This week we've also been catching up with NEW PP artist Jennifer Miles (and her gorgeous dogs Dennis and Clover). We wanted to get to know a little more about Jennifer, what inspires her and what she most loves about being an illustrator. So if you have five minutes why not sit with us and have a quick catch up with Jennifer..
Where do you live/work?
I live near Wimbledon in a typical London red brick terrace. I mostly work from my perch in the kitchen. If I’m being messy or I need peace and quiet, I’m in the spare room at a desk. Usually though, I’m happy to perch and family life swirls around me while I work.
What do you love about working there?
From my kitchen perch, I can see several of my favourite (non-human) things. My two crazy terriers Dennis the Menace and Clover (chilling on the sofa), my bird feeding arrangements (out of the window. Favourite bird - starling), my stained glass, bought in a heated moment at Lot’s Road auction house and finally used twenty years later, and my fruit chandelier.
What are your dislikes?
I try not to develop them, but slugs are really repellent, especially those giant orange ones.
What do you love about being an illustrator?
People actually pay me to draw! I can lose myself in another world for hours while listening to Spotify. Currently favourites, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Really happy music.
How do you work? What are your techniques?
I usually make a sketch in pencil on crummy paper, then scan it into Photoshop where I tweak and tidy using my Wacom tablet till I’m happy. Then I add colour in loads of different layers, adding plenty of noise and blur (using the multiply function to make the layers behave like transparencies). The aim is for the end result look as un-computer generated as possible.
My other technique is pen and ink, sometimes with a wash. Sometimes I use a mapping pen and ink, sometimes micron pens, sometimes Japanese brush pens (my current crush – such a lovely, varied line! So black!!).
What is your favourite thing to draw?
Anything from nature or from the world of fantasy or from the past. I particularly love drawing dragons, princesses, fairies, castles, trolls, goblins, flying horses, children, bad guys, any animals at all but especially dogs. Below are my muses - Dennis and Clover taking a well earned rest on Wimbledon Common
Is there a tricky part to being an illustrator?
Sometimes, you finish a piece and you think it’s rubbish. Then a few days later you look again and think – ‘Oh, that’s OK actually.’ Other times you think a piece is great and a few days later, you look at it and think, ‘Oh no! That’s awful.’ It would be nice to have the ability to be objective. But there’s an answer to this – illustrator friends! You can bounce ideas around and look at each other’s work. Go to an illustration class, meet people and learn new things! Some of my very best friends these days are illustrators.
Do you have a favourite illustrator?
My Dad was a huge Victoriana fan and I’m very influenced by the stuff that was all over the house when I was growing up. I’m very partial to golden age illustrators. Kay Nielsen, Aubrey Beardsley, Edmund Dulac, John Tenniel and Heath Robinson. Working now - Chris Riddell, Helen Oxenbury, Angela Barrett spring to mind. And there’s so many amazing illustrators on Instagram from every corner of the earth – it’s a constant source of inspiration.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not illustrating?
Hang out with family and friends, walk dogs, write my great unfinished (children’s) novel, stare at paint charts, go to auctions, watch Danish crime dramas, photograph interesting door furniture from all over the world (St. James’s London, Lille France, Bologna Italy, Bruges Belgium, Another from Bologna and a moose from Bristol!)
How did you get into illustration?
I wanted to be an illustrator before I even knew what the word meant. I was always being told off for doodling at school, and later on in meetings at work. I fell into media sales which turned out to be excellent fun, so I put the lonely life of an illustrator on hold. When I could afford it, I applied for the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin and to my delight, I was accepted. It was an amazing learning experience. At my degree show, I was offered a chapter book series which turned into eighteen books. I never looked back!
What are your three top tips for aspiring illustrators?
1. Keep drawing, keep learning, keep improving. Go to classes. Join groups. Join SCWBI. Take your sketchbook out. Read illustrator blogs.
2. Be resilient. ‘Good’ is a matter of opinion.
3. Make sure your portfolio reflects what you want clients to commission you to draw. Be sure it’s relevant and marketable too.
What were your favourite books when you were younger?
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S.A. Wakefield, illustrated by Desmond Digby
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee and illustrated by Frank Newfeld
What was the last book you read? What did you think?
The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge. I couldn’t put it down. Sinister gothic Victorian setting, intriguing mystery, hint of fantasy, feisty heroine faced with terrible danger and emotional trauma. Beautiful writing. What more could you ask?
What is your ultimate dream?
To keep illustrating books – maybe even my own one day. I also plan to start a blog featuring interesting door furniture from around the world.
We hope you enjoyed this little insight into Jennifer's life as a children's illustrator. To take a look at more of her work, visit her folio page on the PP website here!