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

Thursday 28 December 2023

Meet The Illustrator: Sheena Dempsey

Sheena Dempsey

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
I’m aiming for “Charming, engaging, warm and funny. Lovable characters and bright colours.”

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
My Yuyu hot water bottle, a cup of tea or coffee, my greyhound Jeremy, my iPad Pro, my Wacom Cintiq, notebooks/sketchbooks, little notes to myself on the walls like REMEMBER SHAPE VARIETY or Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work, which is a handy comics resource to refer to if I’m stuck. Lots of children’s books and graphic novels. A clothes horse with clothes drying on it.  Just kidding, it’s not essential but drying laundry can usually be found here.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I used to make everything with traditional materials but bit by bit, digital has taken over for the sake of speed and flexibility. I also feel I can make better pictures with digital materials because there are endless chances to get a drawing exactly how I want it. Photoshop and Procreate are the two programmes I use and I love them both. Once I get into a good workflow I can be pretty fast. For graphic novels it’s especially important to create the work in a timely way and to be able to make changes. It already takes me such a long time to create 240 pages of art for a Pablo and Splash book so I can’t begin to imagine how long it would take for me using pencils and inks and watercolours. I’d probably still be making Book 1 now rather than being halfway through final artwork for Book 2.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
So hard to choose only three but:
Tor Freeman - I’m a big fan of Tor’s illustration and comics. She is so funny and her drawings are so good they make me weep.
Jake Parker - Such skills and excellent draughtsmanship, I also love his podcast 3 Point Perspective.
Dana Simpson - I love her Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel series.

 Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
I think I’d love to go back to the Impressionism Era - all those relaxing picnics and water lilies and dappled sunlight and parasols. Even better, I’d love to see Pablo and Splash time travel there, I wonder how they would fare. Maybe they’d sit for Monet or be painted as ballerinas by Degas. Though I’m not sure Splash would be able to sit still for long enough to be a true artist’s muse and I’m sure they would get themselves into a pickle of some kind.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind and my family were supportive of that even though they mostly worked in banking and business. But realising I wanted to be an illustrator took me until I was in my late twenties, so I was a bit of a late starter. I don’t know how I didn’t catch on sooner but once I realised it was children’s books I was most interested in, things started to click into place a lot faster for me. I’d studied Fine Art at degree level, but my heart was never truly in it and it was always a bit of a slog. I was most inspired at the beginning of my children’s book journey by David Roberts, Mini Grey, Oliver Jeffers and Edward Gorey.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most
often? Talk us through it.
Here is a picture of my studio when I first moved into our house and it was looking very tidy:

And here it is today:

I’m surrounded by books in case I need to refer to them. e.g. My dressing gown is always to hand during the winter, as well as my Yuyu hot water bottle because I’m always freezing. Jeremy my greyhound is an essential part of my studio, he sleeps the day away under a duvet while I toil. My chair has a special cushion to prevent pain from sitting. I love to create in this little room at the top of our house.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I enjoy nearly all parts of the process but my favourite is putting the final touches to a piece that I’ve worked long and hard on, which has turned out in a way I am happy with. That is very satisfying. My least favourite is probably working out the perspective on a complex angle at the roughs phase, that’s always a head-scratcher. When I was drawing by hand, the worst part was definitely the scanning. Scanning is unbearably tedious.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Always have a side project! Make up a project for yourself and see it through. You never know where it will lead you. Pablo and Splash originated as a little webcomic that I started during the pandemic called Isolation Penguin. Because you are being most yourself when you are creating a project of your choice, this is where your work will shine and you will find your true creative voice and passion.


Sheena Dempsey is a children’s book illustrator and author from Cork, Ireland. She lives in Folkestone, England with her husband Mick and greyhound Jeremy. She has illustrated over thirty five books for children but Pablo and Splash is her first graphic novel.

For more information, please visit Sheena's website or follow her on instagram.