If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll probably know by now that our studio Christmas card has a recurring (and simple) brief. We ask an artist or illustrator to work with us on an image for the phrase: ‘31% Wool, 69% [insert Christmassy word/s]’.
This year we worked with illustrator Skye Baker. Here I chat with Skye about how we collaborated on this year’s card, as well as complementary career paths and physical versus digital processes…
Julia: You are both an illustrator and workshop facilitator – how did you come to these two career paths and how do they complement each other?
Skye: So I always knew I was a storyteller and always loved drawing but I didn't know illustration was a career until I did an art foundation at Camberwell. I still felt that wasn't enough time to have a set idea of what kind of artist I was so I went on to do a design degree in Leeds. The degree was quite broad so I tried out photography, graphic design, illustration and 3-D work but left feeling a bit unsure about what I wanted to do. I found myself continuously drawn back to drawing and making images so I did a few short courses as well as making personal work – now I feel like I found the right place I fit in in terms of being an illustrator.
I feel like as an educator and as an illustrator both roles crossover in being able to listen and communicate.
I think this uncertainty also led me to look for ways I could see myself outside of a design career. There weren't many people who looked like me from a similar background so it made it quite hard to picture myself in a role. But I've always been pretty proactive so I would go home for the summer and would find arts organisations to volunteer in and ended up working at Turf Projects. I was volunteering on the family art fun days. I also ended up working on outreach programmes at the University for widening participation and I think it made me realise how access to the arts is so limited I wanted to be a part of bridging the gap. So when I finished uni I did some more ad hoc assisting at various places and then when Turf had a role for front of the house I jumped on the opportunity and was able to explore interests in family arts and also working with MOSS (the makers of stuff squad) – an awesome collective of artists. I eventually started working in roles supporting the programmes.
I feel like as an educator and as an illustrator both roles crossover in being able to listen and communicate. Illustration is always mentioned as being trans-disciplinary where illustration is always in relation to a subject matter whether you are interpreting, empathising or raising awareness. With facilitating you are in relation to a community or helping to build a connection between art and a person, so in some ways it links I guess!
Julia: You collaborated with us on our studio Christmas card. Using this project as an example, what's your usual process when working with a client, from concepts to final illustration?
Skye: Normally I start with a conversation with the client and try to ask as many questions as I can. For example, practical ones like the size of the image to more conceptual ones like how they want the piece to feel, are there keywords or is there a colour scheme etc.
I then take any keywords or any key themes and I'll draw the rough space I have for the image – in this case, the size of the cards and start playing about with what I like to call visual word association. So for example I had Christmas dinner and wool. I would then draw quick-fire rounds of scribbled ideas just on paper using the two keywords. I then reflect and pick three out of the scribbles and create rough drafts to send to the client. These normally consist of line drawings in the chosen material I am using – in this case, I was using Procreate, a digital programme. Once I have created the drawing I then experiment with colour palettes – I work in limited colour palettes, normally four main colours and then shades of dark and light. I send these 'colour roughs' to the client and they pick their favourite and offer any changes and I then send the final illustration over.
Julia: With two sides to your work practice, do you get time for personal projects in addition to client work, and if so how do these inform the development of your illustration style?
Skye: Not massively – over lockdown, I got to spend time making comics and it helped me realise what kind of stories I enjoy telling and how I like to tell them. However, after that, I didn't get a lot of time to really do this. So since then, I've started an MA which is helping to carve out art time. I also believe the more you have time to draw the more you find your style so it's just a case of having time to practise.
Julia: What’s been your favourite illustration commission to date?
Skye: I was commissioned to draw a comic for The Rights Collective – a collective of South Asian writers and artists for their quarterly publication. It was a comic exploring 'maternal touch' in South Asian families. It felt really special to explore a part of unspoken shared history in my community as well as take part in such a wonderful zine.
Julia: Are there any recent personal projects you’d like to tell us about?
Skye: I've been getting into trying new processes lately – I did a pottery course quite recently and have been enjoying working in 3D. I've also been experimenting a lot more with printmaking at uni which I am also loving!
Julia: You use both digital and traditional methods in your illustrations – how did the mix come about, and what are your current preferred processes?
Skye: The mix sort of happened naturally as once I had access to programmes like Photoshop I would scan in drawings and textures and colour them in digitally, and that grew into me directly drawing into programmes like Procreate which is drawing straight onto an iPad. At the moment I tend to use Procreate for client briefs because I can get ideas out quite quickly but for uni work, I've really enjoyed getting back into using physical materials.
Julia: Apart from our card (obviously), what’s the most festive illustration you’ve ever created?
Skye: Probably some of my festive pun greetings cards! Some of which you will be able to pick up at Turf Projects festive market on 17th December.
The more you have time to draw the more you find your style.
Julia: And finally, what next for you in 2023?
Skye: To be honest, just getting to illustrate more on my MA and maybe opening an online shop!
Thank you to Skye for the chat. We think our woolly Christmas dinner scene is baa-rilliant (sorry!). We hope you do too. To keep up with Skye’s work you can follow her on Instagram.