The delicate artwork of Eleanor Percival translates beautifully into her colouring book image of a heavily tattooed lady plucking a pear. Here she talks about her love of fiction, Renaissance paintings and good quality watercolours.
What would be the story of your tattooed lady?
I think she’s a tattooist herself, but a bit of a psychic too. She can see her clients’ true natures and tattoos them with symbols of their characters, good or bad. She’s covered herself with images that represent who she is (I got very caught up in the meanings of tattoos while I was developing this piece, and even added in a couple that would mean something to me if I ever had the guts to get one). She would probably be very sought after, but would also get into trouble with those who didn’t like her representation of them.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I love strangeness in fiction, the uncanny – Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults seem to be set in the real world, then something knocks the story off-kilter and it feels like another universe. Virginia Woolf is always great but Orlando is, without doubt, my favourite of her books: the way the character moves through history (and genders) is written so cleverly that it barely seems odd at all.
Where did you do your BA and MA courses and what were the best things you learnt on them?
I did my BA at UCA Maidstone, which sadly has been closed down since. The course had been famously good since the sixties, so attracted wonderful staff. They really taught us to have clear motivations in our work – ‘Why have you used red here?’ ‘What does it symbolise?’ ‘What will viewers associate with it?’ Etc. They were also fantastic at driving home to us the practicalities of being an illustrator – how to promote ourselves, how to approach clients, even how to do our accounts. I loved it. I chose to do an MA at Camberwell because I wanted to free up a little, and to refine my style. I’m no Jackson Pollock, but my work has loosened up so much, and I’m more confident.
Who is Atalanta and what attracted you to her story? (see also the opening image)
I knew from the beginning of my MA that I wanted to do a project around fairy tales or mythology, but I also wanted to champion a female character who wasn’t a feeble little princess or a conniving vamp. While I was researching endless Greek myths, a woman called Atalanta kept cropping up. She was always described as the strongest fighter and the fastest runner, and was featured in lots of famous stories, but I’d never heard of her before. So I did some more reading and amalgamated all of the bits I could find about her into my own narrative. She and her lover are turned into mountain lions in the end, but I made this into a happy-ever-after for them.
What kind of references to art history can we expect to see in your art if we look closely?
The strange perspectives and proportions that I love are definitely influenced by Renaissance paintings. They used an obsessive mathematical approach that left a lot of imagery looking quite other-worldly and, though I don’t go anywhere near a ruler when I’m working out a composition, I try to recreate that slightly wonky effect. Indian Miniatures have crept in too – the space is very organised in most of my paintings, details are purposeful and sparse. And my figures often have very gestural poses too.
How do you arrange your workspace and what does typical work day look like?
My studio is a tiny spare room in the flat I share with my husband in Brixton. It’s absolutely crammed with books, old work and art materials, and my desk takes up about half the room. My working day is usually much the same: I’m at my desk with a cup of tea by nine but rarely start painting immediately; I look at artsy blogs, catch up on my e-mails and make to-do lists until I’m in the right mood. I’ll then work for the rest of the day (though I often find I’ve been staring out the window for ten minutes). At the end of a project I often find I need a day wandering around a museum or gallery to refresh.
Why is it so important to you to embark on personal projects and what have you been doing most recently in this arena?
Every experienced illustrator I’ve ever met has underlined to me how important it is to do personal projects. It’s inevitable that when working with an art director, you find yourself doing little things that you wouldn’t do if left to your own devices. And that’s an important practice, but it’s also crucial that you do projects that are more essentially yours – things only you would think of doing in that particular way. I’ve been working on my own little colouring-in book recently. I wanted to have a break from working in colour, and also from doing projects with causes! It’s very simple, barely even a narrative, just an introduction to a character who lives in a cottage and loves gardening. I’m also putting together a line of greetings cards to sell in some local independent shops.
Where will we be able to buy your greeting cards, and can you share a preview with us?
I’ve got a couple of designs for sale at Green & Stone on the Kings Road already, but I’m going to be approaching shops in Brixton Market.
What is it that you particularly love about watercolour and where did you learn how to use it properly?
On my BA I didn’t have a clue about materials – I just grabbed whatever was close to hand – but after I graduated I got a part-time job in a beautiful old art supplies shop and learned all about the properties of watercolours, fine brushes and paper. With my discount I could afford to gradually build up a collection of really good quality paints and other materials. I use Schmincke and Daniel Smith paints mostly – they have really intense colours and granulate beautifully. I love that watercolour has a life of its own; you have a certain amount of control before you apply the brush, then the paint does whatever it wants – it just rolls around on the paper. But equally, it’s a lovely medium for creating delicate little details.
Which cook’s recipes would you most like to illustrate and why?
Definitely my friend Milli Taylor’s, because I know how amazing her cooking is! I love the way she put ingredients together, and the flavours she creates. She’s brilliant at making her dishes look beautiful too – as she says in her book ‘we eat with our eyes’.
Can you tell us anymore about your own colouring book plans?
I’m going to print a small edition to take to a few children’s book publishers and hopefully find someone who wants to sell it for me! My plan is that, over time, I can build up a series of stories about the same character that are fun to read as well as colour in.
I love how every illustrator featured in Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion creates such different work. Make sure you grab your copy of this limited edition colouring book once the campaign goes online on Kickstarter!
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