Julie’s Illustration Story – A MUST read!

We asked Julie Mulholland if she would like to write a little about herself and her artwork and this is a very inspirational piece and a ‘must read’! Thank you Julie, for sharing it with us.

ABOUT ME – by Julie Mulholland

How thrilled I was to be asked to write a piece on my final brief for the Children’s Book Illustration Course. This is a little about where I come from and how I got here. Please don’t get bored but read the full story as it may help some of you ‘younger’ students to realise your dreams NOW.

From a very early age I wanted to draw. Everything I could get my hands on I used to draw on. We were quite poor growing up as my father had a stroke at the age of 37 and my mum had 3 little girls and a disabled husband to look after, whilst also having 3 jobs to keep a roof over our heads. As we couldn’t afford drawing paper, my mum gave me wallpaper remnants which I drew on the back of (and which I still have).

My dad was a brilliant artist but never got the chance to pursue it, it was different in those days, it was about going out and getting a wage and handing it over for your keep. Then he had the stroke and that put an end to it completely.

When my parents realised I had this talent and I wanted to pursue a career in art they wanted to make sure I had every opportunity to do so. With their help and encouragement I left school and went to college to do a diploma in Graphic Design which I passed with a distinction.

I had a tutor who saw that I also had a talent in illustration and in 1984 when I left, he got me an interview with a local publishers who gave me a very small job of drawing a simple sheep. You might think this is a simple thing to do but at the time I was quite naïve and didn’t quite ‘get’ what they were asking for. I had never taken a brief before and felt really under pressure to get things right, especially when they gave it me back to redraw. I never got the job and have spent the last 28 years in the graphics industry. I never really bothered illustrating too much after that and my parents always say I am wasting my talent.

As I am sure all you frustrated artists understand, that dream never went away and I started to look for something to fulfil my long lost ambition, that is when I came across this course. Encouraged by my sister, I signed up there and then.

Since starting the course, I have really taken off, it has encouraged me to draw again and the support and constructive critique received from Maggy have really boosted confidence in my ability. Now, once again I draw at every opportunity and that has been the key to re-inventing the artist in me.

My final piece for the course, Freddie’s Happy Ending was a brilliant brief to work on. It gave me so much scope to do whatever I wanted and to be as imaginative as I liked. The idea came to me via another sketch I was working on, just a kind of ‘nothing special doodly’ type sketch. Sketches are important, when I get a character idea, I scribble something down in a book I carry around with me and also scribble a rough idea of the story I am thinking of. I believe you can’t have a story without a character and vice versa. So from one of these sketches grew my final illustration.

The hardest part of this illustration was deciding which medium to use. Eventually, because of the glowing effects, I decided to do it digitally. It is a mixture of Illustrator and Photoshop. I drew my characters in pencil then scanned them in to draw over. I combined the two and did the last piece in Photoshop. I was pleased with the result but would also like to try doing it in Gouache.

During this course I have had so many other ideas which I have kept to one side, one of which I have developed into a book and already sent to publishers. This is something I never would have attempted prior to the course but I will be pushing very hard to sell myself.

I am aware of the very difficult market at the moment but will keep trying to reach my ultimate goal because finally…I believe one day it will happen and I now have faith in my talent!

Finally, the one bit of advice I can give is never give up on your dream. You are never too old (I am 47) to start drawing but if you have that talent and you are leaving college or University, really believe in yourself and push as hard as you can to get what you want. It is a little bit of luck but also a LOT of hard work. It won’t just come to you – keep trying and believe.

Thanks Maggy for all the encouragement.

Julie Mulholland
Pass with Distinction

Two details of Julie’s Freddy’s Happy Ending Below.


Students Story on Fiery Fred…..

By Jan Wearmouth

I’m a student on the children’s illustration course, and I’m loving it. I started because I hope to write and illustrate my own children’s book, even though my baby grandson may be the only one to read it one day. However it’s such fun it’s worth doing just for the enjoyment. There’s something special about spending time thinking like a 7-year-old with a paint brush in your hand, creating fun, colour and humour.

I think I can break down the way I completed this assignment into 3 distinct phases, research, drawing, and painting. It stops me from feeling too overwhelmed.

Research. I started off by spending my lunch-breaks in Waterstones, checking out the illustrated books. Despite being fictitious, there are expectations about how a dragon should look. The internet was a good resource too, and I found lots of photographs of lizards and bats which were helpful in creating my own dragon. I put a dozen sheets of printer paper onto a clipboard, and produced lots of scribbly pencil doodles, a dragon’s tail, a head, lizard’s feet, and bats wings, then put them together. Some of the sketches were a bit scarey, so I ‘cartooned’ my dragon to make him suitable for younger children. I have a few how-to-draw-cartoon books which give lots of ideas on funny expressions, eyes, body shapes etc.

Drawing. I produced an oval vignette shape using the elipse tool in photoshop, printed a few off, and started to draw my dragon into the shapes. I wanted him to fill up most of the space available, so I used perspective, having him large in the foreground and the cottage small in the distance below. It took a few goes, but eventually I had my shapes and drawings, and traced my design onto a stretched sheet of A4 watercolour paper, and inked the lines in using a dip pen and waterproof ink.

Painting. I wanted the flames to look bright, so chose a dark background, dusk/evening, to give contrast. I used watercolour, mixing some thick bright colours on my palette, plenty so I wouldn’t run out. I dampened the paper in the dragon shape with clean water, careful around the eyes and up to the edges, not too wet. Then I dropped thick brushloads of colour onto areas of wet paper, purple here, green there, a bit of red down the back of the dragon where the fire would shine on him, and a darker blue on the shady left side. I left the colours to run into each other. I lay the painting flat and went away, forbidding myself to look at it until it dried, otherwise I would fiddle with it. Once dry I added more dark blue into the shadow detail of his wings, and painted his eyes yellow. Same technique for the other elements such as the fire, cottage, and the little man.

Onto the background, which had to be dark. I wondered how I could wet all that background behind my dragon, and drop colour into it all in one go before it dried. I once tried masking fluid to protect a painted area, but when I tried to remove it I damaged my painting, so that doesn’t work for me. So I added some lines to suggest a hilly background, breaking it up into four smaller areas to work on, one at a time. I dampened the paper in the first area, working carefully around the shapes, and dropped thick dark colour into the wet paper, and waited till it was dry before moving to the next section of background.

I finished off by signing my illustration which I shouldn’t have done. My tutor Maggy has pointed out that the credits and copyright go elsewhere in the book. Oops! It’s invaluable things like that I’m learning during my course. I felt I’d done as well as I could with my illustration, and received positive feedback from Maggy, which was very rewarding. I’m now half way through the course, and feel very motivated to get on with the next assignment.

One look at the work of the students on the course shows the immense talent and diversity out there. We are all different, but I hope that sharing my experience of an assignment will be of interest. Good Luck everyone, and enjoy!

By Jan Wearmouth

Daffodils and Sunshine…

This is a piece of work that Maggy, our childrens illustration tutor, alerted me to. She was particuarly thrilled with this piece and so I thought it was definitely blogworthy! I love the wet in wet watercolour washes behind and the cut-out tree really stands off the background. The daffodils give us the promise of spring on this cold January morning! Congratulations to this student on a great piece of artwork.