To the wilds of Iceland and back again

Mountains, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Mountains, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Falling for picturebooks as a child fuelled Lilly Louise Allen’s determination to become an artist.

“I was absolutely in love with my picture books as a child, the more detailed the better!” she recalls. “I had a great imagination and was always making something from posters to little books.”

Wild Mushrooms by Lilly Louise Allen

Wild Mushrooms by Lilly Louise Allen

At school Lilly continued to learn new skills and express herself through art. “Then I feel there was a lightbulb moment with the ‘new wave’ of Illustration which happened in the early millennium – then there was a resurgence of books on the subject and companies used illustration more frequently. A book which really got me into contemporary Illustration and realising it was a viable occupation was ‘Hand to Eye’ by Lawrence King Publishing, which showed a broad range of Illustrators at work at the time.”

Bembridge Windmill by Lilly Louise Allen

Bembridge Windmill by Lilly Louise Allen

Other influences include the work of Lucinda Rogers, Julie Verhoeven and Tom Gauld. “I’m attracted to the storytelling that can be accomplished with just a single picture, the magic which can be created and the fact that an illustrator can orchestrate the mood of a picture, from humour and charm through to the surreal and thought provoking.”

Inspirations included “people, food, the countryside, the sea, travelling, reading, other artists – all sorts of different subjects! I don’t like to limit my subject matter either; I’m open to trying anything new if it feels good.”

Green House, Iceland, by Lilly Louise Allen

Green House, Iceland, by Lilly Louise Allen

More recent adventures include an artist’s residency in Iceland.

“I had been thinking about doing an artist’s residency but it felt like more of a daydream than something that would come to fruition!” she admits. “I looked at several websites and found the Residency Unlimited website. It was full of amazing places but The Fish Factory Creative Centre in Stöðvarfjörður in the east fjords immediately stood out to me. It looked like looked like an absolutely beautiful place and the ethos behind the centre really resonated with me.”

She quotes from the website: “The Creative Centre is an ongoing collaborative and community project and our actions and aims are based on sustainable principles and alternative methods. We want to regenerate and sustain our small village by making it into a possible and desirable place to settle – a place where you can have engaging jobs, enjoy culture, and the influx of new ideas and creative people.”

No wonder Lilly couldn’t resist. Living as she does on the Isle of Wight, Lilly also felt an affinity with the isolated located.

“I live on an island which is often faced with similar issues, certainly a lack of jobs and opportunities, especially for the younger generations growing up here. With shops and community facilities frequently closing down, it’s often Art in its varying forms and community that can help more than anything else.”

Ice Store, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Ice Store, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Lilly set off for Iceland with these thoughts firmly in mind. “I wanted to look at the importance of solitude to myself and to people in general,” she says. “To be alone but not lonely is something I find interesting. It’s often in these quiet times that our strongest ideas can appear and we find what we really want from life. I certainly found the time for quiet contemplation and a peacefulness inspiring. It feels completely unique to Iceland and particularly to the remote East Fjords where Stöðvarfjörður is located. There were no planes flying over head, few cars passing you by on the roads, no crowds of people or noises other than the wind, the water coming into the shore and the sound of your own footsteps – heaven.”

Turf House, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Turf House, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

The life in the village and what she calls “the human element” also interested Lilly. “Many homes are occupied but there are a lot of holiday homes and some which are empty,” she says. “I took photos of every house in the main part of the village and it really made me look at each of their characteristics, reflecting the people who resided inside currently or in a previous occupancy. I also created large watercolour pictures which I hope reflect all of these thoughts.”

Photograph of Icelandic house by Lilly Louise Allen

Photograph of Icelandic house by Lilly Louise Allen

In addition, Lilly took sound recordings at places where she paused during her walks around the area. “It felt good to try things which I don’t normally do – photograph and sound are new elements in my work and were influenced by the other artists I lived with, which was another wonderful part of the Artists’ Residency!”

Lilly came away with a sense of being at the start of something special. “I’m pleased with what I created whilst I was there but I feel it is only just beginning in a way,” she says. “I can now reflect on everything and find a way of consolidating the project in what I hope will be an exhibition.”

Preparing to work by Lilly Louise Allen

Preparing to work by Lilly Louise Allen

Lilly relishes her life as an artist. “What I love most is that magical time when I’m painting and am completely unaware of what’s going on around me, when the work is immersive and it feels exciting,” she says. “It’s quite hard to explain but its much like when you’re reading a great book and can’t wait to read the next line, the next chapter and then you wish it wasn’t over when you’re finished. If people can sense that feeling when they look at the work and it makes them feel something too then there’s nothing better.”

You can see more of Lilly’s work at, read her blog at and find her on Twitter as @LillyLAllen and on Instagram as @LillyLouiseAllen. She will be taking part in the Isle of Wight Open Studios from 14-24th July 2017.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)

Beneath the surface

Turtle by Cai BurtonArtist Cai Burton has a unique talent for capturing the natural world. Using fineliner pens, he fills pages, and the occasional wall, with swoops, circles and dots that conjure up a creature or scene that bubbles with life.

“I think I’ve always loved making patterns,” he comments. “You look back to my school books and they were covered in them. My friends used to sit and watch me draw in our physics class (Sorry Mr Gregson and Ms Wales!). But since then, that’s carried through and become an intrinsic part of the work I create today.”

The Great Bear by Cai Burton

The Great Bear by Cai Burton

Cai describes the work of creating his artworks as a mindful experience. “I absolutely love the process that goes into it, and I think that’s as important as the finished piece,” he says. “It’s almost as though I’m watching the illustrations come to life as I’m drawing them, which is a cheesy, but exciting, feeling.”

Mug Designs by Cai Burton

Recently Cai has begun producing mugs and greetings cards emblazoned with his patterns, as well as carrying out mural commissions for clients such as Mercure.

Whale by Cai Burton

His marine series have become an enduringly popular part of his output, but began on a whim. “I just fancied drawing a whale, so I did!” he says. “In all seriousness, though, I’m both in awe and terrified of the ocean, and I was feeling inspired to create something different. I like to think of it as inspiration striking in a flash! Ever since then I’ve enjoyed finding more about the amazing creatures that inhabit our oceans.”

His respect for these animals shows on the page – portrayed usually in black on white, their strength and serenity is vividly portrayed.

Seahorses by Cai Burton

Cai is equally passionate about the work dreamt up by other artists. “Generally, I love finding work from other illustrators and artists! It’s SO inspiring when you find someone who creates beautiful work – I love it.”

You Star Pattern Card by Cai Burton

He thrives on the energy generated by following his own creative urges.

“I really love being my own boss,” he says. “I love the freedom to be able to do exactly what I want and not to answer to anyone – well, except for clients. It’s amazing to be able to come into my studio and decide to just spend the morning drawing, because I can. It means I can really shape my business into something I love and am proud of.”

Octopus2 by Cai Burton

Octopus2 by Cai Burton

Cai’s work frequently appears at art markets and art trails in the Bristol area. “I’m also exhibiting at Grounded in Horfield, where you can see my animal illustrations as well as a few others,” says Cai. “I’ve just launched a brand-spanking new website which has got all of my illustrations as prints and products as well as a collection of most of my work.”

Find it at

Mercure-Mural-Mark-006Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)



Illuminated myths

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

When visiting Cardiff recently, I happened to wander into the Wales Millennium Centre and discovered a mural of such imaginative beauty that it stopped me in my tracks. Emblazoned with tigers, dragons, foxes and more, it conjured up the sense of folk tales, myths and literature from a multitude of cultures.

The Dragons - Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

The Dragons – Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

When I got in touch with the artist, Florence Jackson, it became clear that this was no fluke.

“I remember as a child, my dad would read me bedtime stories including a lot of Roald Dahl books,” she says. “I loved the vivid imagery that came to mind and transport me to a different place, inviting me to take part in the adventure…”

Florence’s interest in illustration sprang from the same source. “Quentin Blake always stood out to me – his illustrations worked perfectly in sync with Roald Dahl’s words,” says Florence. “His fluid lines have always looked so effortless. I don’t really think I actively chose to be an artist; it was and always has been my way of communicating thoughts and ideas (and I have a lot of them!).”

Tiger - Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

Tiger – Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

She adds: “In the day to day, I’m always drawn to imagery and design, whether it’s some rice packaging at my local shop or a quirky poster in the underpass on my way to work, there’s always something visual that speaks to me.”

Florence regards illustration as “an all-encompassing art form, which allows you to work through any chosen medium. To me, it’s all about communicating ideas in a way that even people who ‘don’t really get art’ get. I don’t believe art should be exclusive.”

Kainotophobia by Florence Jackson

Kainotophobia by Florence Jackson

Florence found herself being directed towards illustration after studying Fashion & Textiles at Pembrokeshire College. “I much preferred designing and illustrating the garments than the creating part,” she admits. “Seams and hems were not my forte. When I went on to study illustration in university, I worked in photography, print, ceramics, paint… There were no boundaries. I really enjoyed this freedom of expression.”

Kraken by Florence Jackson

Kraken by Florence Jackson

I love the way Florence’s art often resembles scenes in stories, so it was no surprise to discover that her inspiration reaches beyond Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl.

“I was largely influenced by Eastern philosophy, Folk Art and Indian miniature paintings,” she says. “My projects don’t really have a beginning, middle and an end ­ they’re sort of an ongoing series that started when I first started drawing. I see everything as a story though, always wandering to myself where people at the bus stop are going. Do they live alone? Do they have a cat? Are they in love? I feel sort of obligated to make up stories for them.”

Kakorrhaphiophobia by Florence Jackson

Kakorrhaphiophobia by Florence Jackson

Florence’s commission for the Wales Millennium Centre come about when she was contacted by Lydia Meehan, the Centre’s arts and creative officer.

“Lydia had studied illustration in the year above me and had remembered my work,” says Florence. “Initially she’d spoken about doing something for the Diwali celebration, but instead it opened up into a winter theme.”

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson2

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson2

The main challenge was the sheer size of the piece, stretching a massive 8x5m sq. “I’m used to working on A3 sheets of paper normally!” Florence exclaims. “To be able to reach the space, I had to get a cherry-picker license, which was a pretty scary ordeal. I don’t even drive a normal car, so turning up to an industrial estate to navigate a seven-ton vehicle round some orange cones whilst elevated 10 meters in the air was pretty terrifying.”

Understanding when the artwork was complete was also difficult. “Knowing whether to add another tree or some more stars… It was difficult to walk away and say it was finally done.”

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson1

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

The mural represents parallels between a wide range of winter-themed stories. “I wanted to look at the similarities within religious winter tales, such as Babushka, Diwali, Hanukah and Christmas,” says Florence. “Most involved a pilgrimage of some sort, often following a light towards warmth and shelter. This is what I wanted to convey – coming out from the cold dark night and into the warm festive spirit with people from all walks of life. I wanted to depict togetherness and safety, which I think is what we’re all looking for, especially when there seems to be so much conflict and uncertainty in the world.”

Florence considers art to simply be her means to live, eat and interpret the world.

“I still have to make money to pursue my artistic endeavors,” she says. “I think it’s just a way of seeing the world that makes things a little more magical, noticing small details that may otherwise be invisible, conjuring up fantasies of great escapes and adventures.  It’s just something I have to do, or need to do… it’s the language I speak best.”

Villains by Florence Jackson

Villains by Florence Jackson

Currently Florence is working on new material and focusing on freelance illustration, with new murals and a possible animation in the pipeline. You can find out more at and

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)

A creative voyage

Clipper by Judy DarleyI’ve just come to the end of an art course at the RWA in Bristol, and am already missing it immensely. The course, Illustration for Picture Books with Sam Church, offered the rare treat of devoting three hours each week for five weeks to playing with ink, paint, pencil and words.

We were each invited to devise or find a story or poem to illustrate. As you might imagine, I went in fully equipped with that side of things, keen to bring one of my short stories to life in new, visual ways.

It was energising to be in a room full of people who have such artistic talent. While I enjoyed figuring out perspective and thrilling with the success of painting a scene that made sense to me, there was just as much pleasure to be had in wandering the room at the end and seeing what my fellow students had been working on throughout the morning. Some produced works of utter beauty!

Boy and merhag by Judy Darley

For me, the biggest challenge was drawing and painting the face of my protagonist, and I’m still not satisfied with that. I think I need to try cartooning to get the character from my head to the page. It was magical, however, to discover I’m able to recreate some of the villains and accomplices from my tale, as well as the setting of the sea, sky and isle.

Evil crab by Judy Darley

The best part, however, was the chance to devote substantial chunks of time to exploring the artistic possibilities of my fiction under the gentle guidance of course leader Sam. It’s focused my growing passion for making as well as writing about art, and given me a new expressive outlet that fills me with joy.

Find upcoming RWA courses.

The thrill of illustration

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

An illustration from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Hippos, pigs, seals and fish, not to mention the occasional elephant in swimming trunks, cavort through the pages of Henning Löhlein’s picture books. Designed to amuse and enthrall, they wriggle with life.

“I always liked drawing,” Henning recalls. “Having grown up in Germany, I spent two years taking foundation art studies in Toulon France, but I was torn between graphic design and fine art.”

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein2

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Henning travelled to Bristol on an Erasmus exchange programme, and here discovered illustration, “which formed the right mixture between working to a brief and having the freedom to express one’s own ideas. I finished my studies with an MA in editorial design and narrative illustration at Brighton University. Since then I have taught on the illustration course as a visiting lecturer.”

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Henning’s editorial work includes illustrations for the Guardian, the Financial Times and Country Life, as well as magazine covers. “I like to find the freedom in the constraints of illustration, be it for editorial jobs, or in children’s books,” he says.

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

His love of children’s books began when, after 15 years of working as an editorial illustrator, he realised he wanted “to have a longer ‘shelf life’ for my illustrations. I had started drawing more and more animals in my magazine illustrations, so the step to children’s book illustration was not very far.”

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

Henning was fortunate enough to have been chosen to exhibit at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, “and that opened up the world of publishing to me.”

Henning has since published more than 40 books, translated into 12 languages, and counting.

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

Initially, Henning sought out commissions by attending two of the most prestigious book fairs, Bologna in the spring and Frankfurt in the autumn, seeing as many publisher, editors and art directors as possible.

A scene from Das Leben ist Bunt, illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Das Leben ist Bunt, illustrated by Henning Lohlein

“I’m now in the position where I can develop projects before hand, which I then try and sell to a publisher at the fair,” he says. “Having been in the industry for a while, authors come to me with projects, or publishers match my illustration up with a suitable text.”

But how closely does he work with a writer in this scenario?

“Normally I just get the text, and illustrate it, having no contact with the writer, just working with the text, and interpreting it in my way,” he says.

Ludwig the Spacedog by Henning Lohlein

Ludwig the Spacedog by Henning Lohlein

Henning is excited about writing and illustrating his own stories. “Ludwig the Space Dog, published last autumn by Templar, is my first written and illustrated book,” he says.

Ludwig the Spacedog cover by Henning Lohlein “I started from the idea about a dog living in a two-dimensional world, dreaming about another dimension, which he discovers, and the reader can discover as well with using 3D glasses. It’s about the power of dreams and thinking outside the box. I also liked the idea of doing a 3D book. The pictures are obviously two-dimensional, as they are in a book, so the magic happens in the reader’s head.”

Henning describes being an illustrator as “the best job I can imagine. On a Monday morning I look forward to going to the studio, and to drawing,  painting or inventing a new story. Doing what one loves doing and getting paid for it is a privilege. I can express my ideas, and with a bit of luck, a book will come out of it.”

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein1

An illustration from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Find more of Henning’s work online at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)

Animal magic with Josephine Sumner

Punky Porcupine woodcut by Josephine Sumner

Punky Porcupine by Josephine Sumner

Printmaker and illustrator Josephine Sumner brings a splash of fun and colour to the world with her creations. From the savannahs to the jungles to the misty mountains, her animal prints fizz with energy, and a reminder of how extraordinary our planet is. Her abstract artworks are equally alive, providing a sideways glance at our history as many of them sprang from a fascination with archaeology.

Josephine’s initial artistic explorations began with a childhood attraction “to colour and shape and wanting to draw. Even as a toddler I was fervently scribbling. At school I used to illustrate all my stories and loved creating handwritten books and diaries.”

After leaving school, Josephine attended art college, where she studied graphic design. “This was an obvious choice for me, as I am drawn to the elements of design such as composition, colour, imagery and typography and making them work together,” she says. “However, I also loved making images and after a few years of being a graphic designer, I made a choice and turned to illustration full time. I worked as a general illustrator for quite a while, which then eventually led to printmaking in more recent years.”

Sunset Giraffe mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Sunset Giraffe by Josephine Sumner

Jospehine’s vivid animal prints particularly appeal to me, offering such a vivid glimpse of the diversity of life. “I’ve always been interested in the natural world, but my animal prints really got started when I was looking through an old children’s annual from the 1950s,” she explains. “It had a series of delicate and beautifully observed watercolour illustrations by Maurice Wilson of different types of monkeys. I was instantly inspired by them and they led me to produce a couple of small linocut prints of two species of monkey.”

In 2007, one of these was accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, “which was a great shock to me, not least because it was the first time I had entered a piece of work to the show. After that, there was no turning back!”

Each of her animal prints explores different elements. “I look for colours and shape, and try to convey something of the animal’s character,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t resist having a bit of fun with them like the Punky Porcupine.”

Other visual influences include ethnic art and textiles. “I also love the styles of 1920s and 30s and I am technically impressed with wood engraving and Japanese woodcuts.”

While it’s impossible to choose a favourite among her menagerie, Josephine admits to “a fondness for those which make me smile.” (I think that’s cheating – they all make me smile!).

Flamingo Fandango screenprint by Josephine Sumner

Flamingo Fandango by Josephine Sumner

“The vibrant colours of Flamingo Fandango and Sunset Giraffe certainly seem to do it!” Josephine continues. “The print that I am most proud of is Silverback. The secretive and shy lowland gorilla I have portrayed is based on the magnificent Jock, who lives at Bristol Zoo.”

Silverback mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Silverback by Josephine Sumner

Taking a completely different path, Josephine has also produced a series of abstract paintings and rug designs “inspired by the ancient history of the Wiltshire landscape. These came about when I took part on an archaeological dig near Avebury some years ago. The rich and diverse story of the Neolithic stones was too tempting not to tell and they became the perfect vehicle for me to play with shape and colour.”

Greater Cursus gouache and collage by Josephine Sumner

Greater Cursus by Josephine Sumner

Other inspirations abound. “I try to visit art galleries and museums when I can,” she says. “A favourite of mine is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which has a unique atmosphere.” She also adores “the exotic painting of Rousseau” and “the magical, exquisite world of illustrator Tony Meeuwissen.”

Likewise, she hopes visitors to her own exhibitions gain pleasure from seeing her work. “Seeing the joy or amusement on people’s faces when they see my animals is the best thing about being an artist! I hope my menagerie makes people happy.”

Red-tailed Monkey mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Red-tailed Monkey by Josephine Sumner

You can see all of Josephine’s animal prints on her website,, and in frequent exhibitions with the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “I’m also exhibiting with Red Hot Press from Southampton at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey in Hampshire throughout August and some of my abstract work (and a few animal prints) can be seen as part of an ArtCare Exhibition at Salisbury District Hospital in September.”

Excitingly, Josephine has just heard that she’s had a piece of work accepted for the National Print Open Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern in London. “The exhibition runs in the autumn, from September 21st till October 2nd and showcases some of the best original prints from all over the UK. Of course, mine is a print of a monkey!”

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Seeds of art

Hyacinth watercolour by Gill Martin

Hyacinth watercolour by Gill Martin

“I don’t consider myself particularly creative, more as a recorder of natural things so that the viewer sees them afresh but also to give them a place,” says botanical artist Gill Martin.

Gill sees nature as a direct connection to art, and vice versa. “Art makes me really look at things and appreciate their beauty; I love that I can just be walking down a street and find a leaf or twig or something else that just makes me feel I want to draw it.”

Almond by Gill Martin

Almond by Gill Martin

It’s a symbiotic process than began early on in her life. “I drew and painted from a very young age and did Art A-Level along with Sciences, which led me down the path of a career in dentistry; the drawings I did at school were always close observational, usually in pen and ink.”

Throughout her time working as a dentist, Gill’s artwork was, in reaction to this “very concise occupation” far more abstract than it is today. “I produced large pieces, stained glass and printmaking – it was almost like an antidote to the dentistry,” she comments. “After I retired from my profession I decided to do a long distance four-year distance learning with the Society of Botanical Artists and felt very much back with my natural inclinations.”

Poppy and Cherry by Gill Martin

Poppy and Cherry by Gill Martin

In particular she finds herself attracted by unusual shapes and forms. “Although during the course I had to do many flowery subjects, I have found that I am more interested in subjects such as individual leaves.”

Examples of this include an intricate drawing of a seedpod completed while in Australia for her son’s wedding.

“The course assignment was fruit, but all the fruit I looked at seemed very boring. Then I realised that the fruits of various trees were far more interesting! I think that I really like looking at the ground, or other places where perhaps things crop up unexpectedly.”

Australian Seedpods by Gill Martin

Australian Seedpods by Gill Martin

Using watercolours, coloured pencils and graphite pencil, Gill’s beautifully precise art has been exhibited in London, at Bristol Botanic Garden and in the BV Studios where she carries out much of her work.

Eucalyptus Leaf mixed media by Gill Martin

Eucalyptus Leaf mixed media by Gill Martin

She relishes the ability to show people the natural world in a fresh way by focusing in detail on small, easily overlooked elements. “I love the achievement of highlighting something that most people wouldn’t notice; nothing gives me greater pleasure than to find a fallen leaf amongst many others and then making a beautiful drawing or painting of it so viewers think, Wow, look at that leaf!”

Find Gill and her work at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

A handmade menagerie

Needle felted little white mouse by JR Simpson

Needle felted little white mouse by JR Simpson

Jay Simpson describes herself as a peculiar maker and illustrator “who loves wildlife, made-up words, staring into space and sleeping.” It’s an apt description, given that many of her creations seem to have escaped from children’s telly of yesteryear (Button Moon and Finger Mouse inevitably spring to mind).

As it happens, art has been on the agenda since Jay was tiny. “My parents and granny are artists and they always encouraged me to look at the world with curiosity, respond to what I saw creatively,” she says. “I’ve always loved making and drawing but never considered that I could ever be a ‘real artist’. Luckily I’ve now discovered there’s no such thing, so I can just make art without worrying!”

Needle felted succulent by JR Simpson

Needle felted succulent by JR Simpson

Jay is fascinated by nature, and loves “exploring the weird miniature worlds I find in rockpools and at the bottom of the garden. This interest originally led me towards a career in science, but after illness forced me to quit my degree in biology, I found I preferred studying nature in a sketchbook to in a lab.”

Baby plant pin badges by JR Simpson

Baby plant pin badges by JR Simpson

Jay completed a foundation course in art, and recently begun studying for a degree in Illustration at the University of the West of England. “It’s loads of fun so far.”

Her family’s pragmatic approach to making a living through art seems to have rubbed off on Jay. “I sell my work through Etsy and through Blaze, a wonderful co-op of makers and artists in Bristol.”

Needle felted Elwood the Otter by JR Simpson

Needle felted Elwood the Otter by JR Simpson

Popular makes include her menagerie of needle felted creatures, “born out of my desire to share my love of small, common, underappreciated animals. I wanted to show others how cute they are!”

Each of Jay’s animals has a fully developed personality, ready to embody any story their characters encounter.

Jay discovered needle felting a couple of years ago and was immediately impressed by the infinite possibilities and immediacy of it. “It’s like drawing with wool.”

I particularly fond of Jay’s needle felted snails, with real snail shells mostly sourced “from the beach near my parents’ home in Somerset; the sea washes them clean, which saves me a lot of work!”

Needle felted snail parade by JR Simpson

Needle felted snail parade by JR Simpson

Her mice in teacups and other receptacles are also a delight. “I love combining soft sculpture with found material, like the snail shells or charity shop crockery. It provides a lovely contrast in materials, and gives the creatures a new dimension, adding context and history.”

Needle felted snail by JR Simpson

Needle felted snail by JR Simpson

Jay enjoys meeting other artists “and being part of wonderful creative communities like Blaze and the Illustration department at UWE. It’s really energising to be surrounded by so much excitement and enthusiasm. At the moment I’m concentrating on developing my visual language as an illustrator, and eventually I hope to write graphic narratives, so I can share the weird worlds and characters I have in my head!”

You can see more of Jay’s work at her Etsy shop,, on her blog, and at Blaze.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Illustrated insights with Laura Hallett

The BFG cr Laura Hallett

The BFG © Laura Hallett

I first spotted Laura Hallett’s beautiful illustrations in Bristol coffee shop The Crazy Fox. Her delicate doodles capture a sense of life and, often, wistfulness, that I find really appealing. Roald Dahl’s The BFG was one of my favourite books when growing up, and seeing Laura’s original take on the gentle dream-catching giant is utterly entrancing.

“I love the surrealism and inventiveness of the Roald Dahl stories that offer potential for a wealth of endless inventive visual images,” Laura says. “I enjoy developing my own vision for well known tales, defining the characters in the stories through my own eyes and trying to capture distinct atmospheres through the use of colour, light and composition.”

A passion for stories and narratives influenced Laura’s decision to become an illustrator.

“I’ve always loved creating things and the freedom that comes with being an artist,” Laura explains. “Initially when I was young I simply enjoyed the process of drawing and painting and playing around with colours and characters. I love reading and writing short stories so I think part of that came from enjoying the storytelling and narrative process – art was just another avenue for this.”

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe cr Laura Hallett

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe © Laura Hallett

As she grew older the chance to experiment with drawing and painting became a driving force. “Making art in the pursuit of expressing myself and communicating ideas really began to be exciting.”

But she still wasn’t sure art was a viable career path. “When I left school I initially studied History and Politics at University as I wasn’t sure whether art was a good career plan, but I found that I just kept on painting and decided that I had to pursue it or I’d regret it.”

Laura worked on developing her own style and creative ideas, and studied Illustration at Falmouth. “Since I graduated it’s just been about working really hard and developing my work to a point where I feel confident in my own personal visual language,” she says. “This year has been a highlight; moving to a creative city like Bristol where I’m surrounded by people pursuing their own creative path has been really inspiring, and I’ve also seen my first published narrative illustration in American poetry anthology Rebels, held my first solo exhibition in the Crazy Fox Cafe and produced two large painted public art sculptures in Birmingham and Sheffield.”

Little Women cr Laura Hallett

Little Women © Laura Hallett

Illustration, she explains, “is a very broad area that permits considerable creative freedom. The goal is to communicate an idea or feeling or story but the route you take to get there can incorporate almost any medium or approach. I also enjoy the importance of a strong sense of design and aesthetics.”

Laura adds that the “escapist quality of children’s literature” is a particular attraction. “The stories take you into another world and allow room for your imagination to run free. Everyone sees something quite different when they read a story and it can be fascinating to see how different illustrators approach the same narrative from completely different places.”

The characters are also crucial, she comments. “As a child, being inspired by a character from your favourite book can shape the kind of person you want to be; even if it’s often just until you read your next book and meet a new character to go on a journey with!”

She adds: “From an illustrative perspective I also love the strange juxtaposition you often get from children’s literature, whereby stories, which often have a comforting familiarity and generate feelings of nostalgia, are often also quite strange and surreal. Children have fewer pre-conceptions so are very open to this.”

The tiny details Laura includes in her artwork all contribute to making her work sing on the page.

“I’m a bit obsessed by the small details of everyday life that help me to capture a sense of it. I try to produce work that you can keep coming back to and noticing new things in for the first time.”

Telling a story through one picture is an exciting challenge, she says. “I’m inspired by stories about people’s lives and by simply taking in what is going on around me. Having studied history and politics I am also inspired by historical events and social changes and would love to explore this area more through my work in the future.”

Bristol Map cr Laura Hallett

Bristol Map © Laura Hallett

Laura’s fascination with informative details has led to a series of illustrated maps, which were recently exhibited in Bristol.

“The Map of Bristol was a focal point of my exhibition at The Crazy Fox. As a new resident of Bristol, the map was my way of getting to know my new home. I love the very distinct different characters the different areas of the city have, and the varied architecture that reflects this and reflects the very individual artistic and creative spirit of the city.”

Laura also loves mapping trends and fashions through her work. “The London trends piece (below) was completed for a design competition run by London Transport Museum. It’s one of my favourite illustrations and one of the pieces I most enjoyed doing as it enabled me to indulge my passions for music, the fashions and tribes connected with it, and historical and social changes. It was also a great opportunity to focus on characterisation and design. I love being able to develop my illustrations through my own evolving interests and passions.”

London Fashions and Trends cr Laura Hallett

London Fashions and Trends © Laura Hallett

Keep an eye on to find out what Laura’s up to and see more of her work. Many of her pieces are available to buy as limited edition giclee prints at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Lina Lofstrand’s marine magic

Flying whale cr Lina LofstrandEver seen a whale soar through the air, just skimming the tops of the waves with its tail trailing behind? No, me neither, but this picture by Lina Lofstrand makes me feel like that’s just because I haven’t happened to be in the right place at the right time to glimpse one.

“The Flying Whale is a whale with really small wings so he can only jump out of the water and stay in the air for short periods,” Lina says. “He uses this technique to see if any of his family or friends are close by.”

All of Lina’s work offers up this sense of a world sitting beside ours, or perhaps entangled with it but only visible as reflections in raindrops and oil-slicked puddles. In other words, the overlooked magic in everyday life.

Mermanmaid cr Lina Lofstrand

Mermanmaid © Lina Lofstrand


I’ve loved drawing and making things for as long as I can remember,” Lina comments when I ask her how she got started. “When I was little I used to scribble on receipts and bits of paper from my mum’s bag whenever I had to sit and wait. I don’t think I ever decided to become an artist, more that I was lucky enough to find a way to continue drawing and also make a bit of money from it.”

The marine theme, Lina explains, comes from “growing up in Sweden close to the sea. I use to take the dog for walks and watch the ships come in or leave Stockholm’s harbour. Both my mum and my brother are professional sailors so a lot of my inspiration is from my family and the stories they tell me. My mum and stepdad have been living on a boat for the last four years and are travelling the world together.”

The majority of Lina’s male characters boast impressive facial hair, which she said is “ partly from looking at old photographs of sailors and sea farers with big beards and moustaches, but also because it’s fun to draw and gives a lot of character and personality to the figure I might be drawing!”

Windy Couple cr Lina Lofstrand

Windy Couple © Lina Lofstrand

Lina built on her early love of creating by studying a Drawing and Applied Arts degree at University of the West of England. She’s now a member f Blaze, the artist run co-operative in Bristol you may have seen mentioned on before. “I make most of my art in my basement studio at Blaze, and sell the things I make in the shop upstairs,” she says. “I also do a lot of markets where I sell my work and get a chance to meet with people and other local artists.”

I really enjoy how much personality Lina imbues her drawings with – many of her characters look like they’ve escaped from a children’s book or fime – Alice in Wonderland and Labyrinth both spring to mind. Lina’s heroes include American author and illustrator Edward Gorey, an influence evident in many of her line drawings. She also find inspirations in the work of “Scandinavian artist Carl Larsson’s beautiful paintings and Sven Nordqvist  and Elsa Beskow’s children’s books illustrations.”

Shrimp riders by Lina Lofstrand

Shrimp riders © Lina Lofstrand

She adds. “I love working with my hands and creating something that didn’t exist before, either from clay, fabric or just a blank piece of paper. I really enjoy being able to give life to characters and places from my imagination. Shrimp Riders is a bit of a joke of what I think the mounted troops would look like underwater, where they ride shrimps instead of horses and look rather goofy!”

Lina finds inspiration and ideas “very easily and feel like time is never enough to make all the things I want to! Mischievous Marauders is a watercolour painting under the theme Allotments that I did as a part of a group show for a shop in Bishopston. I made it last summer after a particular unlucky season at my allotment where there were a lot of hungry animals that nibbled my crop!”

Mischievous Marauders cr Lina Lofstrand

Mischievous Marauders © Lina Lofstrand

Other inspiration sources include “meeting people, being outside in the nature and animals. I get a lot of ideas from the pine woods in Sweden and the animals that live there, but also from people I meet or see around in town.”

In fact, seeking out these ideas and finding ways to capture them on the page fuels Lina’s creativity more than anything else does.

“I love the freedom drawing gives you to create your own characters and imaginary worlds. I love finding inspiration in everyday life and using that to create my own imaginary characters.”

Find Lina’s creations at Blaze in Bristol, on or at her Etsy shop  Lina Makes.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)