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Illustrator Interview: Katie Cottle

Katie Cottle, whose environmentally astute picture book, The Green Giant is published today by Pavilion Children’s Books, is the first illustrator on our interview series.

Katie Cottle is a freelance illustrator and picture-book-maker based in Bristol. Originally from Swansea, she graduated from the Illustration course at the University of the West of England in 2017. She enjoys telling stories through drawing, and uses a variety of media, including a mix of traditional and digital techniques.

She particularly enjoys using bright colours and drawing grumpy faces.

The Green Giant is her first book.

What inspired you to illustrate?

I’ve always loved to draw. Ever since I was little I would be drawing pictures or colouring in to pass the time. When we were really young, my brother would make up stories about our cats (I think they were time travellers?) and I would illustrate them. During my foundation course I was learning how broad the world of illustration was, and got ‘in to’ picture books. Then I studied illustration at university – which really helped me find my visual language and get serious about illustrating. I still find it super fun but a good challenge at the same time!

What’s your favourite picture book?

This changes a lot but currently it’s between Out, Out Away From Here (written by Rachel Woodworth, illustrated by Sang Miao), and Home (by Carson Ellis). I think the texts are both kind of poignant, and not overcomplicated, and both have such beautiful illustrations!

Where do most of your good ideas come to you?

Just as I’m about to sleep. Or if I’m doing something pretty mundane or boring. They really come at the most random times – so it can be hard to force myself to think of a good idea when I’ve scheduled some time in to work at my desk. There are multiple ‘notes’ on my phone which are a few words long and random scribbles in sketchbooks/notebooks I’ve had nearby – they read as gibberish but actually hold some pretty decent ideas. But then there’s the notes that I’ve typed in literally minutes before falling asleep, then I wake up with absolutely no recollection of what I meant. We’ll never know.

Where do you work?

I work from a desk in my flat. It’s not the largest space, but it fits everything I need (and anything that doesn’t fit gets shoved in a cupboard next to it which is pretty handy). I hope to have a larger studio space one day, but for now this suits me fine.

 

What is your creative process?

It all kind of starts from doodling. There’s a saying that we have thousands of bad drawings in us, so we may as well get them out asap. I try and do warm up drawings to get started- sometimes of things related to whatever project I’m working on, sometimes something random.

Picture books, for me, start with thumbnails and storyboards – if the narrative is there, I can work on the text later. I’ll then start working up some finals.  I like to work in a few different ways. I love to paint, and get loads of texture with gouache and spray paints and pencils, and my finals for The Green Giant are all of these multiple layers of different marks and textures. They all get scanned in, and I add to them with digital drawing too. I also use my iPad to draw a lot. It’s super easy to use, and portable, and there are some great brushes available that look like traditional media.  

Where did the idea come from for The Green Giant?

During my last year of uni I visited the botanical gardens, and was drawing loads of planty things to try and come up with a good narrative idea. It turned into a story about an old gardener who got stuck in his greenhouse, and his plants had trapped him in there! It was a little creepy. After graduating, I got to revisit and rework it with the amazing team at Pavilion. I’m pretty eco-conscious, and really wanted a message to reflect that in a fun way. I hope it sparks an interest in nature with anyone who picks it up.

 

How do you relax after a day of creativity?

I’ll often watch movies, videos online, youtube etc. which is a great way to switch off. I read a lot too, and have an array of different types of books on my ‘to read’ pile. And I love hanging out with my hamster. But sometimes to wind down after a long stint of doing some drawing, I’ll just do some more drawing.