Next up in my series of Illustrator Interviews is one of my picture book heroes, Leigh Hodgkinson. Our whole family is a huge fan of her books so I am super excited to have had the chance to chat with Leigh. Squeal!
Hi Leigh, thank you SO much for joining me today! You are a complete inspiration to me, and just getting the chance to interview you is giving me butterflies. So onto the questions…
~ I know you worked in animation for a long time, what inspired you to make the switch to children’s books? Did you study animation or illustration or anything creative like that?
I originally went to university to study illustration in Hull. Writing stories and making things had always been my passion and I always managed to crow bar creating picture books into school and collage projects whenever I could. But when I got to university I was introduced to the magical worlds that animation can inhabit and I was completely seduced by that. Animation seemed to incapsulate everything that I loved… design, character, narrative (which are all apparent in picture books) but as welll as that you had sound, music and movement which are all very powerful things.
For 6 or so years after leaving the National Film and Television school (where I studied animation direction alongside some amazing people) I worked in animation. I worked commercially on tv/web/film projects and made some commissioned short films of my own. I began getting frustrated with the limited opportunities in the ever changing landscape of film funding and found commercial work limiting in terms of true creativity.
I had never stopped writing and making books for myself, and was lucky enough to find a wonderful agent who believed in me and teamed me up with my first publisher Orchard. I absolutely love making books, as you are involved in the creative process from beginning to end which is very satisfying. But the true reward is seeing how children and parents alike respond to the work- it is a very special and priviledged job that I don’t think I will ever tire of.
~ You have some amazing characters in your books – Colin, Larry, Sunny McCloud – do you have a favourite?
Larry is kind of my secret favourite. I love the fact that he is a bit grumpy and uppity and not fluffy and cute like most main characters in picture books. I love the fact that he can be flawed but still loveable – just like us real people.
~ You have your adorable toddler Eebee to look after along with all of your work - how on earth do you manage to fit everything in?!
It is an impossible and tiring task (as I am sure you can imagine yourself!) There never seems like enough hours in the day and I seem to live in a constant state of zombie-ish-ness. I find that it is really hard switching your mummy brain to professional person brain… especially when you work at home and can’t blinker out all the domestic stuff.
I am really lucky having a flexible job and superstar people around me (as eebee has amazing childminders, super-granny comes to play one day a week, plus her utterly modern and devoted daddy stays home one day a week).
I always feel guilty about something… whether it is not doing enough work, or not being a good enough mummy. But I guess that is all part of being a parent I suppose.
I love using collage… it has such freedom and room to play and experiment. Using “real” and digital techniques means you get the best out of both worlds. I never draw anything twice (partly because I am so impatient and partly because I hate things to look overworked, preferring a line with energy and life in it to one that is neat and controlled).
Working this way means when you are creating real artwork- you don’t have to get bogged down in colour/proportions/composition (as you can tweak all of that stuff later digitally). This means I can work quickly and enjoy getting messy and pretending to be a proper artist! But it also means I can never show my real artwork as it is so scruffy and the colours are bizarre. (Some of the human faces I have painted are blue, grass is orange and stuff like that).
I like using textures- whether it is a crayon scribble, layers of tissue paper or collage patterns. I like things to look home made and tactile as I think as human beings we respond to things that we can relate to. I feel very unemotional about shiny perfect computer images, I much prefere something that has fingerprints or smudgey little mistakes in it. To me this feels more real and has more integrity.
~ If you could illustrate any book/text from any time in history, what would it be?
That is hard to say, as most of my favourite texts have been illustrated perfectly already- and it would be impossible to try and do them myself as I wouldn’t be able to shake off being in total awe of those existing visuals and ideas. (eg anything by Dahl, Blyton, Donaldson) .
Maybe illustrating lyrics from a song would be good… something by Woody Guthrie or perhaps the crazy Ralfe Band!
I am working on my new picture book for Nosy Crow publishers. It has hairy trolls and a little girl in it. I am having lots of fun! After that I am illustrating a couple more Magical Mix up chapter books (also for Nosy Crow) and more picture books after that…. It is all quite busy at the moment.
~ I know you’re preparing to open your own shop on etsy soon too (which I cannot wait for), what kind of products will you be selling?
There will be tea-towel wonkybutton snippy-sew superhero ragdolls, bunnies and Russian doll cushions, there will be artwork giclee prints, badges and cards. All very exciting, I am just itching for a little slice of time so I can get it up and running.
~ How have you found creating your own products as opposed to illustrating for books?
Aw I just love it. I hope that they will sell and that I am not being a crazy self indulgent person. It is nice just to be able to create one off illustrations/designs, where I am able to relish in it on an individual level without having to worry about jiggling it in context of a longer form/bigger picture.
I have always been making stuff, sewing stuff, inventing stuff. Creating products for my wonkybutton shop is just an extension of that.
It started off as me wanting to make a contemporary ragdoll for my daughter eebee. Something that had a bit of attitude and wasn’t too pink and girly, and it all sort of grew from there.
Thank you SO much for popping by today. You are completely amazing!
You are most welcome, thanks for having me. I am so pleased you like my stuff, it really does mean a lot. Especially coming from an uber creative super mummy like yourself!
P.S. Up next in the series is another super talented lady - Cally Johnson-Issacs. Her interview will be posted in two weeks - yippee!