Artist Spotlight welcomes Yvonne Gartside, the marvelously creative children’s literature artist whose work showcases bright, dazzling color infused with enticing visual storytelling details. I first became acquainted with Yvonne’s art via Twitter and was immediately delighted by her fairy tale artistry. Each of her lovely art pieces succeeds at telling a superbly creative and conceptual storybook tale.
Delicate use of light and sweet charming little characters make up her world highlighting children’s adventures, stories and best of all, pirates! While Yvonne’s style showcases beautiful children’s picture book artistry, I am captivated as well by her talents in graphic design, painting, wildlife art, and ink sketches. Always creative and developing her artistry with unique, personable touches, Yvonne’s imagery continually engages me with her smart and skillful use of eye catching color. By the craft of her hand, each piece offers a chance to imagine each little character’s adventure and drama. I have so many favorites from her art gallery that I have lost count, including the playful, sweet cheetahs art featured in this interview. Let’s get to know Yvonne a little better and take a visit into her beautiful world of luminous children’s digital artistry.
Welcome Yvonne, please tell us about yourself and your creative background.
A very big thank you to Sondra for asking me to participate in the Artist Spotlight interview. I am very happy to be have been invited to be featured on her blog and hope that you will find this to be interesting reading. Well let me begin . . . I am an artist working from home. I am based in Lancashire, UK – the place where I was born in 1971. Most of my childhood was spent growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa as my parents moved out there when I was little. At the age of 24, I met my husband-to-be, whilst on holiday in the UK. I then returned to the UK in 1995 to live, work, marry and settle down. So I have travelled full circle! Although I love to do my traditional painting and drawing in practically any room in the house, my main studio space is comprised of a desk with an Apple Mac computer, which I tend to relocate around the house from time to time. Most of my art these days is digitally created using Photoshop and Painter software, although I often love to use other traditional media such as graphite pencils, chalk pastels, acrylic and oil colours. I love watercolour too, but have never quite mastered this medium to my satisfaction, as it tends to have a mind of it’s own, and I prefer to have control over detail!
As a child I have always been of a creative nature. Thinking back, living in South Africa, I was probably influenced by nature and the vibrant light, color and textures of my surroundings. I remember accidentally spilling yellow acrylic paint on my parents pure wool carpet (more then once.) This carpet then had to be cut up into smaller pieces to make smaller rugs! My childhood was very much spent in the outdoors, playing in gardens, riding a bike around the neighborhood, playing with beetles, sand lions, grasshoppers and other insects in the sand. Listening to birds, frog and insect sounds. We went to the nature reserves and enjoyed camping and watching African wildlife (the Big Five) on our holidays.
As a hobby, I used to paint the wildlife I had seen, using oils on canvas, or pastels on Canson paper. I loved replicating the detail of the fur and capturing the reflections and realism in the animals eyes. I always delve deep into my memory bank of my experience in Africa when I need some inspiration or motivation to create a new piece. I won the art trophy at school, then went on to study at Technikon Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Here I completed a three year course in Interior Design, which included a six month basic art foundation course. This covered everything from drawing life form studies, painting, sculpture, form and colour studies, graphic design, photography and history of art. I really thrived on this course and it took my basic artistic abilities to a much higher level. This paved the way to me securing a job as an Interior Designer with a large property company in Johannesburg, where I worked for a number of years before returning to the UK.
Fifteen years were spent in London, during which time I fancied working in graphic design, so started creating portfolio pieces and experimenting with Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw and InDesign software, in the hope of landing a graphic design position. No such luck! So, I became self employed and drew up floor plans and designed property sales brochures for London Estate Agents. That work was an adrenalin rush, tough, but very lucrative. But alas ~ I felt I was not using all my creative potential and I had a real desire to become an illustrator ~ which is what I have always, deep down, wanted to be!
I have since moved away from London and now live in Lancashire with my daughter and husband.
So, here I am today, still a beginner, with a long way to go in the world of illustration, or so it seems! Since my daughter was born, I have been enchanted by the magic of children’s book illustration and feel that this is my calling. So now I am slowly building up my illustration portfolio and hopefully will become good enough to evolve into a fully fledge professional children’s book illustrator. One day, when I feel ready and have the correct material to market myself professionally, I will approach children’s book publishers both here in the UK and in the USA.
Do you feel that you create your best pieces when you set scheduled time to sit down and draw or does your favorite work come to you when the idea just hits you and you create in the moment?
Well a bit of both really. Usually, I think of an idea, write it down, or do a rough sketch, then set time aside each day to complete the full colour illustration. Sometimes I can think of an idea at the most inconvenient and strangest of times, when I don’t always have a pencil and paper at hand, to scribble my idea on. The initial pencil drawing can be done on the spur of the moment if time allows, but I usually try to cross my fingers to remind myself to make a note of my ideas, otherwise they can just disappear! After I have done the final pencil drawing with all the detail, and I’m happy with the composition, I then photograph or scan the drawing into the computer and then render it digitally. I enjoy detail, so plenty of time is a must. I rarely do final illustrations in a hurry, as it never works out to my satisfaction. I think my best pieces come from an idea I have had in the spur of the moment, but then after the initial pencil sketch, lots of planning then takes place over a number of days to create the finished piece. I always intend it to end up looking as much like the image I first imagined.
Did you have a point in your art career or personal life that had a significant defining and affecting moment on your work and style?
Oh yes indeed. When I lived in Africa, around the age of eighteen I started to really appreciate the beauty of the wildlife we would experience, from tiny frogs, chameleons and birds, in our own back garden to the magnificent BIG FIVE that we saw on camping trips in the nature reserves. I used to love sketching them in the bush, then back at home I would do large pastel drawings of them. I especially loved painting the big cats – lions, leopards and cheetahs. I even did some large oil on canvas paintings. At that point I really wanted to become a professional wildlife artist. I dreamt of having my art hanging in fine art galleries internationally, and maybe even owning my own wildlife art gallery one day. Sadly that did not come to pass.
When I came back to England, I missed the inspiration of the African wildlife and the natural surroundings. I still wanted to paint wildlife but found it increasingly hard to be motivated as time passed, and the longer I was away from South Africa. I am a firm believer of one’s art being influenced by one’s surroundings. Then after fifteen years of working in London, in a non-creative occupation, and also the birth of our child, I started to be influenced by the beautiful illustrations in children’s books. I knew I was more of a wildlife artist in the past, but knew I had a strong desire to do children’s book illustration as a career. After a lot of trial and error, practicing and basically changing my whole view on art and my techniques, I am now developing a style of my own and hope it will open new doors to success in time to come.
What is your favorite part of your creative and art process? What do you draw your inspiration from in the moment of creating?
That’s difficult to say. I think I love the initial brainstorming process using pencil on paper, when the imagination is working at it’s optimum to get the magic and atmosphere of a scene down on the page. Like a camera taking a shot of a scene, the brain is taking a shot of its imagination for a short moment in time to be captured forever. Once the idea has been captured on paper I can then relax and enjoy working on it digitally, tweaking composition and choosing colours, which is also a very enjoyable and therapeutic part of the process. I love listening to music while working and find that it’s very inspirational. Some music I like listening to while doing my art is Cafe Del Mar, Andreas Wollenweider or Metallica, not to mention loads of 80’s favourites! I guess it depends on the mood of the moment.
What would your ideal studio look like?
Oooh I love this question! Well I would love a huge light and airy loft space with light coloured walls, loads of oak supporting beams and oak floor boards. Oh yes, a vista window at one end and skylights. I would love a corner for my artists easel, a large desk for drawing on, and another desk for my computer which would be looking out of the window onto a stunning view of the countryside. Not to mention loads of storage space for paper and canvases. Lots of drawers for pencils, pastels, paints and brushes.
How do you divide your time between your creative art and working on promoting / looking for new clients via social media/marketing / PR / or what lessons have you learned to make this process make sense and run day to day more smoothly?
This is quite a difficult aspect of being an artist / illustrator these days, trying to juggle marketing yourself with trying to be creative, all at the same time. I believe the two don’t mix. I find I have to be 100% dedicated to creating my illustrations, as they are so time consuming to produce. One cannot reach ones full potential artistically, whilst spending half of the day on social media. When I first started playing around with Twitter I was totally enthralled with it, to such an extent that it took me away from my art and sapped up all my creative energy. I realised that if I was to be serious about becoming a professional illustrator, I should divide my time sensibly, but not necessarily equally, between producing quality illustrations and marketing myself on Twitter.
So I have now cut down drastically on the time spent on social media to give more attention to my artwork. The serious marketing will be done at a later stage, when I feel happy that I have built up a substantial amount of quality work in my portfolio. Although it’s very encouraging to see fellow artists work and I love keeping in touch with illustrator friends and keeping up with what’s new on social media, but not to the point of being obsessive. It has been a big learning curve and I am now comfortable that Twitter will keep working for me even if you leave it alone for a while to get on with the creative side of things. Usually I’ll be tweeting for half an hour in the morning before starting my illustration and then another half an hour, later on in the evening. Hopefully that’s helpful to you!
Do you like to stay fairly true to an initial idea / sketch / art vision? Or do you like for your art to change as you go along the process, sometimes resulting in a finished piece that is dramatically different from what you first envisioned?
I try to stay true to the initial idea, although it depends what I am painting or illustrating. For example, if I am painting an abstract piece on canvas, in oils or acrylics, I would choose which colours to use, but thereafter, the shapes, brushstrokes and texture would be random, therefore the final effect would be evident only once the painting was completed. The same is true when using watercolour. As the paint colours and water flow and mingle, it’s difficult to predict how the finished piece will look, unless of course, you used a tiny brush and painstakingly painted in minute detail. However, when working digitally, more control can be exercised if working on layers, and more accurate selections can be made. Also composition and colours can be tweaked so that the desired effect can be met, and your initial vision and idea is more likely to be realised.
What inspires you in other artists work? Similar to your own style or very different?
Oh, I find many artists and illustrators work is of a very high standard these days, and I definitely have my favourites. I adore their work and keep track of what new pieces of art they have produced. I try to keep up with their high standards of quality and love the whimsical ideas they come up with and colour palettes and textures they use. I wouldn’t say that my style is similar to anyone else’s, or anyones is similar to mine. We are all different and we all have our own ideas, techniques and fingerprint. I have noticed though, that many digital illustrators, including myself, have gone with the ‘no outline’ look which gives a cleaner feel to their work and helps one to feel more a part of the image, if makes any sense.
When have you been the most satisfied with your work and what art piece in your gallery feels connected the most to “you”
I think whenever I have completed a new piece of work, the favourable response on social media, helps me feel satisfied with what I have produced. At the end of the day I am not just trying to please myself, but also the public, as obviously I would like my work to have saleable appeal in the market for which it was intended. When I first started my art in my teens, I loved painting wildlife as I lived in South Africa, and I felt very connected to my subject matter and was extremely satisfied painting it.
However I have moved on now, living in England, and find pleasure and inspiration in other things. I think as long as I am drawing, painting and using my imagination, no matter what the subject, I am satisfied. I am particularly happy with one of my fairly recent pieces, which is the Dragon, a piece I did for Colour Collective. I really went wild with my imagination and colours in that one and It seemed to be a favourite with a lot of people. I feel connected with the dragon piece as it recalls memories of my childhood and that song “Puff the magic dragon”. Another piece I feel connected with, is the zebra in the red Fiat. I drew that fiat from a photograph I have, of a red Fiat we owned when I was a child.
Tell us about your art and process for creating “The Fearsome Pirates” picture storybook by Alastair Millen. How did you develop the look and style for these wonderful little pirates with such fun visual personalities?
This project came out of the blue, when I was inspired by a few lines of a rhyme about pirates I saw on social media. So, I got in touch with the writer of this rhyme, Alastair Millen, and discussed the possibility of creating a children’s picture book out of it. Ideas where flying back and forth and we agreed it would be a good idea, so he tweaked some of his lines and jigged it about a bit until we were happy with the flow of the story. I then continued to do loads of large pencil drawings complete with all detail and texture. I really enjoyed this part and creating the characters was great fun! The characters faces and style of the clothing had to be consistent with each character throughout the book. After all of the pencil drawings were completed, I transferred them onto the computer and began to digitally colour them up in Photoshop. We then decided to self publish the book, so it is now available to download for Kindle from Amazon. See below for purchase details.
What is “success” to you? Has this evolved and been redefined to you over the course of your art career?
Success to me is being able to make a decent living out of your chosen career path. I don’t believe in doing anything for free unless it’s your hobby and you don’t depend on it financially. At the end of the day we all need income and to have a good standard of living. Of course it is fun doing illustration, but it is also hard work and time consuming. Illustrators and artists should be recognised and financially rewarded for the time and effort that goes into producing a quality piece of work. If it’s what you do to make a living you should stick to your goals and strive for success and don’t accept anything less. Ever since I started doing art, I always set out to eventually benefit from it financially. That is part of the motivation and incentive to keep producing beautiful work that will appeal to the marketplace.
What kind of encouragement do you give to someone who is just starting out as a children’s illustrator and feeling overwhelmed as a little fish in a big ocean of illustrators?
To be honest, my advice is to think twice before leaping into this profession, as there is so much competition today. Although many illustrators use traditional medium and techniques, technology has played a part in changing the way some illustrators create their artwork. Using photoshop and other programs can be a steep learning curve when you are first starting out. However, if you are determined and there is no stopping you, give it a try! Illustration is not a nine to five job, it is a lifestyle, and everything you see, touch and smell provides inspiration which ultimately influences your creations. My advice is to be dedicated and produce a quality piece on a regular basis to build up your portfolio. Find your unique style and don’t try to be everything to everyone. Once you are happy with your portfolio, find an agent or market yourself directly to the niche market you are trying to engage.
I know you for your talented children’s illustration but please tell us a little about your graphic design and wildlife portraits.
I love graphic design, and designing logos, business cards, menus, brochures, and doing book layout and design. Although most of my work is focusing mainly on children’s book illustration at the moment, I can accommodate commissions in the graphic design sector. As for my wildlife portraits, well I still adore drawing or painting wildlife as a hobby, but it is something I did more of in the past. It’s more a question of having enough room to do huge oil paintings on canvas, as space is at a premium in our house. More space ~ and I would definitely have an easel in the corner so that I could have a go at painting whenever I wanted! Of course, if a wildlife commission came my way, I would soon make room!
I LOVE your use of color and whimsical style of your recent illustrations for Twitters fun Color Collective group and Pinch Punch Post…Can you tell us how these groups motivate your creatively and the importance of participating in an artist community?
Thank you! I consider myself very lucky to be a part of a fantastic and hugely talented community of creatives out there! I think, being able to share your latest creations, spurs you on to keep improving on your work and style. It motivates you to produce a new creation almost every week. Creating new pieces regularly is very important as illustrating is a continual learning experience, actually, it’s a way of life. Also, you learn new techniques and your illustration style develops. Your portfolio can also be replenished with better work. I always look forward to Friday evenings when a wonder of colour and imagination suddenly ignites on Twitter, when everyone puts their work up for Colour Collective and Pinch Punch Post.
Where do you show your work and where can fans view your portfolio?
More of my work can be seen via these links:
“The Fearsome Pirates” Kindle edition is available here: USA $3.09 / UK £1.99