In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features illustrator Ruth Waters. Ruth is based near Brighton, in a village close to the South Downs. 

 Please note that this article was written before the COVID-19 outbreak and Ruth’s moving plans are currently on hold.

Tell us about your creative space. 

Well, I have to admit, I did consider being a bit loose with the truth here and painting a picture of the workspace I'd like to have... full of natural light, a few plants here and there, and one of those vintage architect's drawers to keep my sketches in. However, I figure that, like most people, you work where you can, and in my case, it’s on a table squeezed into my bedroom. It's not ideal working next to your bed, especially as I work in collage so there are lots of little pieces of paper everywhere. However, I've made it work for the last 14 months and it hasn't stopped me from doing what I do and meeting those all-important deadlines. Plus, I do have a wonderful view of the South Downs (if I crane my neck to the left) and, very excitingly, in a few months’ time, I will be moving house and have my very own room to work in!

 Wonderful view of the South Downs

Why does this place work for you? 

As you might have gathered, sharing my work area with my sleeping area isn't ideal. But it has proved to me that you don't need lots of room to do what needs to be done. Plus, most of the creativity takes place in my head. A year ago I worked on the illustrations of a 32-page picture book while on holiday in the back of a campervan. Now that was a challenge! Saying all this, I'm anticipating that once I do have an 'official' place to work I will be more creative. I cannot wait!

Do you need particular prompts to get started? 

I was recently looking through some of my old school reports and, without exception, they all state "she spends too much time day-dreaming". It’s true. I did. It was, and possibly still is, my best skill. It obviously gets harder to daydream when you're an adult and have so-called grown-up responsibilities (like feeding your kids and making sure they brush their teeth) but I still try to make time to empty my head of daily clutter and allow my mind to wander. This is usually achieved by going for a run or, for some reason, going on a train journey. And before I know it, I've got an idea for a story or character.

Storyboard for Love from Australia

Your creative tools – what are they?

I work in collage. I have a massive box of paper of all different textures, as well as found paper such as old music sheets and envelopes. I then paint these with acrylic using a variety of implements (rollers, old toothbrushes, sponges etc.) to create various effects. If I'm working on a picture book, I usually begin by drawing pages and pages of the characters in a range of postures. I then spend some time researching relevant photographs and then very loosely work on a storyboard to see how the illustrations work with the text. At this point, I often take a breather. I might go to the library and flick through books for inspiration – mainly to see how other illustrators use the space on the page and see what colour palettes I'm drawn to. I then go back to the sketches, draw more detail, and keep working at it until I'm happy to submit them to the publisher or my agent. Once they're approved, I begin working on the final artwork – selecting the paper, cutting and moving it about, and then sticking, scanning, and finally, using the computer for the final touches.

Making pictures - Love from Australia

Do you have a routine?

I work well to a deadline. I need this pressure to help me focus. And if I do have a deadline, I usually start the day with a 20-minute jog and then work for 4 hours before picking the kids up from school. If I haven't got a tight deadline, I tend to go for a longer run, hoover, make another cup of coffee and then sit down to work! I always have the radio on to keep me company.

What advice would you like to give to illustrators who are trying to get established?

My background is in marketing for theatres. I did this for nearly 20 years and really enjoyed it, but my passion has always been to draw and make things. However, since I didn’t go to art college, I always told myself to give up on the idea of ever being an illustrator. It was only when I returned to my theatre job after maternity leave and found it tricky to balance work and home life that I knew something had to change. I cut down on my work hours and spent more time at home with my son. And it was during this time that I thought it would be a nice idea to write and illustrate a picture book to give to him on his birthday. Fast forward 2 years, on a whim, I sent the picture book manuscript and three of the illustrations to a publisher. At this point, I was living in Australia and I was extremely fortunate that my story was picked up by the Melbourne based publisher Windy Hollow Books. This was an absolute dream come true and I genuinely didn't imagine it would lead to anything more. But, with the encouragement of my family, I worked on another story and then another and, before I knew it, illustration and writing had become more than just a hobby. So, my advice to other illustrators would be to not limit yourself by what you consider your own inadequacies. If you haven't had any formal art training it doesn’t matter. Keep going. Sign up to as many evening classes as possible. Go to workshops and join organisations like SCBWI! Make art for your friends and for yourself. Keep practicing and find out what your style is. And, sometimes, allow yourself to listen to your friends and family who often believe in you more than you do.

Behind the scenes – Not So Scary Bear

What was your favourite book as a child?

Anything and everything by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. I am now so happy to be passing this passion on to my own kids.

And why children?

I strongly remember the feelings of being a child. It comes to me very easily. Maybe I’ll never truly grow up! So, the idea of making up stories or creating illustrations for children is something I feel pretty comfortable with.

Ruth has written and illustrated three picture books and has two more coming out this summer – Not So Busy Bee (Windy Hollow Books) and Love from Australia (Little Hare Books). She also works on a variety of illustration projects for The Bright Agency, who has represented her since 2019. 

You can find Ruth on the following platforms

Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter @writingdilemmas and at

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this article, thankyou. It's lovely to read about someone else working with collage, and successfully managing it in a small space. Beautiful work!


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