Featured Illustrator - Lorna Murphy

Our Featured Illustrator this month is Lorna Murphy. After studying children's illustration as a mature student, Lorna graduated with an MA from Anglia Ruskin University and now devotes her time working from her studio in Suffolk on projects for all age groups. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

After working in finance for years and constantly feeling out of place, I went back to art school as a mature student. I could always draw but was never sure what to do with it. Then I found the Illustration course at Anglia Ruskin and started to entertain the idea that maybe I could actually turn this art thing into a career. From the start, it felt like I had finally found my tribe. I became a sponge, just absorbing everything and loving every minute. I met some amazing people too. I’m glad I came to it late because I was much more driven and appreciative of everything the course had to offer than I would have been at 18. Also, skills from my previous ‘life’ served me well, particularly around dissertation time (which most artists hate). I loved it!

The degree introduced me to the world of illustrated books and I was hooked. A creative-writing module and the right encouragement re-ignited a storytelling spark that had lain dormant for years. I went on to the MA specialising in children’s books, where I discovered the sheer variety of illustrated books out there. I was particularly drawn to visual storytelling: wordless books such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and those of David Weisner; or those with minimal text that such as Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick that invite you to complete the story. I also loved Brian Selznick’s tribute to silent film The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Reading these books, it struck me that there was a strong connection between the visual language of film and picture books and I became interested in using this language in my own work. I was, and continue to be, amazed by the ingenious ways in which author/ illustrators have used the tiny 14-spread framework of a picture book to tell huge stories.   

There are other illustrators I love for all sorts of reasons. My current favourites are: Mini Grey; Laura Carlin; Anna Laura Cantone; Eric Puybaret; Amanda Hall, and Brian Wildsmith.

At my final show I had a lot of interest in my ideas but it became clear I needed to develop more as an illustrator. I threw myself into doing just that: experimenting with techniques; reading every book about children’s book art I could lay my hands on; networking and lurking in libraries a lot. I even ended up working there, taking full advantage of the research opportunities! I was lucky enough to work with my brother, the children’s science writer Glenn Murphy, on projects for Macmillan and Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Both were very relaxed in their remits which allowed me to experiment. 

image for Poo!
image for BWF North Carolina Science Fair book

My first love will always be fiction and two of my own picture books had done the submission rounds so I decided to self-publish them. I learned a lot about how the publishing industry works during this time. The books also gave me an excuse to run themed workshops with children which was great fun and rewarding.  All the time, I was still experimenting and working to develop my art.

Maisie’s Mountain
The Springboard Book
Eddie the Careful Cat

So those first 3 years post-uni were pretty exhausting and I decided I just needed a break. During this hiatus, it became clear to me that I was trying to be everything all at once: writer, artist, designer, self-publisher, and illustrator. Stepping back meant I was able to find my focus.  Then fate intervened. All that networking started to pay off and I was approached to illustrate a number of books and covers for self-publishers. This got the juices flowing again and my art started to really move forward. 

My present technique came about due to my preference for dry media and aversion to flat colour. I sketch the image out with my Derwent Sanguine pencil on layout paper and define it with a darker graphite pencil. This is scanned and coloured digitally then re-printed. The paper impression gives the image a lovely textured look. I add more texture and tone by working into the image with pencil and wax pastels which have a subtler mark than oil. The final image is re-scanned and tweaked in Photoshop. Recently I’ve started to add layers of tonal underpainting to give the image more depth.  I love the result.

Around this time, I sought out feedback and online groups specialising in children’s books. That’s when I discovered SCBWI - which was perfect. Now I had access to a wealth of knowledge, information and opportunities at my fingertips.This renewed focus means I’ve started to seize more chances to get my work out there by submitting and entering competitions like the Tomie di Paola Award listed on SCBWI’s site. I attended my first SCBWI conference last year and was amazed at the opportunities it provided. Already, I’m starting to reap the benefits and I’m very excited to see what happens next.
the evolution of Eddie the Cat


Be A Sponge: Absorb everything. Immerse yourself in the children’s book world,

Network: Go to social gatherings, conferences, join crit. groups. You never know what opportunities will arise or where they’ll come from.

Get Feedback: Don’t wait for your work to be perfect. Enter competitions. Get some feedback from people whose judgement you trust otherwise you could waste a lot of time doing the same thing over and over and not really progressing.

Take Time Out: If you feel a meltdown is imminent, STOP.  Do something else for a while. You’ll come back refreshed and raring to go again soon enough.

Keep Your Old Work: There’s no greater cure for a ‘wobble’ than looking back and seeing how far you’ve come.

Good luck!


See more of Lorna's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery!  

Her personal website is here, contact her by email here.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to hear your story into the children's book illustration world, Lorna. I love wordless books too and I also enjoyed writing the dissertation and analysing the work of other artists. Your book ideas and characters are very interesting. I hope to see you next month at the Portfolio Intensive in London.



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