So, tell us a little about you.
My name is Abby and I am in illustrator. I am 29 years young (in the mind) and currently live in Peckham, with ambitions to live in a self-converted campervan with my partner and the cat (when we finish it!).
What’s your story? Tell us a little about your background and what you do.
I started drawing when I was small. I would copy illustrations from the books I was reading at the time, decorate napkins in cafés with my many coloured gel pens and draw maps of the fields and woodland around where I lived. When I choose my degree I fooled myself into thinking that art wasn’t sensible enough and chose a sciencey one (chemistry & psychology at Birmingham Uni). After that, and five years in the world of work (where I had spent the last two years retraining as a graphic designer), I realised that I wasn’t sensible enough either, so I quit my job, and have been freelancing as an illustrator ever since (three years and counting). I still freelance as a graphic designer to help pay the bills while I get my illustration side of things even bigger and better.
What artist or artwork inspired you the most growing up?
Chris Riddell hands down, I grew up loving The Edge Chronicles, particularly the Twig series. My brother first bought me Midnight Over Sanctaphrax when I was 7. I devoured every book after that and was devastated I didn’t live in that world fighting sky pirates, so instead, I would copy the drawings for hours into various notebooks and school planners. It was copying these illustrations that taught me to be patient with my pencil, not to give up when it misbehaved and drew a long squiggle when I had just wanted a feathery flick; I had the guide right in front of me, and many, many erasers. As an adult, I actually met Chris at The Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2017 and he was so generous with his time, talking to every single aspiring illustrator who went up to him, that I count myself lucky to have picked a most worthy hero.
What artist most inspires you now?
It’s still the above, but I can now add in Oliver Jeffers, Jim Kay and Gemma Correll to the list as well. Their styles are completely different, as are their outlooks and intentions for the art that they create. I am in awe of each of them. Oliver Jeffers has taken his childlike illustrations to an increasingly political space and it is inspiring to think that you can make such profound commentary using a universal language. Jim Kay was incredibly modest the only time I saw him speak, yet if you’ve ever laid eyes on the illustrated Harry Potter books 1-3 (book 4 is out this Winter) you’ll be able to see his incredible marksmanship in many different media. Finally, Gemma Correll illustrates using so few lines to create lovable, expressive animal cartoons, usually pugs in quirky scenarios. I love how little she needs to draw to convey emotion on the face of each pug/cat/budgie. She also works with mental health charities a lot, which I would love to do too and admire greatly about her.
What do you create mostly for work and what do you create mostly for fun?
I mostly create personalised maps of people's big trips, usually as a gift for the other trip taker. I know one of the recipients cried when she opened it, I am hoping out of happiness. I also do totally bespoke projects; people often come to me with a few ideas of something they want but can't materialise themselves. Things like a print of a handwritten letter, illustrated to look like an old scroll with a huge ornate golden letter at the beginning and a wax seal, or the latest wedding I worked on with a Day of the Dead theme where the bride wanted a sugar paper style invitation with black printed illustrations of skulls and the bride and groom (which ended up being them both leaping whilst wearing a Mexican sombrero and flower crown), plus the handwritten text in an Oliver Jeffers childlike style. Take a look on my Instagram (@hobbbins) to see the results! It went on to not only be the invite, but the chalkboard sign on the day, a beer pump badge and was also printed and hung in the couple’s home together.
For fun, I like to illustrate the weird thoughts that pop into my brain. Guiltily, I must admit that this is not very often I get to record these mind flitters in a drawing, as work usually takes up all of my time, with any left going into the van conversion, but my scotch egg planet is my favourite example of these extrapolations from my mind.
What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
I am most proud of the self-published children’s picture book, Where’s my Uncle, that I illustrated for a friend of mine, Josh, who had written the story for his niece. We spent many hours on Skype tweaking the layout and ideas of how each character and setting should look. So much work from both of us went into it, that when I finally held a printed copy in my hands it was overwhelming to know that inside this A5, 26-page book was a Tardis-sized amount of work and effort. We printed a few extra copies to sell to family and friends and they sold like hot cakes (I have never actually bought a ‘hot cake’ but they must be very good). We had to order another batch in the end! We are going to work on a second version that will mean we have the ability to change the appearance and genders/names of each character, to personalise each book for the recipient. It’s a story centred around family so it will make an amazingly heartfelt Christmas gift once it is tailored to how your family works, and we’re hoping it will be a big (indie) hit. We will start taking orders in October and our email is email@example.com if you want to be kept updated!
7. Do you think people are just born creative or is it something everyone has, but many don’t
No one is creative from birth, I think the only reason it can run in families is simply because those parents who have an interest in it will encourage their children to draw more. I think the only thing that separates a ‘creative’ from a ‘non-creative’ is confidence in what you are doing. Not in yourself, lots of artists are painfully shy, but the confidence in your journey through the creative process. All the drawings I embark on go the same stupid way, illustrated perfectly by this picture I found online of ‘The Learning Pit’, but imagine instead that it’s about drawing:
I think unless you have confidence in what you are doing, then as soon as it heads down into the pit, it’s easy to give up and tell yourself that you’re not creative. This is easy to do because there is this notion that people are either creative or not, when actually it’s not binary at all, you can increase your creativity by practising (and equally decrease it by not practising, much like I did when I spent eight years pretending to be sensible).
What's your favourite colour and why?
My favourite colour has always been green. I wish I had a profound reason, but I think it was probably because that is my half-brother’s surname, and I had a penchant for hubba bubba atomic apple gum from an early age.
What’s your favourite album to listen to whilst you create and why?
Any Mac DeMarco album, especially 2, and Another One. His songs create a barrier from any outside pressures, and it means that I am a lot freer with my drawings, paintings and ideas. Although if I’m on a deadline then it’s Jon Hopkin’s Immunity on repeat until it is done.
If you were stuck on a desert island and had to bring 3 items with you to create with, what would you bring?
A Unipin fine liner in nib size 0.3 (with unlimited ink, obviously)
A thick 150gsm and above A5 sketchpad (unlimited pages, you get the jist)
A mechanical pencil with 2H lead (do I even need to say it?)
If you could give advice to yourself growing up, with the benefit of hindsight, what would it be?
Know that the currency of being weird increases in value as you get older and don’t let the bastards grind you down while you wait.
What / who made you decide to become a professional creative, rather than doing it as a hobby?
A keen, unrelenting anxiety about how to live my life well. You only live once so make a career out of something you actually like doing. It’s not a radical idea but it’s a good one.
What makes you most happy?
All five of us in the flat (four humans, one cat), half-watching something like the US Office, half doing piss-take impressions of each other. Whilst eating crisps.
What’s next for you? What you would like to be doing in 12 months?
I really want to teach art to kids in some capacity, kids are hilarious and they challenge you to think about things differently too. I’d also like to get the 2nd edition of the book (with Josh) out and selling regularly. I would absolutely love to have had any Middle Grade Fiction illustration work and I secretly dream of having penned my own story by then.
Is there anything exciting coming up that you would like to let people know about?
I am selling my illustration merch at the House of Illustration Summer Fair this Saturday at 11am – 5pm (13th July, near King’s Cross). I’m sharing the stall with the very talented Clare Thorthwaite (you should check out her day-glo life drawings @clarethornthwaite). The illustration fair is free entry and it is outside but under the cover of a large old station roof (best of all worlds). There will also be 2-for-1 entry to all the exhibitions on at the House of Illustration for the day.
Where can people find out more about what you are up to?