Spotlight: Interview with Rowena Aitken

Rowena is a brilliant illustrator based in Scotland - we just had to know more about her charmingly mad characters! From starting out in RPG and fantasy illustration to your recent quirky and fun characters, you've maintained a healthy population of adventurous pirates, warriors and dinosaurs in space in your portfolio - could you tell me more about your own artistic adventure?I suppose I have always been on an artistic adventure - always drawing! I started finding my voice at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design where I started off on the foundation course and moved onto Animation & Electronic Media. The drawing side of animation was what I loved and I dug my heels in to stay away from learning 3D software! I love the freedom of drawing and it was clear after graduating that I wouldn't be happy doing anything else for a living so I boldly went into doing freelance illustration for RPG books and games. This taught me a lot and mainly that clients are (amazingly) people and while you have to maintain a level of professionalism you can have a lot of good banter! Over the years I have had many fun projects but I suppose my heart lay in "The Silly". I love silly expressions, fun colours, exaggerated poses - extremes, really! I made a deliberate move to go into children's illustration and I utterly adore it.  You've recently finished working on a book called 'Ruan The Little Red Squirrel' - how did you build a working relationship with writer Rachel McGraw to bring the characters to life?Well thanks to the power of the internet this was made relatively easy! Forth Books, publishers of "Ruan The Little Red Squirrel" and Rachel are based near Edinburgh so in a combination of a few meetings and lots of emails we crafted the story of Ruan. Forth and Rachel are lovely to work with and I think it shows in the final product. Could you tell us a little more about the picture book you're working on at the moment? I can! The story is called The Kilted Coo - Rachel McGaw's second venture into children's books with Forth Books. Here's a poem by Rachel from her Facebook Page to tell you a little about The Kilted Coo:Facebook friends, if I could have a moment or two...I have some exciting news for you -I'm thrilled to announce that book number two Is on the way about a coo called Drew.Most of the details are still under wraps But for now I'll give you some of the facts:Illustrated by Rowena, published by Forth,I hope it'll be a hit here, up North.In case you haven't worked it out by nowIt's a rhyming story about a highland cow,Set on a farm on the West Highland Way About a cow and a kilt... and that's all I'll say!So please feel free to like and share(To spread the news everywhere)And look out for 'The Kilted Coo'In a bookshop soon somewhere near you!It's incredibly fun to work on as animals are my favourite thing to draw. There may be cameos from Pixel (The Studio Cat), some y-fronts and a certain Little Red Squirrel! What's your working process from inkling of an idea to fully-fledged Photoshop painting?Ooh it's a long one! If it's a book I start off by going through the story and reading any notes the author and/or publisher have added; If it's a painting I look at the brief or go with my own ideas if they're personal pieces then spend time looking for reference images of animals, environments, people, clothing etc to get the ideas going. Then I start VERY rough by scribbling out thumbnails - combo of digital and paper - to work out compositions. Then I mock up the pages, working out text placement (if this hasn't already been defined by the client), plan out characters, work out a rough colour scheme (this is all very messy!) and somewhere in between there and the finished piece the art happens! Lots of coffee helps too :) I loved the 'Haggis: a Simple Guide' - does the Haggis have a way to defend itself against the predatory Nessie and midgies?Thank you! For the Haggis avoidance is the best strategy but unfortunately they aren't very bright and can sometimes end up too close to the water's edge!Regarding midgies - no one can escape them! Revise your Haggis knowledge and see Rowena's brilliant work here​

Spotlight: Interview with Stephen Waterhouse

Today we caught up with Stephen Waterhouse, an experienced illustrator who has been with us for the best part of a decade to find out more about his new slick, graphic style.  Your portfolio is packed with fantastic cities, maps, people and animals - is illustration a way of documenting your own adventures, or a way of travelling in itself? Great question, thanks, I think that yes my work as an Illustrator is definitely a way of travelling in itself!  Each project is a journey of discovery and certainly an adventure.  I love the fact that I get to learn so much about things when researching each project.  For example I learnt so much when researching the ‘My Pop-Up Atlas’s by Templar, the first was ‘My Pop-Up World Atlas’, the second was ‘My Pop-Up City Atlas’ and third was all about ‘My Pop-Up People Atlas’.  I didn’t enjoy Geography at school but these books gave me a chance to learn all about different countries and cultures in a really fun way.  I have always loved drawing when travelling or on holiday, as there’s no pressure to get things right so I can just draw with in any media, so yes I often do document my own adventures. It looks like you specialise in physically interactive projects such as advent calendars, popup books and jigsaws - how do you wrap your mind around how the artwork is going to give that 'moment of discovery' in its final 3D form?The physically interactive projects are really fun to do but are the most challenging due to the technical side of how things are going to fit together, especially the pop-up Atlas's.  The client / publisher often sends me a rough mockup of the physical product so I can see how the bits and pieces fit together which really helps me to visualise and understand and wrap my mind around those ‘moments of discovery’ as you say.  It’s then a case of creating the drawings and adding them onto the various parts.  Once those drawings are approved I then create the colour artwork but I don’t usually see how everything fits together until the jigsaw, advent calendar or book is published usually a year later!  I hope to do more of these ‘3D’ projects as they are a really great challenge and are so much fun to do.  Could you tell us more about your working process from multi-media to final digital art? My working process usually involves, pencil, acrylics, oil pastel and then finally working digitally.  I enjoy the hands on physical side of creating lots of rough pencil drawings to develop and work out compositions.  I then use acrylics, pencil crayons, oil pastels and sometimes felt tips to play around with colour, lighting and atmosphere to discover the time of day and mood.  I then scan all this work in and create the final artwork using Painter and Photoshop.  I like to think that using a mix of materials and media results in the artwork being fresher, more experimental and more exciting. It sounds like you combine the best of both worlds, what would you say are the perks and challenges of your process? I enjoy each part of my working process but the start is definitely the most challenging, trying to find the right research, the right way of drawing something from a particular unique angle and the right composition.  My favourite part is when the colour painting is about 60% complete and you can see that it’s all coming together and how it might look when it’s finished.  Another ‘perk’ is seeing the final printed and packaged calendar, jigsaw or book about a year later. What's your next adventure, illustration-related or otherwise?In terms of illustration work I’ve just finished this years Divine Chocolate Advent Calendar which is my 10th for Divine!  So it’s a special one for me and I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a long standing relationship with the team at Divine Chocolate.  I’m also working on a large site map for a school in North Yorkshire which has about 50 buildings!  I’m also currently trying to invent new characters and write new stories, but they often have to wait and take a back seat due to other commissioned work.  The ‘in development’ projects can take me a while to develop and I often have to live with the ideas and characters for months, maybe even years before they progress any further.   Last year I went to the west coast of America and travelled from Seattle down through San Francisco to Las Vegas, so I'm hoping to create some new work from my experiences over there.  But Iceland is the next place I would love to visit and create some large drawings!​Check out Stephen's brilliant portfolio  

Spotlight: Interview with Conor Rawson

We're excited to get to know Conor Rawson, a Swindon-based illustrator who creates bright, playful images to make people smile.   What are the childhood memories and adventures that come out to play in your work?So many things. I have a very vivid memory of my childhood. Holidays to the seaside, Sunday afternoon car drives, school holidays and time with family all play a big part. I wrote little stories and drew together with my Dad and he made these wonderful wooden toys. His shed was very much like an elves workshop at a certain North Pole. I was certainly never short of inspiration or encouragement as a child. As we grow up, our books tend to have fewer pictures - why do you think this is?I think as we grow up we gather more and more life experiences and in turn we are able to to picture things in books for ourselves. Having that marriage of words and pictures in books is not only helpful but also a comfort to children. However I do feel that books with pictures should not be seen as solely for children. Some of the best books i've ever read are picture books and if my shelves were filled with books with only words I think they would be pretty bare.  Your playful illustrations are obviously appealing to kids, but how do you appeal to the inner kids of parents and teachers?There is normally an element of nostalgia in my illustrations, which I hope evokes happy memories for a parent or teacher. On another level I also make my illustrations as happy, safe and secure as possible. I think that's probably the three main things a parent or teacher want their children to be. The clean shapes and bold colours in your work are achieved through your skill with digital technologies - what's the most useful thing that hasn't been invented yet?That's a tricky one. Digital technology certainly enhances my work but everything I do always begins with a pencil, a technology that I feel will always stand the test of time and be more useful than anything that is invented in the future. I'll jump in my DeLorean and get back to you just to be sure though. What's your dream brief?Definitely a 32 page picture book. I love creating characters so it would probably be about a big friendly monster, or dinosaur or something like that. It would start with a pencil as always and end with books on shelves in well known bookstores. That's always been my dream. To see samples of Conor's work, click here  

Spotlight: Interview with Jabier Erostarbe

We are pleased to introduce Jabier Erostarbe, an artist based in the Basque country specialising in watercolour and ink drawings who has recently joined the ODI network.  As a child, you would spend hours reading and creating your own stories - what characters would you create? Which comics inspired you?I think that in this world there are lots great stories to tell about unknown people who have had great courage and bravery in confronting the difficulties of life and have been a great example for all. These stories inspire me.Since I was a child, I have been a reader of comic books and the most interesting ones were Westerns comics. When I became a young boy I began drawing and creating stories. The first one was “La nueva era del sueño” ( in English “The new era of the dream”). It is about the adventures of a Peruvian immigrant child of 12 years in Australia. Years later I published another comic called “Mattin basoko gidaria” ( in English “Mattin the forest guide”). It is about a young boy who helps pilots crossing the border from France to Spain during the second world war.  It's clear that art is something deeply engrained for you, but was there ever a question of becoming something other than an artist?If I couldn´t be an artist I would like to do something related to geography. I love to read books about people from all over the world and find in maps different places (countries,cities and towns) where they come from.  Detailed, realistic illustrations of birds often feature in your work, is there a lot of nature to work from where you live in the Basque country? What's your process from inspiration to completion for these works?Yes, the Basque Country is very green with a large fauna, we have a lot of mountains and we also have some beaches. I live in a town called Oñati very close to the mountains and there are lots of farms in it so I am used to seeing animals. But I also like to have a walk to see different animals in their natural habitat.In the Basque Country we have the second Europe's largest forest called “IRATI”. It is beautiful!  You work in both traditional and digital media, what would you say are the advantages and challenges of each?Honestly, I prefer to draw by hand, I think that it is more authentic and the work is more elaborated. But nowadays the digital work is essential and facilitates things, especially takes less time and it is important for printing. I'm very fond of your illustration of the Mongolian girl peeking out from under her fur hat, what's her story?This painting is special for me. I am very interested in nomad people from Mongolia. I collect articles from magazines and newspapers about these amazing people. And this little girl photo was in one of these articles and she captivated me. She looked so happy living with her family , laughing with the lamb and without computers or electronic machines. It is true that the smile of a child is more beautiful than the most valuable jewel. What's captured your imagination at the moment?Before painting, I like to take my time thinking about what to paint and sometimes takes me minutes but other times I have something in mind but I need more time to create some ideas. When I feel ready to paint it is the most pleasant moment and I enjoy making my thoughts.  Finally, what would be your perfect brief to work on in the future?In these moments I'm painting about the nature (landscapes and animals) but I’m also painting houses and buildings from different countries, I think they are very interesting and part of the identity of each country. I can paint a typical English pub,  an “horreo” from Portugal, a traditional Iceland cabin or a cottage in Ireland. To see samples of work from Jabier's portfolio, click here  

Spotlight: Interview with Ai Higaki

 Ai Higaki currently lives and works from a small village in Spain, under a stork's nest - read on to explore a little more of the wonderful world behind her artwork. Was there an illustrated book which you really sunk into the pages of as a child?I really loved a book called “Guri and Gura", a classic Japanese children book. It’s not a gorgeous fairly tale about magnificent dragons and princesses, but a simple and friendly story of two food-loving field mice. Guri and Gura go acorn-gathering in a forest to make a preserve but find a huge egg, They decide to make a massive cake, which they share with their animal friends including an elephant, a lion, and a crocodile… It’s not a complex story, but I was fascinated by how Guri and Gura enjoy life; ideal for me! They live in me still.  Do you think the changing of the seasons comes through in your work, for example in use of palette or choice of subjects?I draw from nature a lot, so naturally my work is influenced by the seasons. It's getting warm these days, so I draw spring flowers and colourful birds a lot now instead of fluffy squirrels or plump robins. I grew up in Japan where cherry blossom trees have a very special meaning, so I find myself at the moment making designs which remind me of these frothy pink flowers. I do have some favourite themes though, whatever the weather. Can you unpick where on your life's journey the motifs, techniques or styles in your work were found?I grew up surrounded by classic Japanese cartoons, which form a kind of creative foundation for me. Since my first visit to England I have been captivated by the wonderful tradition of British illustration - Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, E.H.Shepard and Raymond Briggs. One of my heroes is William Morris who I first experienced, many years ago, when I visited Kelmscott Manor. I admire his work, of course, but also his character, his principles and his love of English nature. I think I first fell in love with the wildlife of England when I did The Cumbria Way on foot with my husband, camping in the fells; such an inspiration! What's caught your imagination recently?Currently I'm living in West Spain which is a bird paradise!!! After the winter rains finally ended, swallows and house martins arrived, right on time, and we wake up now with a blue thrush singing in our terrace, white storks busying around us preparing and fixing their nests and a black redstart that comes to our ’bird café’ for lunch. A few days ago we went for a walk, and I saw the newborn jumpy happy lambs. The cheerful spring atmosphere always inspires me to draw something colourful and vivid! What would be your perfect brief?I enjoy mushrooming and bird-watching nowadays. I wish I could have done these things in my youth! I would love to show people how enjoyable these activities are. When you go mushrooming or birding you also study trees, insects, animals; not just how they look, but how they smell and feel. I would love to be involved with a natural guidebook for children, which you could take with you on trips, and which would wear out gradually as you read more and more. I’m always thinking of children. I would love to entertain them with my work, make them giggle when they see my illustrations. To see samples of Ai's artwork, click here. ​

What has ODI got to do with ET?​

If you live in Highgate, near the cemetery, a text from your partner saying ‘I’ll be a bit late. I’m going via Marks & Spencer’, doesn’t necessarily mean what we’d assume it meant in any other part of the country.We all know that Karl Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. Less well known is that the tomb opposite Marx is that of Herbert Spencer, the Victorian philosopher and biologist. So maybe they are taking the long walk home via the East Cemetery.Of course, if it was a text message, we’d know if it was Marks or Marx. It would be ‘Marks & Spencer’, or more likely just ’M&S’. No-one would link the two Victorians together by an ampersand would they? I mean they weren’t a double act like Morecambe & Wise or Laurel & Hardy.Marks & Spencer, when truncated to M&S, has spaces. Two people masquerading as one and are a single entity. So much so that we don’t think of them as people at all.The power of the ampersand, is that it can be just an ‘and’, yet it can also carry so much extra significance. The ampersand shape derives from the Latin (and French) ‘et’ meaning ‘and’. It got played around with by different type designers, but the original ‘et’ can be seen clearly in the second and third examples above. It came out of the need to handwrite at speed. The symbol, ‘formerly known as And’, is unique in being almost a 27th letter. Of course there were other contractions and ligatures, which made writing and typesetting easier. Gutenburg’s type attempted to copy the forms of the scribes and in so doing copied their many contractions and shorthand tricks.Ligatures (letters joined on one piece of metal type) were most commonly kept in the italic faces, where the slope of the letters made it hard to set them separately and still keep them close. Certain contractions survive, such as ff, fi, fl, ffl, not just because they are copies of the scribes writing, but because they read and look better.The aim of the typesetter in justifying type is to maintain even word spacing. So, if even spacing is fundamental to legibility and ease of reading, why not range all text left? This is what Eric Gill advocated in his book ‘Typography’ of 1931, one of the simplest, yet most beautiful small books ever printed.Ranging text left was not the only unusual feature. We think ranged left setting, especially in short measures avoids the overuse of hyphenation. But we still want to keep roughly even lengths of line. Gill decided to hyphenate and be damned. Harking back to the medieval manuscripts, which by necessity of saving vellum and the impossibility of rewriting lines, had a much more flexible approach to word-breaks. This was continued very noticeably in books by the ‘arts and crafts’ printers. They favoured the gothic and eschewed the classical. So, you see no centred title pages in Morris and his followers. What you do see is ranged left texts with (to our modern eyes) the most extraordinary word-breaks.Gill uses (overuses) the ampersand wherever and whenever he sees fit, partly as an aid to creating more even word spacing and partly (I suspect) because he was so proud of his drawing of the &.So, when Oxprint Design and Oxford Illustrators were joined as one in 1998, it was a great excuse to use the ampersand to seal their union in a way that ‘and’ would not have done.Find out more about Oxford Designers & Illustrators.   Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

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