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Illustrator Kate Sharp talks Children's Books, Lockdown and Drawing Animals

6 September 20 words: Emily Thursfield
illustrations: Kate Sharp

After catching our eye with a sweet illustration of our magazine stands you can find around town, we’ve had the pleasure of working with recent-graduate illustrator Kate Sharp for our spot-the-difference series and many other illustrations featured in our past few issues. After she bagged a Young Creative Award for her children’s book, Lion’s Hate Pigeons, we took a deep dive into Kate’s colourful world, discussing her past, present and future plans…

Past
Children's books have always been my passion. Even when I was little, I used to draw my own stories; I didn’t need toys, just give me a piece of paper and I was happy. I just love getting lost in a story – books like That’s Not My Puppy and That’s Not My Dragon are so simple, and I like anything that has a bit extra to it too, like with textures rather than just flat pictures. Obviously I loved all the big illustrators like Quentin Blake, but I’d say I’m a big fan of all illustration – so it’s hard to pinpoint people in particular! 

During the transition between college and uni, I started making what I called daily comics as a way of keeping me creating every day. I found that a lot of the time I had ‘art block’ and I couldn’t think of anything to do. But creating these comics made me look back on my day and see I’d actually done a lot, so why not draw it? It was a good tool for me as well because sometimes I struggle with my mental health and they reminded me that I had achieved things, even if they might be small. It was nice reassurance that I had done things and I was progressing in my life. Even if it was just something like enjoying a cup of coffee on your sofa, having half an hour to yourself, you can still think ‘well I enjoyed that time, not everything is bad.’ 

Last year I graduated from De Montfort University in Graphic Design and Illustration and now I’m working towards becoming a freelance illustrator. My style is pretty colourful in terms of the illustrations themselves, they’re pretty simple line drawings with a lot of added textures from things I either find or make. I make a lot of my own textures using paint, chalk and all sorts, and find digital textures online too. I have a day job but it’s not creative at all, so at the moment I’m trying to write children’s books as much as I can.  

I like pigeons but I know not a lot of people do! Maybe it’s because they all look a bit scraggly

Present
My first proper children’s book was my final year uni project, called How to Pet a Dog. It was an instruction booklet telling children how to behave around dogs and it was a sensory story, so each page had a prop to go with it, like a texture, smell or sound to engage the kids. I was really focused on making it an inclusive story for people who struggle to just sit and look at a book.

The inspiration for Lion’s Hate Pigeons was actually the Young Creative Awards itself. I knew I wanted to enter, and the brief was just ‘Nottingham’ – at first I was thinking about Wollaton Park and stories on the taxidermy animals, but I came to the conclusion that the most well-known animals are the statues, and it would be cool to have them come alive. I went to the Square and there were a lot of pigeons around – I like pigeons but I know not a lot of people do! Maybe it’s because they all look a bit scraggly.

I started by taking pictures of the statues, and referencing pictures and videos from actual lions as well, and then filled up half a sketchbook with lions trying to perfect them. I then build up the story from there –  although crafting the words in a coherent way and making it sound like a children’s story is a challenge. Once I’ve got the story down I start drawing textures and gathering materials for the illustrations, and then spend a lot of time drawing the same thing over and over again! Lion’s Hate Pigeons won the Young Creative Award in graphic design for my age category, 19-24. 

Lockdown has been challenging. Creative-wise, I feel like my business has taken off and it's actually pushed me to do more because I've had no distractions from work and general life. I’ve been a lot more adventurous too, there’s not as much pressure to make something perfect as nobody is watching over you. But obviously, it came with its negatives too – my mental health has definitely struggled. But I’ve taken up painting recently which I’ve found has helped, because it makes you focus and stay calm. 

My main goal now is to be a children's illustrator, but I have lots of little goals on the way

Future
I’m currently selling vinyl stickers on my Etsy shop and donating the profits to the charity Mind Out, who help LGBTQ+ people who have mental health issues. This year was going to be my first Pride, the first time that I felt fully comfortable being part of the LGBTQ+ community. It was a big thing for me and I was so excited, but then the pandemic happened and nothing came of it. I was constantly going over in my head, ‘I wish I could have done something,’ so I made the stickers in the colours of the pride flag. The slogan, Don't Discrimihate, was from a uni project that I didn't really get to use and I loved the words and thought it was really catchy. I thought it was quite a fitting slogan because everybody in the LGBTQ+ community can agree that it’s not the nicest place to be sometimes. 

My main goal now is to be a children's illustrator, but I have lots of little goals on the way. I'd love to have my own shop one day. My favourite project to work on right now though would have to be all my animal paintings. There’s some on my Etsy and quite a few more on my Instagram that are being printed as well. There’s just so much variety to animals – I didn’t realise how many breeds of ducks there were until I was researching!

Drawing people, it can be difficult to get everyone engaged with them, obviously there’s a lot of diversity in the world and everyone is different. But with animals, everyone likes a picture of a duck! I personally really love goats. They're just a bit daft. For my eighteenth birthday, my mum bought me a zookeeper for a day experience, I got to feed all these exotic animals but the one thing I took away from it was my love of goats. They were all climbing all over me, they all wanted to be petted. They're just like silly dogs really.

Kate's website
Kate's etsy shop

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