In 2008, there was a devastating recession in the UK. Money was tight and as a freelancer, work was very thin on the ground. Contracts were cancelled and I took on second and third jobs to keep the wolf from the door. I struggled to create sample work that I thought would be commercial, bring in money, give people what they wanted. All resulting in a big fat Nada…
I was worried but friends kept telling me not to give up because, ‘you never know what will happen….’
It was a difficult period but with hindsight, also creatively very productive. Once I had relaxed into the acceptance of having no work and without the constrictions of deadlines and designer visions, there was time to make art that was entirely my own. It was a surprise that my heart steered me towards fine art and what I wanted to make had very little to do with children’s picture books.
I was drawing regularly at life classes and at a weekly drawing-in-a-pub meetup group. Paintings and portraits were created in biro, in acrylic – so little like my usual watercolour illustrations that they looked as if they had been done by someone else. Only a few have been exhibited and looking back, seem a little clonky, but I learnt so much and was so excited by, I suppose, the idea of transformations, of new choices and other, future possibilities.
It was also the time I became interested in making maps as fine art objects. I’d illustrated maps for children’s books before…
…but had come across the illustrative map work created by fine artists such as Grayson Perry, Adam Dant and Stephen Walter – for adults, shown in gallery contexts and with something different to say about how we perceive, or indeed map, the world in general.
Inspired, I made my own map of my home town, Brighton, annotated with stories both personal and historical. Further maps of the history of coffee, the flightpath of a particular Barbestelle bat and the moon followed. Always I mapped places that fascinated me. There were no particular rules to follow and I mapped purely for the fun of it.
Out of the blue, a few gallery shows came afterwards; at Onca Gallery and for Correspondence. My most recent mapping adventure took me sailing across the North Atlantic as part of an artist residency tracking whales which also resulted in a gallery show – ‘The Whale Road‘.
It is from there that we come most up to date. In 2015 I was approached by a fairly well known publisher to see if I was interested in writing a book about hand drawn maps. I was asked to make a rough list of potential chapters and a few sample pages back in September and after a long, long, long wait (during which I had actually given up on the idea that it would be published), have finally been given the go ahead. It will be the first book I have both written and illustrated, my first book for adults and my first book about maps. My first meeting is tomorrow.
I suppose my point is (and also note to self…) that you never know where life will take you and even if it’s tough, good things can eventually (sometimes years later) come from the times when you think you are struggling. It’s always worth opening yourself up to exploration and playfulness – doing something just for the heck of it even if you don’t expect to make any money from it. And if another recession hits, or my book illustration work dries up for a while, I’ll try to continue to make new work which comes from the heart.
Perhaps I’ll go back to those paintings and drawings again…. You never know what will happen…