Suzannah Lovegrove

How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before?

Some of my illustrations, particularly the black and white ones, are definitely on the dark side! I have always been a bit fascinated by scary fairytales and ghost stories. My work is made in many ways, often a collage of drawings, monoprints, relief prints and sunography…all blended together with the help of digital magic. I love collecting new textures to use and some of my images contain prints pulled from my kitchen cupboard surfaces, or moss from the garden. The illustrations sort of evolve from little sketches which are scattered around on pieces of paper and so it’s a fairly organic process.

How did you start off in the arts? How/when did you realise that you were an artist?

I grew up with a step-dad who was an artist, and so always wanted to paint alongside him when he was painting. When I was about twelve, I answered an advert in a local paper for an illustrator to work on a children’s book. I remember doing a few little artworks of a cute snail to try and get the job…but nothing came of it. I then decided to follow my mother’s footsteps and go into primary school teaching, where I was always the messy, arty teacher with a carpet covered in glue and glitter! Having a break from teaching to have children, gave me a window of opportunity to pursue my childhood dream and so I enrolled on the MA in Children’s Book Illustration, at the Cambridge School of Art. I think I feel more of an artist now, than a teacher…although I do enjoy going into schools and working with children. They are always wonderful inspiration!

Please describe a typical day of art making for you.

I am a night owl….so when I am engrossed in a project, I will work all through the night when all the children and our many pets are asleep and can’t distract me! So my day usually begins with a coffee (or two), after the children have left for school and a dog walk to wake me up. I spend my daytime usually gathering visual research, experimenting and working out ideas….which I then work on more seriously in the evenings and through the night. Once I get going with something, I find it really hard to stop and take a break! It seems to work for me this way though, as often my inspiration comes from just playing with shapes and textures and so I have to allow myself time for this.

What contemporary artists or developments in illustration do you find interesting right now?

I think children’s illustration is really exciting at the moment and there are so many inspirational books out there! I have always been attracted to the darker themes and love the work of Ana Juan, with her beautiful charcoal drawings and fantastic imagination. I think it is great that there are more and more illustrated books for older children and I am a big fan of Jim Kay’s illustrations for Patrick Ness’s ‘A Monster Calls’. David Roberts’s beautifully dark images in ‘Tinder” by Sally Garner enticed my 12 year old daughter to read the book, which proves the power that illustration still has for this older age group.

How long does it typically take you to finish a piece?

This varies! As my images involve many processes, from drawing to printmaking, I have to scan everything into the computer and collage all the elements together in Photoshop…so they can take anything from a few hours, to a week. Working on the computer throws up its own set of problems for me, as I am fairly indecisive and the possibilities within digital media are endless! Sometimes I have to leave an illustration alone for a couple of days and come back to it. This helps me to work out if it is actually finished!

What do you do (or what do you enjoy doing) when you’re not creating?

I enjoy spending time with the children…who sometimes feel they lose me towards the end of a project when I have to work through weekends! So I have to try and make sure we plan nice things to do, or even just curling up under a blanket together to watch a movie is bliss. I enjoy walking the dogs in our woods, watching my flock of chickens and their hilarious behaviour, gardening or mooching about curiosity shops. Our cottage is full of curiosities…much to the dismay of my minimalist architect husband!

Any advice for aspiring young illustrators?

I made myself a little sign for my studio wall that reminds me to draw something every day and I think this is the best advice I can give! Just a five minute doodle can sometimes spark an idea. I also think it is important to keep experimenting and evolving. A couple of years ago, I would have laughed if someone had told me I would be foraging around my garden to collect twigs and moss to use in my illustrations…