This December we are delighted to introduce Bethan Woollvin, our featured artist of the month. Do pop in to find her limited edition prints and cute pins! The ultra-talented illustrator has had her own versions of classic fairytales published: Little Red, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel, all beautifully recreated with a cheeky twist.
Let's say hello! Hi Bethan, Thank you so much for being our featured artist for December! We'd love to get to know a bit more about you. Would you give us a quick introduction about yourself and what you do?
My name is Bethan Woollvin, and I’m a freelance author and illustrator based in Sheffield, UK. I studied a BA in Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, and during my time at University I discovered my love for writing stories and illustrating for children.
I actually created my first children’s book Little Red at University, which I entered into the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition and ended up winning (still in shock!). This led to my very first book deal and created a path for me in the world of writing and illustrating children’s books.
We would love to learn a bit about your process. What's your tool of choice and do you prefer creating by hand or digitally?
It all depends on the brief! I use a real mixture of processes, both hand crafted and digitally, but my favourite medium is definitely Gouache paint. Gouache is a type of paint which dries very flat, smooth and all one colour, and it sometimes looks like screen printed artwork.
I tend to work with really old and scratchy paintbrushes, because I love the messy texture you get from them. Most painters would probably shriek if they saw my paintbrush collection! Having mentioned screen printing, this is also something I do from time to time, too. Especially when I have a popular piece of artwork that I want to reproduce! It’s a really fun way to experiment with colours, shapes and textures.
When it comes to digital artwork, I’m really not that savvy with the various apps artists use, like Procreate, Illustrator and Photoshop. I only tend to use Photoshop to enhance or ‘clean up’ artwork I’ve created for my children’s books. Basically, I know how to use the eraser and the magic wand tools. That’s about it!
Having moved from Brighton to Sheffield, how do you find living as an artist in Sheffield compares to down south?
Making a living as an artist is hard no matter where you are, but it was especially hard in the South. Me and my partner had moved to Brighton after graduating from University, because we believed that we’d be closer to all of the creative jobs and opportunities. We lived in Brighton for two years, and I was juggling a day job in a cafe and any freelance work I could find. It was really difficult, and not a very stable way to live. Eventually, all of my hard work was beginning to pay off in the freelancing world, and I could no longer work both jobs. But I couldn’t afford to be a freelance creative in Brighton. The maths just didn’t work. So this spurred on the idea that the North might be a better option, as it’d be more affordable.
We packed up our little flat in Brighton and moved up North, and this allowed me to become a full time freelance illustrator. There are so many differences I’ve noticed about being an artist in the north/south, and I couldn’t possibly write them all down, but here are the main ones: Whether it’s the price of the flat you’re renting, or the cost of a Gin & Tonic, it’s all expensive in the South. Looking back, I couldn’t really afford to enjoy myself on the odd occasion that I had some spare time to enjoy.
Whereas the cost of living in the North is much, much lower, which makes it a great option for creatives. Since living in the North I’ve had a much better quality of life. And more Gin & Tonics. When I moved to the North, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the creative scene was thriving. I’ve met so many cool creative people and businesses since moving up North, the sort that I never experienced in the South. The creatives are proactive, friendly and very community orientated.
It’s definitely helped my business to thrive, through doing more art fairs, putting together workshops for children and even helped me find the perfect studio (and studio co-workers!). It might be a product of being more financially stable, or having a bunch of amazing creatives in my community, but I’ve definitely been more mindful since moving to the North. I feel like it’s a little slower paced up here, and I’ve definitely found that beneficial when it comes to being a creative. I’ve found it easier to overcome the dreaded creative blocks, have taken time to go out and be inspired by exhibitions and galleries, and have given myself more strict working boundaries (like not working past 5pm!). These might seem like relatively small things, but these are luxuries I didn’t have in the South!
It probably seems like I have nothing nice to say about living in the South, but that’s not true. It was incredibly fun at times, and living in Brighton, near the beach was delightful. I just wasn’t willing to give up being an artist to live there!
You have a very recognisable style. Is this something that has always found a way into your work? Or was there a sudden lighbulb moment?
It’s quite hard to pinpoint a moment where my creative ‘style’ came about, I think it happened a little more gradually over time. An important milestone in finding my creative voice was definitely illustrating my first picture book. I realised how much I enjoyed illustrating silly characters and creating these illustrated worlds for them.
My artwork is usually defined by a limited colour palette, which comes from my love of vintage illustrations, printed in just a few colours. Another common theme in my artwork is the ‘sneaky eyes’, which nearly all of my characters possess because they’re all up to some sort of mischief!
We love your take on the classic fairytales. Do you have an all time favourite fairytale, and any particular version?
The beauty of fairytales is how they are continuously twisted and adapted to become more contemporary. I have SO many favourite fairytales, but one that really sticks out is a book that my parents used to read to me and my siblings. ‘The Stinky Cheese Man’ by Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka is a collection of twisted tales, all of which are dark, sarcastic and hilarious. My favourite within that book, though is The Ugly Duckling, which is about a little duckling who was just a really ugly duck.
What artist or illustrator(s) have inspired you the most and why?
My biggest inspiration will always be Tove Jansson, the creator and mastermind behind the Moomins. As a child I was obsessed with the Moomins, I watched the cartoons, read the books and played with them as toys! So naturally, Tove’s magical folktales have inspired me and my love for fairytales and folklore, and I owe a lot to her incredible work. People often tell me that my artwork has a Moomin-esque feel to it, too - which is always the best compliment!
Importantly, what's your favourite food?
Lasagne or foamy banana sweets.
What makes you laugh?
Kate Beaton’s hilarious historical comic strips. If you haven’t already got a copy, go and buy Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. It will make your day.
Congratulations on your new book coming out, 'I Can Catch a Monster', can you tell us a bit about it?
My next book I CAN CATCH A MONSTER is publishing in April 2020, and will be my first, original fairytale. Up until this book, I’d only ever written twisted fairytales, so it’s really exciting to have created a tale which is completely mine. I work really closely with my publisher Two Hoots, and we had planned to move slightly away from twisted fairytales for the time being, to focus on writing some original fairytales instead.
Set in a Medieval kingdom, I CAN CATCH A MONSTER tells the story of a little girl named Bo. Her family are monster-hunters, but she’s not big enough to catch a monster - or so her brothers say. Bo’s smart, she’s strong and she’s definitely not going to listen to her brothers, so she goes on a quest to hunt a monster of her own!
Finally, have you got any advice for someone dreaming of illustrating/publishing their first book?
It’s really easy to get sucked into finding inspiration from your computer screen, but the best places to find interesting stories and cool things to illustrate is in the real world, when you interact with people, places, events and exhibitions!
Thank you so much Bethan!