This month's Featured Illustrator is Olivia Villet. Graduating in Cape Town, Olivia launched her publishing career in the UK, where she's worked on a wide variety picture books and greeting cards. See more of Olivia's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I have always drawn and remember clearly setting off to family events as a child with my drawing book and pencils in hand.

When I was young I loved drawing people, of all shapes and sizes - and saw myself as a fashion designer. But that all changed when I was accepted to the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa to study Fine Art.

After 4 years, I graduated with the realisation I was never going to be a career artist so continued with an Honours Degree in Children’s Book Illustration. It was during this time that my lecturer, Paddy Bouma suggested that I join her illustration group and there I met the wonderful Nikki Daley who looked at my portfolio and suggested I send one of my story ideas to Bloomsbury Books, UK.

And that is how it all began - I thought nothing of my submission until one day a while later I received an email from Sarah Odedina at Bloomsbury who had plucked my painted envelope from the slush pile. After a few tweaks a book contract arrived. A very exciting start to my fledgling career! It seemed like the perfect time to get on a plane and move to the UK, book contract in hand and rucksack on my back!

The original slush pile envelope image is still on my studio pin board.

Chester’s Big Surprise was published in 2001 and was followed by numerous books with Harper Collins and Chicken House amongst others.

Chester’s Big Surprise, Bloomsbury Books, 2001
After the birth of my first son I took a career break. I certainly didn’t stop drawing but I left my agent and ended up moving back to South Africa for 6 years. During this time in South Africa I worked on a few children’s books, illustrated greetings cards and did a collaboration with a large homewares retailer. I also discovered a love of making ceramics, something that I hope to get back to in the near future. Ceramics gave me the opportunity to ‘play’ with clay and then paint and draw on the things I made.

Clay is a wonderful creative outlet, which enables you to make and draw at the same time.

Working on greetings cards really gave me a taste for hand lettering which I now enjoy adding into my illustrations where appropriate. I do think that hand lettering makes your work uniquely you and is something that you shouldn’t be scared of!

Greetings Cards by Stuff From Africa

All these experiences have resulted in my working process changing dramatically. I have moved from working using a gouache resist technique in the early days, to where I am today, which is with my pencil, drawing book and then scanning into Photoshop. I love the process of drawing and have now started using coloured pencils and watercolours to add to the layers. I feel that this way I can keep the physicality of image making and retain the marks that are so important to me but now with the added bonus of building and cleaning up along the way!

Left to my own devices I love drawing animals and am quite partial to drawing dogs. I love dogs! And more than that, I love drawing dogs in clothes! Our Cocker Spaniel, Spike, doubles up as the perfect model (without the clothes of course!) and studio companion. Besides drawing and drawing some more, I love reading and now running too, which is a new found hobby.

Every studio needs a dog!

My favourite book growing up belonged to my brother and was called Alban (Alban, Barbro Lindgren, A & C Black Ltd 1975). I look at it now and see how all the things I have always loved are in this book – dogs, texture, outlined images, coloured backgrounds, mark making and a very quirky story to boot. Alban always reminds me to be true to my style and to myself and to make work that is 100 percent me!

One more international move (I have packed and unpacked enough homes now!) sees me back in the UK. I am currently working on my own story ideas and am actively looking for representation.

Being back in the UK and close to London means that I take full advantage of exhibitions and have enjoyed many events (thank you SCBWI!) and workshops, all of which feed into my work. Ones that really stick in my mind are the recent Portfolio Review Intensive, which was brilliant and highly recommended and a very enjoyable writing for children workshop run by The Writers and Artists Yearbook. I have also started a life drawing class, which is a brilliant way to meet fellow artists, allows me to get messy with charcoal and really stretches me creatively – I love every minute!


See more of Olivia's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery

Her personal website is here. Follow Olivia on Instagram and Twitter @oliviavillet.

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