Behind The Scenes: The Illustration Process With Ellie
This month’s Story Box features the tale of three little builder pigs: Antoni, Amanda and Charles. They face a problem that a lot of us in the U.K. can relate to right now… the weather!
To illustrate “The Three Little Builder Pigs”, we worked with the incredibly talented Ellie O’Donoghue of Elliestration. A London-based illustrator, Ellie has worked on all forms of design from murals, to cards, and now to children’s books. We caught up with Ellie to find out about what it takes to be an illustrator, the process behind her work, and her relationship with language learning.
Hey Ellie, can you tell us a little about how you got started in illustration?
Funnily enough I originally trained to be a dancer! I went through a few careers before I got into illustration. I came into it by accident but found that I really loved it. I completed an MA in Children’s Illustration at Cambridge and now this is what I do for a living.
Wow! How did you move from dancing to drawing?
I’ve always liked drawing. For me, it was a choice between dancing and illustration. The tough thing about dance is that there’s a sell-by date, but I chose dance as a career to see how I did. I loved doing it, ended up doing quite well and trained in conservatoire. But unfortunately I got injured just after I graduated, so ended up working for a dance company doing management and marketing. It was a big change from being out there on the stage and I just didn’t enjoy it in the same way. However, I did like the fact that I got to work on visual communications and I thought that would be a good way to get back into working in the arts. I applied for a few university courses in illustration and the rest is history!
What inspires your illustration process while you’re working?
I don’t have a particular visual style in my work; I like to be completely led by the brief and the text that I’m working with. The first thing for me is to get an idea of the character and the developing story. Once I know the characters, I decide which material I’d like to use for my illustration. I play around a lot with different types of media in my illustrations. I actually don’t use digital methods at all, I do everything by hand. If an illustration needs lightening or a touch of editing, I’ll do that on the computer but otherwise it’s all by hand! Illustration is personal for me, it’s all based on my imagination. When there’s a screen in front of me I see it as a barricade. I work in a tactile way, moving things about and rubbing parts out. Although it might seem old-fashioned, the screen blocks that creativity.
Why are you most excited to work with One Third Stories?
I’m really excited as this is my first book! I’ve always wanted to illustrate children’s books, so working with One Third Stories is brilliant. I love how these stories teach vital language skills to so many children. It feels like the illustrations can be beautiful but also useful. It’s also been great to work with Alex and Jonny, they’re great people and so friendly.
What’s your personal connection to language learning?
Well, my family is quite an unusual family, I have lots of half and step brothers and sisters. My oldest step-brother is French and we weren’t very close for a long time as I didn’t speak French. It was tough having that language barrier and I wish I’d learnt French from much earlier on in my life. I learnt more French at GCSE which improved our communication, but I wish as a child I’d had the confidence to learn languages and be able to connect better with him. I feel like there’s less emphasis on language learning for our children in the U.K., compared to other countries around the world, and it just makes me feel embarrassed whenever I go on holiday!
What advice would you give to any budding young illustrators that are part of the Story Box Club?
Be patient! Just because your work doesn’t look how you want it to immediately, it doesn’t mean that you’re terrible at what you’re doing. Stick at your craft and, bit by bit, it will all come to you.
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