'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 2 July 2020

Meet The Illustrator: Jools Bentley

Name: Jools Bentley 

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Characterful and humorous.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
Pencils, both coloured and graphite.
Gouache paints.
A variety of brushes.
Plenty of paper.
A Wafer daylight lightbox.
iMac for photoshop.
Wacom tablet.
Epson A3 Scanner.
Epson A3 Printer.
iPad for Procreate and Pages.
A kettle, mug, good coffee, and a cafetière.
Oh, and my phone to listen to podcasts.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
Probably my Caran D’Ache pencils as the colours are so beautiful. And my Holbein Acryla Gouache paints: they’re unique because they are not reactivated by water in the same way as acrylics, but still have the lovely matte finish of gouache. 

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Tomi Ungerer: His work is brilliantly funny and clever, and as soon as I look at his drawings I feel the sudden itch to draw! My particular favourites of his books, are Crictor and Emile. The way in which he manages to create so much character with his simple use of line, is completely awe inspiring.

Tove Jansson: I was so lucky that I managed to catch the Tove Jansson exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, twice. But nothing could have prepared me for the wondrousness of her beautiful gouache paintings. I got completely lost in her art, and the magical worlds she created. It was also great to learn about the other aspects of her vast creative output, I shall never forget it!

Quentin Blake: If ever I feel that my drawing is getting tight or over worked, then I forcibly make myself open a Quentin Blake book and marvel at his loose and expressive line. In just a few deft strokes of a pen or brush, he manages to capture the exact right movement or expression. My favourite of his books is Cockatoo, which never fails to make me snort-laugh all the way through! 

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
I would like to be able to go back in time, and be one of the first people to visit Peggy Guggenheim’s Exhibition by 31 Women at her Art of This Century gallery in 1942. This was one of the first ever exhibitions to showcase exclusively women artists, such as Frida Kahlo and Meret Oppenheim. And even though this was still a time when female artists were not being taken seriously, I think this exhibition must have been thrilling. 

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator? 
As a child I was always obsessively drawing, and I loved entering art competitions. I went on to study for a BA in Fine Art, but it wasn’t until I had my own children and read picture books to them, that I realised illustration was something that I wanted to do. I became fascinated by the interplay between word and image in picture books and the unique challenges presented by a 32 page format. I love writing stories as much as I love drawing, so in discovering new picture books for my kids, I inadvertently found a new direction in my own creativity.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
I don’t have a studio, so I mostly work on my kitchen table. My kids are at uni, so I have the luxury of not having to clear up at the end of each day! I work on a tilted drawing board for posture reasons, and I like everything to be neatly organised and easily accessible. I love looking at pictures of beautiful and messy artist’s studios, but working like that would drive me insane! I like to have all of my pencils and paints in colour order so that my mind can stay clear, and I like mellow jazz or a good podcast playing in the background. Heaven.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I love the early stage of picture book creation, which for me is usually letting my mind go blank and sketching new characters. I then look at them all staring back at me from the page and see which ones ‘speak’ to me. From there, I see if any of theses characters may have a story to tell, and if they do, I will go on to draw more potential scenarios. That’s definitely the part I get most excited about. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
I think my number one piece of advice is to take yourself seriously as an artist. It took me many years to learn this lesson. As we know, it takes a huge amount of practice and dedication to develop the skills required to be an illustrator, so never play that down. I really don’t like it when I read illustrators saying they ‘doodle for a living’. I think this makes it sound easy, and it isn’t. Sometimes when we draw, it can look as though we’re doing it with ease, but it has often taken an incalculable amount of hours to acquire that skill! And don’t undervalue your work, either. Creatives are far too often asked to work cheaply, or for nothing, with the incentive that it will raise their profile or be great for the portfolio. But every time you do that, you make the issue worse. Solidarity my friends! 

I am an illustrator and author of children’s books. I’m from London, but currently live in Bristol, UK, with my husband and French Bulldog, Pixie. I have a BA in Fine Art, and an MA in Children’s Book Illustration, which I gained at The Cambridge School of Art. Whilst studying, I won First Prize in The Macmillan Prize for Children’s Book Illustration. My debut picture book The HippoPandaMouse is published by Macmillan Children’s Books and I am currently working on book two.

For more information please follow Jools on her instagram.