For our studio Christmas card we have a recurring (and simple) brief for the artist or illustrator collaborating with us: ‘31% Wool, 69% [insert Christmassy word]’.
This year we worked with illustrator Lis Watkins. Here I chat to Lis about how we tackled this year’s card together, as well as the importance of sketchbooks and blogging…
Julia: The way you describe your practice is ‘drawing your way through life’ – how did you become an illustrator?
Lis: I always loved drawing and studied at Brighton and Kingston Art Colleges. I chose Illustration as that seemed the best option for someone who loved to draw. And that is what I am essentially, a drawer, but that looks a bit weird when written down, so I call myself an illustrator.
Julia: You collaborated with us for this year’s Christmas card. Using this project as an example, what's your usual process when working with a client, from concepts to final illustration?
Lis: Well, you had seen a sketchbook drawing that I had made of The Churchill Arms in Kensington and suggested it could be used as a starting point for the card, using the style of black line with patches of watercolour. I made some black and white line roughs from the discussed concepts, one was selected and after a few small amends, I produced the final colour artwork. It was hand-drawn and then scanned into Photoshop and sent as a digital file.
This tends to be the way I work with most clients – once the brief and deadline is agreed, I produce a black and white line rough, then do a few amends, before the final colour artwork is sent digitally.
Julia: How important are personal projects to your practice and do they inform your client work?
Lis: I am not sure if it counts as a personal project exactly but I do spend time regularly making drawings on location in my sketchbook. It serves a few purposes for me. Firstly, I find it a great way to clear my mind and recharge as I just concentrate on shapes and colours. Secondly it is good training, like a musician practising scales or a dancer doing barre work. Spending time outside and discovering new places is another benefit. Lastly, it is a way to create content and show potential clients what I can produce within those parameters as ideally I would like to get more commissions for this type of reportage work.
Julia: What’s been your favourite commission to date?
Lis: It has to be when I was asked to take part in Sketch Tour Portugal in 2017. I spent a week drawing in and around Lisbon as part of a collaborative project with Turismo de Portugal and Urban Sketchers. I had to produce six drawings a day for a week and it was an intense but incredible experience! My favourite thing is to spend time drawing on location, capturing the essence of a particular place, so it was a dream invite to receive. You can see some of the images here.
Julia: What personal project is closest to your heart?
Lis: Probably the most recent one where I made a series of drawings based on a trip to Spain in 2019. I really enjoyed looking back through the photos that I had taken and recording all the little details that I had found fascinating. It was especially nice to do during Lockdown periods. Initially I had hoped to produce a little book about the trip but failed on that part of the project. Like all these things, you learn just as much from what doesn’t go right as what does.
Julia: You are also a keen blogger and have run your online sketchbook Line and Wash for a decade. How integral is Line and Wash to your work?
Lis: Everything that has happened to me professionally over the last ten years is because of my decision to start a blog. Initially, it was a personal challenge to draw something every day for a year after being inspired by meeting up with old art college friends. Posting drawings each day publicly became a way of taking tiny steps to return to working full time as an illustrator again after a gap focussing on family life. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a bit like sending out messages in a bottle. You never know who is going to see them, you don’t know where something will wash up and who will find it. It led to me getting small commissions, selling prints and developing new technical skills. The blog has evolved over the years and is still a place where I record my drawing journey. I am currently thinking about what I would like to do with it in the future.
Julia: Apart from our card (obviously) what’s the most festive illustration you’ve ever created?
Lis: I have drawn Christmas food, Christmas stockings, a Christmas Market and a few robins and reindeers. I also created a Christmas compilation for Goodwood a couple of years ago.
Julia: Plans/projects for 2022?
Lis: Staying alive and keeping healthy seems a good plan for 2022! As far as work is concerned, I specialise in illustrations for the travel and event industries, so obviously there has been some effect from the pandemic. I am lucky to still have kept ticking over with commissions from my existing clients, for which I am very grateful. Over the past few years I have been asked to give sketching workshops which I have really enjoyed and it is something that I would like to expand on. I am not a qualified teacher but love to share my sketching knowledge so it would be great to do more of those too.
Thank you to Lis for chatting with me. We love our woolly snowman. We hope you do too.