Good morning and welcome to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books. Today is the first of several interviews with some of the best children's book illustrators around. So I'm delighted to be able to introduce Liverpool Illustrator, Maxine Lee-Mackie, who has been ever so kind in answering some personal questions about her career, inspirations and what makes her tick in the art world.
If you would like to find out even more about her other illustrations and work then you can find her being artistically messy at www.maxinelee.com
Equally, she's on Instagram: @MaxineLeeMackie or why not visit her Etsy Store. She has wonderful prints and a very interesting graphic novel which I, myself, have just purchased called The Ghost in the Window. So there's plenty to check out if you are interested. I hope you all have a great day!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I'm a children's illustrator from England, and I've been working on children's books since 2011. My sister and I were always given beautifully illustrated books as children, the kind of books that were otherworldly and special - the illustrations from those have always stayed with me. My mum is very creative and loves writing stories and poems, and my dad used to love drawing for us when we were small. I was always drawing as a child, but it was seeing my sister's pencil drawing from secondary school that really pushed home the idea that art is a real thing that people take seriously. I wanted to draw like that.
Can you tell us anything about any of the upcoming projects that you are working on at the moment?
I can tell you that I've just completed a giant bugs book which was very challenging - I love drawing bugs, but I don't much like looking at real ones doing their thing. Illustrating books like that requires lots of research, so I had to look at lots of bugs doing lots of things. At the moment I'm working on some fairytales from around the world featuring brave girls and women, a biographical book about a prolific storyteller who EVERYONE knows, and a book cover for a spooky follow-up.
What is the most unusual project you have worked on and why?
I work with international clients and sometimes stories are told in different ways depending on where you are from. Some of the stories I have worked on haven't always worked out with a happy ending - just recently, one ended up with me having to draw some bones at the end...that was strange.
What resources and techniques do you use and do you have a favourite you enjoy working with?
My favourite techniques all involve getting messy with my materials - black ink with sticks, cardboard, sponges, and anything else I can put my hands on, is the best. That said, when I'm working on work to be published, I work digitally. I do enjoy working on my computer, it opens up lots of ways to experiment and it makes me a bit faster so I can meet my deadlines, but I do like getting my hands dirty when I have more time.
What do you find rewarding as an illustrator?
I find it rewarding when I've solved a problem. I like coming up with unusual ways to show something that might seem boring. It's also really cool to receive the first copy of your book from your publisher!
What is your favorite book cover illustration/design and why?
I have so many of these! Today though, because it's on my desk, I can tell you why I love the cover for Issun Boshi, illustrated by Mayumi Otero. Everything about this book is beautiful. It has carefully chosen colours, very strong contrasts, and pure geometric shapes mixed in amongst organic shapes. In my personal work, contrast is the thing I'm always trying to capture. I can't always do this with client work, so I make as much experimental work as I can. It's kind of my hobby.
Who are your favourite illustrators and why?
I have so many! Brecht Evens is amazing and does lots of layering and translucent paint effects which are so delicate and powerful at the same time. Annette Marnat uses beautiful strong shapes with delicate textures and creates wonderlands that pull you on. I've just recently discovered Beatrice Blue and I'm struck by the layers of detail and light in her work.
(Illustration by Annette Marnat)
Where should a person start if they want to pursue a career in illustration?
Start with concentrating on what you want to do. Try lots of things out, build up a body of work that reflects who you are and what you want to do. Don't bend to fit the idea of what you think your illustrations should look like. Think of your illustrations like your voice - you can control it, you can imitate the sounds other people make, but in the end, only one sound feels natural. Work with that sound, and hone it. Once you've accepted this part of yourself, you'll feel a lot more confident in what you produce and it will be uniquely yours.