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How long have you been illustrating and what made you start?
I’ve always been a magpie. Colours, intricate details, and sparkle make my heart go pitter-patter, and as a reader of fantasy books, the beautiful covers were part of my love for that genre. When I discovered that those beautiful braids and intricate designs I enjoyed were called “Celtic art”, I knew I’d finally found my happy place. I created my first Celtic painting in 1995, and have been doing it ever since!
Where do you get your inspiration?
The old Celtic manuscripts like the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels are a huge source of fascination for me. To think that these were made without even having electric lights is just mind-boggling! But that said, I enjoy traditional art from a lot of eras and cultures -- the Art Nouveau period of course, Maori art, the Incans and Mayans, norse designs, and Islamic art. They’re all different but share the intricacy and detail that Celtic art has. I find most of my colour inspiration from nature; you really can’t go wrong if you use Mother Nature as a guide!
Where is your favourite place to illustrate?
I have two studios in my 100 year old farmhouse. One for traditional work — painting, gilding, and colouring etc, and I have a digital studio where I work on my iMac. Licensing is a big part of my art business, and I find that creating things digitally allows me the freedom to use my art in many ways. From publishing to cross-stitch charts, or for use on products like t-shirts etc. I have trouble staying focused on one single project so digital art really helps me express my work in a ton of different ways. I colour too, of course, and that helps ground me and calm my busy mind. It truly is a soothing and zen experience and a way to regroup.
What are your illustrating/colouring material essentials?
Oh boy! I would have trouble picking a single thing. My iMac, as I mentioned above, but I also have colored pencils, graphics pencils, acrylics, inks, watercolours, and water-soluble coloured pencils. In the distant past I also experimented with making my own egg tempera paints. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings — can’t go wrong with sparkle! A kneadable eraser and little bits of vinyl eraser, too. The vinyl ones are great for cutting into teeny pieces to get into really small areas to weave the Celtic knots. For pencils, I have a lot of open stock coloured pencils by Derwent, Faber Castell, and Prismacolor. I have the Brutfuner sets on my wish list; I want them so bad! I struggle with pencil sharpeners though. It seems like I find a good one and it works well for a bit but then suddenly starts chewing up pencils. I probably have a dozen of dead rejects now; someone please put me out of my misery and recommend a good one!
What’s the piece of work that you’re most proud of or enjoyed doing the most?
One of the books I’m really proud of was one I did for Dover Publications called Trees of Life. The tree of life motif is always really popular, and I wanted to create a tree for different cultures, many of which didn’t have a typical “tree of life” in their culture or history. So it was a challenge to research a particular style and then express a tree of life design through that style. I also enjoy mandalas a lot. The repeating nature creates a really distinct visual texture, and I love how the final design always has such a unique feel or flavour to it. There’s so much room to play with details in these, they’re probably my favourite thing to design for colouring.
With Celtic art, I have a tendency to use ALL the colours, and sometimes that doesn’t help the finished piece. So if I'm ever colouring something and it’s just not coming together as a cohesive design, I’ve usually got too many colours in there. Taking one or two out and changing them to different shades of the remaining colours can really pull it all together again. But at the end of the day, don’t stress too much about colours, there’s always another page waiting to be worked on. This is supposed to be fun after all!