Thursday, 26 September 2019

Welcome to the Plum Family, Sara Rhys!

One of the newest additions to our punnet of Plums, Sara Rhys, lets us in on her life as an illustrator! Get to know her here:

Where do you live/work?
Ive mostly been in the West Country for the past few years, but I seem to move around a lot and I’m currently in-between permanent homes - hopefully that makes me sound enigmatic! I work wherever I am at the time, luckily illustration is a pretty portable past time. I was a silversmith for a few years, and it was much harder to transport lots of metal and tools about! 

What do you like about working there?
Not being properly settled anywhere at the moment gives me the opportunity to find somewhere special to settle! Considering most people have to live wherever the work is, I think my flexibility makes me pretty fortunate. I’m very fond of the West Country in particular though for it’s variety of landscapes, the light and colour, the people, and the relatively laid-back lifestyle - I’m not a hectic city person.

How do you work – what are your techniques?
It’s always evolving to be honest, I often make quite big leaps in style because I’ve discovered a new material or process. But right now I work nearly entirely by hand, with watercolours and pencils. I’m good at repetitive work and I find drawing in particular very meditative. Just this year I’ve moved away from graphite pencils, and towards coloured ones.
I always have sound while I’m working, music or words, and I try to do creative stuff in the morning because my brain goes dead after about 3 o clock. That’s when I edit images in photoshop and do the boring admin side of things.

What do you love most about being an illustrator?
Hmm, permission to be silly for a living, and have serious conversations about things like what kind of pyjamas a lion would wear? Being able to read my picture book to my nephew, and hearing him say he wants to be ‘an artist like Auntie Sara’ when he grows up is pretty great. On a practical level, I love constantly learning and evolving my creative work, and I enjoy being self employed, though it can be quite stressful at times. 

What is your favourite thing to draw and why?
Armchairs! And dogs. And dogs on armchairs. My illustration is often described to me as cosy, and warm, and I do seem to gravitate towards peaceful scenes, maybe because my brain is so chaotic.

Do you have a particular favourite character that you’ve illustrated?
All of them really, I get very attached! At the moment I’m enjoying getting to know a very scruffy, adventurous dog called Rosie. One of my all time favourites is a melancholy, ancient alien called Picnic, from a shadow puppetry show I designed and performed a few years ago.

What or who are you most inspired by?
Emotions, stories, nature, human kindness, folklore, colours, textures - loads, everything! I especially like small things, and I’m creepily observant so I like spotting the things around me others might miss, and love adding such tiny details into my work. I also take in a lot of information through reading and podcasts and it all tumbles round my brain like a washing machine and smushes together with lots of colour to form my ideas.

Do you have a favourite illustrator?
Oh gosh, more than just one! Tove Jansson, Edward Gorey, Raymond Briggs, Elena Odriozola (she was very influential when I first started, I love her colours and characters), Isabelle Arsenault, Kitty Crowther, and I’ve recently been enjoying the colours and textures of Edward Hopper. It’s a never rending list. 

What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not illustrating?
I’m a bit sad, and I really do like drawing a lot, so I also do it for fun, and lately I’ve been practicing going out into the world and drawing from life. It doesn’t feel like work, and I love the random conversations I have with people when I’m drawing in public. But I do also do other things! I read, walk, write, listen to music and comedy, cook, talk to my houseplants, visit friends scattered across the country, go to festivals, and really enjoy just chatting with people over a pint in a good old man pub. 

How did you get into illustration?
I’ve always drawn to some extent, and I’ve certainly always been ‘the arty one’ but I started to pursue illustration seriously when I realised my former career as a silversmith wasn’t floating my boat any more. I’d been drawing a lot for fun, and have lots of creative friends, including some illustrators. I lived with Emily Hughes (of ‘Wild’, ‘The Little Gardener’) for a short time, and chatted to her about her books, and realised illustration could be a viable career. And then one day, I put down my hammer, and decided to be an illustrator. And then I obsessively researched, read any picture book I could find, bought myself a set of watercolours, and started drawing. A lot. I was very single minded about it. That was about four years ago, and I’m still learning all the time, which is part of what I love about illustration.

What are your three top tips for aspiring illustrators?
1)The old classic: draw every day, it really is the best way to find your style. Experiment with as many different materials as you have access to, and draw as many different subjects as possible.

2)If you’re interested in becoming professional, take time to learn about the business side of things, about contracts and licensing, and the appropriate fees to charge, the industry needs everyone to take this more seriously. The Association of Illustrators has so much valuable information to offer. 

3)Don’t call yourself an aspiring illustrator on your social media! If you illustrate, you’re an illustrator, have confidence in yourself, and others will too. 

What were your favourite books when you were younger?
When I was small, I know I particularly liked ‘Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?’ by Martin Wadell and Gilly Meredith’s ‘What Shall we Be Today?’ and ‘Where Shall we Play Today?’ - I can still remember a line from that one! I also liked Beatrix Potter and Brambly Hedge, which we had an audio tape of and listened to on car journeys. The Autumn and Winter Stories were my favourite - I still listen to them sometimes on YoutTube! Thinking about it, I suppose I’ve always loved animal characters in books.

What was the last book you read? What did you think? 
I’m currently listening to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, which I’m definitely enjoying, but it hasn’t had the have the same impact as the Handmaid’s Tale for me. I recently finished reading The Dumb House by John Burnside, which is VERY dark, be warned. I do lean towards dark themes in novels though, maybe because I spend so much time drawing lighthearted, sweet characters! The Dumb House was very thought provoking and pretty disturbing, but great. I’ve just started reading a battered copy of Sarah Waters The Little Stranger which I found in a charity shop.

What are your aspirations for the rest of the year?
Well, there’s not all that much left of it now, is there? I would dearly love to get stuck into a new picture book project before the year’s out. I am playing with writing several stories of my own, but I also really enjoy the honour of bringing someone else’s characters to life. Currently I’m (slowly) making a new website which will have a shop and blog, and I’m setting up a seasonal newsletter which will have a mixture of stuff I’ve been doing, and things I’ve found that will hopefully help others in the children’s book industry. 
I’ll also be getting out and sketching in public as much as possible, as I’d really like to do some live illustration next year, but I need a bit more confidence first. 

What’s your ultimate dream?
Oof! I try not to look too far ahead really, it makes me anxious! But I suppose my ultimate dream is to have Climate Change taken seriously by those in power. Once that’s sorted, I’d like to live in a home I love, and spend my days bimbling away making children’s books, having interesting conversations, being part of a community, growing vegetables, and have a bunch of strange, senior cats and dogs to keep me company while I illustrate. Ok, maybe I do think about it a bit. 

Welcome to the family, Sara! 

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