I was a free-range child brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland where I enjoyed exploring rock pools, building forest dens and getting stuck in trees. I drew continuously everything that was around me, from portraits of pets or any grandparents willing to pose for long enough to memories of family camping holidays in the south of France and Italy. I never went far without a packet of crayons and some paper stuffed in my pocket. At the age of 7 I even wrote and illustrated a series of books called “Alphabet Animals” but to this day it has remained undiscovered and is probably still somewhere in stour of my parents' attic. Ten years later I was then drawn to the big smoke of Aberdeen where I studied at Gray’s School of Art. On graduating, I spent a year galavanting around Canada and when I returned I decided to move to Edinburgh, where I have since been living and working as an artist and illustrator.
About writer's work
Whenever I read words, images pop into my mind. I am always intrigued as to what lies beyond the limits of the words, right on the edges of a story, those elements which are not always possible to express in words but still present in the story. It’s a joy to play with these images, discovering humour, magic and mystery. As a child I loved to pour over every detail of an illustration, finding a point at which I felt that I could almost step into the page. A couple of firm favourites were to be found in “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast” and “The Peacock Party”, both illustrated by Alan Aldridge. I delighted in E H Shepherd's depictions of Winnie the Pooh and his friends; so much personality contained in such a loose, squiggly line. Quentin Blake's work made me laugh and I lapped up the humorous vitality found in his joyful character observations. The first time I read a text is very important to me as it's while I'm interpreting the words that the seeds of an image begin to form in my mind and I gauge the over all atmosphere of the story. Slowly, slowly these ideas become more and more solid in my mind until I am able to start making preliminary sketches. For me, planning and preparation are crucial as my work is very detailed, therefore I do a lot of research before I even think of putting pencil to paper. Once I've done my research I begin drawing, searching for my characters and placing them within a composition. Once once I'm happy with the layout, I begin the final version, working mainly with pastels, ink and acrylic paint on cotton rag paper.
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Current events and projects
When not scribbling away in my studio, I love going out to meet and chat with fellow bookworms and budding illustrators. I am happy to work with both children and adults and would be interested in proposals for doing events, workshops or residencies.
I can offer events in the form of practical, activity-based workshops or illustrated talks and am able to guide participants through the step by step processes I follow when illustrating a book, show how characters are created and developed, explore the depiction of stories in pictorial form and explain how I came to be an illustrator. I’ve visited numerous schools and presented at lots of festivals including Edinburgh International Book Festival,the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Aye Write!, Wigtown Book Festival, The Borders Book Festival and Lahore Literary Festival.
Having worked a lot with people who live with dementia, I would be very happy to adapt an event to make it dementia friendly, for example, encourage participants to ask questions as they come to mind, rather than having a Q & A session at the end, and making sure that pens and paper are readily available so that participants are free to make notes, memos or doodles during the session. I also have a CELTA qualification (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and can therefore offer events especially adapted for participants learning English as a second language.
All my talks are illustrated, using a powerpoint presentation, and some of my most popular activity-based workshops include:
How to illustrate a story
(Suitable for ages 10 and upwards; Recommended number of participants: approx 20-25). With the aid of a powerpoint presentation and using lots of my own work as examples, I explain the process and techniques I use when illustrating a book. I then invite participants to design and illustrate their own double page spread, using stories from the Treasuries as inspiration.
(Suitable for ages 7-11/adult and child if the event is outwith school; Recommended number of participants: approx 20-25) In this very hands-on workshop we look at seals and the tradition of Selkie stories. Selkies are magical seals who can remove their skins and take on human form. They are popular amongst the fishing communities of the British Isles, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, and come with a wealth of folklore. Participants are invited to make their own Selkie sock puppet (using both sides of the sock for the Selkie transformation) and I also share one of my favourite Selkie stories.
How to create characters/How to draw your dragon
(Suitable for ages 7 and upwards/ has also worked well with both adult groups and mixed adult and children groups; Recommended number of participants: approx 20-25) This event looks at ideas on how to create and develop characters visually and is great for both children and adults. “How to draw you dragon” follows the same idea and theme but is aimed more towards groups of younger children. I use both the Treasuries and The Book of the Howlat as inspiration in this workshop.
I’m also very open to working with event organisers who are looking for a workshop which addresses a particular topic or theme (eg. a festival may be linked to a theme, a school teacher may wish to link the event with a class project/study). Recently, as part of a festival celebrating the work of Dickens, I was invited to give a workshop aimed at adults and older students. Using Dickens’ writing as inspiration, we looked at different techniques on how to visually represent characters, after which participants were invited to sketch out their own character studies. (We had a lot of fun and there were some super drawings!)I can offer events in the form of practical, activity-based workshops or illustrated talks. I am able to guide participants through the step by step processes involved in illustrating a book, show how characters are created or explore the depiction of stories in pictorial form.
As well as illustrating, I also work as a fine artist and regularly exhibit my work. If you’re interested in seeing more, please do visit my website.