Thursday, 8 November 2012

Today's Illustrated Interview - Kate Pankhurst

Where do you live/work?
I live in a really old weavers cottage in Leeds, 213 years old according to the date stone above the front door!

I work from home and have a studio upstairs that I finally got round to decorating this month, (after two years of staring at some not very nice stripy blue wallpaper that the people we bought the house off put up.) I spotted this wallpaper and couldn’t resist the lovely black and white tree illustrations. My puppy, Olive, seems to quite like the new set up too. 

What do you love about working/living there?
My house is really close by to the Leeds Liverpool canal, even though you are still in the city it feels like you could be in the middle of the countryside. Since we got Olive in the summer I’ve been walking down there most days, it’s looking really autumnal and lovely at the moment. 

What don't you like?
I’m from North Liverpool and spent lots of time at the coast growing up. Leeds is about as far from the sea in any direction as you can get in the UK! I miss the sea-side, there are plenty of massive hills to make up for it here though. Oh and it’s FREEZING in winter, at least ten degrees cooler than the rest of the country I’m sure (although on a positive note, when it snows Leeds usually gets a covering of white stuff).

What do you love most about being an illustrator?
Inventing funny characters and situations to put them in – for me the best illustrations have lots of funny details in them to tell you something about the character or the place they are from. I really love it when you can get lost in your work, when it feels like you are creating something you’ve never done before.

How do you work?
I have a large collection of pencils of different shapes, sizes, textures and weights that I use to make my line drawings. Drawing with a pencil line means I don’t have to worry about making the line work perfect on my first go, it can be a bit wobbly and sketchy. I find this keeps the finished work much looser and energetic than drawing in ink (you can’t rub that out!) 

When I start an illustration I tend to map out a really faint sketch of the character first, then work over the top doing a firmer drawing, I try to make sure the character looks like they are moving, or are about to move. That really makes an illustration feel energetic.

I use the computer to put together my colour work using lots of scanned textures and patterns to build up the final image. I like to keep things hands on and for the finished result to look painterly and textured – like these characters I’ve been working on recently – so I’ll paint up things like the hair and the cheeks and scan them in. (My scanner and Wacom pad are covered in graphite and blobs if coloured inks.)

I love the computer as it’s so easy to change and invent things as you go along, but I don’t want my finished work to look like it’s been done on there if that makes sense?! For painting up the different textures and colours in my work I like to use Dr Martins inks, they are so bright and ping off the page at you.

I think having lots of reference and a bank of ideas really helps with illustrating and writing stories, I’ve been sketching interesting things people say and do in a little notebook. Hopefully they can be used in a story in the future. This is what Olive has been up to this week. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
Although I love working at home (and it has lots of benefits eg: working in your PJs, tea and coffee breaks at my leisure etc) I do like interacting with other people, and go slightly bonkers if I don’t. Mark and Hannah have been brilliant for bouncing ideas off so that helps with lone working. I find it’s really useful to try and keep in contact with other illustrators and authors, and to share ideas as much as I can, otherwise it can feel like you are working in a bit of a bubble.

What/who inspires you?
Looking at beautifully illustrated children’s books, if I get a pang of jealousy at how wonderful the work is I know it must be good! I really like David Robert’s work and Alex T Smith, their characters are just amazing. I’ve been a huge Lauren Child fan since university too, her stories are so well observed and funny.

What do you like to do when you're not illustrating?
When I haven’t got a pencil in my hand I like to get out for a run, I did the London Marathon earlier this year and in a moment of madness have entered the Paris Marathon next April. I thought a weekend away would make up for the long run! I also like knitting, I’m very slow though, it took me six months to knit a hat!

How did you get into illustration?
I had always loved drawing and making things so ended up going to uni to study illustration, not really realising you could actually do it for a living. Whilst at university I managed to start of my career illustrating children’s books after I came second in the Macmillan Prize.

Any tips for aspiring illustrators?
Draw as much as you can, notice the funny things around you that could end up being brilliant stories and get involved with supportive groups like the SCBWI ( There’s also lots of competitions you can enter to get your work noticed.

What's your ultimate dream?
It was to write and illustrate my own children’s book, that’s what I am currently working on and what I’d love to do lots more of! If I can keep working making children’s books for the rest of my career I’ll be suitably chuffed.

Check out Kate's gorgeous portfolio of work here.


  1. Your puppy looks wonderfully cute

  2. Hi, Kate. Lovely post and wallpaper. I think I'd be tempted to draw characters peeping out from behind the trees. Or write poems on the bark. I just love Olive and Rose.
    See you soon, Maureen