Louise Gardner currently lives in the beautiful South West of England with her partner & cat in a converted church. Her studio is right up in the roof so when she’s not looking at her computer screen or drawing, she can see the changing sky.
Louise has been working as an illustrator for over twenty years and has illustrated over a hundred books for children. She creates her work with a combination of drawing, handmade textures, and Photoshop.
She works on a wide range of projects as well as books, including greetings cards, toys, tents, jigsaws, ceramics, and nightwear. She always enjoys a new adventure in illustration!
Louise has worked with Anderson Press, BBC Worldwide, Boots, Children in need, Early Learning Centre, Harper Collins, Heinemann, Ice Water Press, Igloo Books, John Lewis, Lonely Planet, McDonalds, Oxford University Press, Sainsbury’s, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Smallworld Creations, Tomy, Top That! Publishing, Universal Music, Yoyo Books & many more!
Here’s Louise discussing her process:
I work in several different ways depending on the kind of style I want to achieve. For this piece of artwork of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in the poppy meadow, the way I created it is still pretty close to the way I would work if I was creating it in traditional media.
For this piece I started off with a rough sketch drawn with a blue col-erase pencil. I then scanned this in and used it as a guide to create my initial drawing. I reduced the opacity of the sketch so it’s very similar to when I used to draw my line work up on watercolour paper from my initial sketches on a lightbox.
I will sometimes scan my sketches in and sometimes I will just sketch directly on my Cintiq, so this just depends really on how I feel I want to work that day.
I then start blocking in areas of colour and then once I am happy with the overall colour scheme I will go back into each area adding texture and shading.
This drawing was on one layer, but usually I would do the background and characters and other elements on separate layers, so it gives me the flexibility to move them around if needed.
I then added all the extra bits of details, like the glitter for the shoes, veins on the leaves, centre of the poppies etc. until I get to the level of detail I want to reach.
How long have you been illustrating?
Since I graduated in 1991, so 25 years.
Do you live in the UK? Have you always lived there?
Yes, I live in the south west of England, a very beautiful part of the UK, and yes, I’ve always lived in the UK.
What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
It was some card designs I did at a graphics studio during the summer holidays while at university.
Did you go to school for art? If so where and why did you pick that school?
I did a 2 year BTEC General Art and Design course at Trowbridge Technical College straight after school. It covered ceramics, metalwork, life drawing, photography and graphic design among other things. It was a really fun course. I then went to Wolverhampton University to do a BA Hons in Visual Communication. I chose the course as it was a combination of graphic design, photography and illustration which seemed a natural fit after the diversity of my previous course. I specialised in Illustration in my final year.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
Not my current style, no.
What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
As soon as I graduated I moved to London with a group of friends from the same university, and basically made lots of appointments with publishers to show them my portfolio, hoping for that lucky first break! My first job was given to me that first year by Two-Can Publishing to illustrate Dilly the Dinosaur (by Tony Bradman) stories and comic strip for Playdays Magazine.
Did art school help you get work when you graduated?
Have you seen your work change since you left school?
Hopefully it has continued to improve! The biggest change really has been the transition from traditional media to digital.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
I think I was more that children’s illustration found me! I was always creating and drawing imaginary stories and funny characters as a child, and absolutely adored the children’s books we owned or borrowed from the local library, but I don’t think I had ever thought I could make a career out of doing that. So I followed a different path style-wise at university, experimenting with and exploring alternative techniques, but ultimately I came full circle, instinctively returning to what I loved as a child.
What was your first book you illustrated?
“Noah’s Ark” by Ginn.
How did that contract come about?
After graduation I was approached by the agency B.L.Kearly, and the job came through them.
Did you do other types of illustrating before you got that book contract?
Not really as I was lucky enough to break into children’s publishing early, so things really took off in that direction straightaway.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
At last count 125, with 3 more being published this year.
How long have you been illustrating greeting cards?
I have illustrated greetings cards on and off throughout my whole career. I have noticed a shift towards companies using more in-house designers, so it feels that there are fewer opportunities in this field now. Having said that, new card companies are always starting. I was recently approached by thortful.com to create some designs for them, so that has been really fun as it’s always something I enjoy.
How hard is it to make a living doing greeting cards?
I think for a freelance it could be difficult to make a living illustrating solely greetings cards. There are lots of fantastic illustrators who create cards, wrapping paper designs and social stationery, so I think if you can break into that specific area it probably is possible, but also very competitive.
Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?
I would love to. I have lots of notebooks of ideas, and hope to work some of the ideas up into a dummy, but I’m usually so busy with other projects I never seem to get the time to dedicate to my own ideas – but hopefully one day!
What book do you think was your biggest success?
A personal favourite is “If I Were The Easter Bunny” for Harper Collins (which featured lots of bunnies and chocolate, two of my favourite things!).
Have you ever tried to do a wordless picture book?
No, not yet.
Do you have an artist rep? If so, who? If not would you like to find representation?
I am represented by T2 Children’s Illustrators in the US, but I deal directly with clients myself in the UK and elsewhere.
Do you illustrate full time?
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
My work is pretty much all digital these days, so I guess my favourite tools are Kyle T Webster’s Photoshop brushes as they allow me to replicate my favourite media, like gouache, watercolour and pastel etc.. I’m hoping to add more traditional media into my work again; I already use some of my scanned-in watercolour textures, so my ideal is using a combination of both.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
No, I pretty much draw everything from my imagination. I will use Google images, for example to look up an animal I am not familiar with or to check the colour of something, but otherwise it’s all stored in my brain!
I see you listed Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster in your client list? What type of book did you do for them?
“If I were an Easter Bunny” was for Harper Collins which I mentioned earlier,
and “The Gingerbread Family” was for Simon & Schuster; that was a really great book to illustrate, as it was a scratch & sniff so it was extra fun to draw a chocolate cake and have it smell of chocolate too!
How did you get those jobs with them?
They approached me after seeing my work in some of the folios I advertise with online.
Have you worked with any educational publishers?
Yes I do do quite of lot of educational work too; I have worked for Scholastic and Oxford University Press, and worked with Cambridge University Press earlier this year.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Yes, it is the main software I use for all my work.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
Yes I started out with an Intuos tablet and now use a Cintiq.
Do you do exhibits to show off your art?
I have done occasional exhibitions but not often, but it would be something I would like to do more of if time allows!
Would you be willing to work with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?
I do get a lot of enquiries from authors wishing to self publish, but due to my current work schedules I am not usually available to take on self publishing books.
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
Yes, I did a lot of work for BBC magazines, including Playdays, Pingu, Tweenies, and I still do illustration work for Egmont magazines.
Are you happy with the studio in your house?
I am very lucky, we live in a converted church by the side of a canal. My studio overlooks the water so I can see ducks and swans swimming by, so yes, I’m very happy with where I work!
Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?
Well, my computer and tablet, my radio and music, and of course my lovely cat Dottie Noodle, who sleeps by my desk and keeps me company!
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I guess my routine is just to work hard every day! I am very dedicated to my job and am always striving to improve as well as always trying out new ideas and techniques, so I guess staying focused and enthusiastic are very important attributes to being a self employed illustrator.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m working on a project at the moment where they are creating animations from my illustrations, so that is really exciting and new for me. I am also working on some branding, and a children’s product, but as usual until these things are published it is all hush hush! I also have some book projects starting this summer and 3 books which will be published later this year.
Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
I have definitely had work from my online portfilos, so it has got me work, but it has also opens doors to meeting other illustrators which has been great as it can be a little isolating if you are working alone; I used to work in a shared studio when I lived in London and I do miss that sometimes, so it’s like having virtual shared studio with lots of other illustrators. I have made lots of connections through Facebook and Twitter and especially through @colour_collective which is a weekly colour challenge on Twitter started by the illustrator Penny Neville-Lee, I’d definitely recommend checking it out as it’s very inspiring with amazing artwork being created every week.
What are your career goals?
I guess to just be lucky enough to continue illustrating children’s books for some great publishers…and maybe one day to illustrate one I have written myself.
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
If I am doing traditional work I love Magic Color and FW acrylic ink, and Windsor & Newton gouache. I have been experimenting recently with some different types of brush pens, you can buy all kinds of fantastic ones online. If I’m sketching with pencils I like to use rotring mechanical pencils, Faber Castell 9000 pencils or a blue Sanford col-erase.
For digital work I really would recommend Kyle T Webster’s brushes for Photoshop as they really are brilliant and the range of media they create is amazing.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
I guess I would say make sure firstly that it is something you truly feel passionate about, as you have to be very dedicated and be willing to work hard to make a career of it; most illustrators I know work very long hours as well as a lot of weekends, so be prepared to put the hours in if it is something you really want to pursue.
I think it’s very important to keep interested in the industry and what is being published, so that you are aware of themes and trends, and think how you could bring something new to those themes.
An excercise we did at college and which I think is really useful is to try to copy another artist’s piece of work (only to practise not to use as your own!!) and by trying to break a picture down into techniques you often end up learning all kinds of new skills, and at the end very often discover a new way to do something that is unique from the one you started out trying to replicate.
So I would use this as a skill to learn different techniques but don’t try to copy someone else’s style. It’s great to be inspired but try to decide what makes your work individual. It can be a bit overwhelming to see the huge amount of online worldwide talent too, so try not to compare yourself too much to others and try to be inspired by all kinds of things as well, like nature, architecture and music for example as well as other artists and illustrators.
I would also recommend joining in things like @colour_collective and @AnimalAlphabets, @sketch _dailies, @Daily_Doodle and Virtual Studio @StudioTeaBreak as these can be great inspiration to getting creative, as well as meeting fellow illustrators.
I guess my best tip is to keep on having fun: I think if it’s obvious you had fun creating an image then that enjoyment will shine through.
Thank you Louise for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Louise’s work, you can visit her at website at: www.louisegardner.com – facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LouiseGardnerDraws/ – Twitter @noodliedoodlie
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Louise. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!