects are around the corner to inspire me, which can be both exciting and unnerving.
Here’s to the next thirty years!
Lisa and her little assistant, Cookie the Dog.
Guest Blog Written By Lisa Williams