Be it from the perspective of a bookseller or a publisher - the prospect of an annual wave of fresh talent from the Edinburgh College of Art is always a tantalising one. Every year I visit the degree shows to check out the fresh meat - and I am never disappointed. I first discovered Eilidh Muldoon's work at her MFA degree show in 2013, where she showcased her imaginative collection of paper cut-outs, prints and patterns of characters and buildings from Grimm's Fairy Tales. My attention was caught by the perfect balance struck between the traditional tales and the modern expression of them. Two years on and Eilidh is celebrating the publication of her new colouring book, 'An Art Adventure: Around the National Galleries of Scotland'. I caught up with her to hear all about it!
Hi Eilidh, welcome to the Wee Red Writer blog! How are you this fine day?
Very well thank you. I'm in my cosy studio after a chilly wintery walk, and planning to spend the day working on some really nice projects.
A Huge congratulations on the publication of your first colouring book! It's a feast for the eye...
Thank you. I am so pleased to finally have my hands on a copy. And yes, I have started to colour it in!
Understandable! Your surface pattern design work clearly informed this book - can you tell us about the commission process? Did you know from the beginning it would be so intricate or did that grow organically?
I knew I would get really stuck into the detail. Much of my work is intricate and characterised by delicate lines. During discussion with the gallery about the style of the book we talked about simplifying it for a younger audience. We tested out samples with visitors to the gallery and found that even very wee ones enjoyed colouring and adding to the detailed images. So we decided to keep the more intricate line work, but to mix it up with some larger areas of white space. I’m really pleased with the balance.
How did the process compare to illustrating the picture book, 'Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose' written by Lynn Rickards?
They were both lovely projects to work on but very different to one another. 'Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose' was my first go at illustrating a full colour picture book, and I was lucky enough to work with a great writer and art director who taught me a lot. I experimented with a variety of materials and methods to create colourful and appealing characters. In contrast, ‘An Art Adventure’ has allowed me to return to creating fine, intricate linework.
Do you prefer working in black and white or in colour?
That’s a hard question to answer! Both have their rewards and obstacles. Can I say both equally?! I found my comfort zone in black and white illustration, but now that I have developed my linework I am enjoying experimenting with colour again. I hope to create a full colour book in this more detailed style.
Sounds brilliant! Your work is so varied - what do you enjoy about working with the different colour palettes?
I am naturally drawn to quite muted and limited colour palettes. Without intending to I seem to have created a rather blue and yellow portfolio! There are some bursts of brighter colours in there as a result of commissioned work for book jackets, packaging and posters that have specified use of ‘punchier’ colours. I quite like working to briefs that might take me out of my comfort zone, as it keeps me on my toes. I can end up creating something unexpected that feels fresh.
Can you tell us three golden rules you learned at Art College?
Draw, draw and draw! I know that’s only one, but it is so important. I remember being told to ‘draw like no one is watching’, which sounds cheesy but it is true. If you draw to learn rather than impress then you will never find a reason to stop. Even if it feels like a sketch isn’t going well, I keep at it because I might look back on it later and see things in it that will inform future work. I had better give you two more… experiment with as many different materials and processes as you can, you will wish you had taken the chance once you are out of the college environment and it is harder to access facilities. And always clean your paint brushes!
Valuable advice! When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
I remember saying I wanted to be an artist from a very young age, and I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I studied History of Art as my undergraduate degree, but would spend my spare time making images in response to stories and to my surroundings. I don’t know why it took me so long but one day I decided I wanted to do that for ever, and so I applied to Edinburgh College of Art to study a Masters in Illustration. They let me in and I haven’t looked back!
We're so glad they did! Who is your favourite illustrator and who inspired you growing up?
Another tricky question! I have a lot of favourites. I have always loved Janet Ahlberg’s illustrations – 'The Jolly Postman' is my favourite book of all time, when I was wee I used to make books with fold out pages and letters from the characters in the stories. Anthony Browne is one of my illustration heroes. His images are so sophisticated and communicative. Whether joyful, serene or melancholy they never patronise the audience. I have great respect for children’s books that acknowledge children as intelligent and discerning. I sometimes see books published that don’t seem to take into account that children are a tough audience to please and not easily fooled!
Very true! Can we have a peek at your studio? What do you like about the space you work in?
It is teeny tiny but I love it. I’m very lucky to have a space in my flat that I can use solely for working. The only downside is the lack of an external window, so I can feel a little isolated at times. However, it has an internal window so I get natural light coming in and it is very peaceful.
Peaceful workplace = peaceful thoughts. So what are your favourite books this year?! (It's a tough one!)
So many. Deep breath… The Little Gardener and Wild, both by Emily Hughes; Oliver and Patch written by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Kate Hindley; Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton; Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a Girl; The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty by Beatrice Alemagna, Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner. I’m also a huge fan of Emily Sutton, especially her ‘Clara Button’ books and she has a new non-fiction one out written by Nicola Davies which is a delight. I also love Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. I could go on…
That's a great list! So what are the most enjoyable things about your job? Is there anything you could do without?
Drawing pictures and calling it ‘work’ is pretty cool. I have met some wonderful people – illustrators and other creative people working in the publishing industry – who have been very supportive and encouraging. Building a network of colleagues despite working in relative isolation most of the time has been a nice surprise. Taking on a wide variety of design and illustration commissions is fun because it brings me into contact with different people and allows me to try out techniques that I might not have come across otherwise. This sits nicely alongside the time I spend working on my own projects and books. I teach part time at Edinburgh College of Art, it is extremely rewarding and inspiring to work with illustration students. So what could I do without? The admin. Maths is hard and spreadsheets are a tedious necessity!
Hear hear! And finally... the three tools you just can't live without?
My ‘Rotring’ fineliner cartridge pens (especially the 0.3 nib) and my scanner are essential. It’s not really a tool but I also always need a good podcast to listen to!
Great tip! Big thanks to Eilidh for joining us on Wee Red Writer. An Art Adventure: Around The National Galleries of Scotland is out now and you can find out more about Eilidh on her blog and follow her on Twitter.
There's a copy of An Art Adventure up for grabs for one lucky reader - all you have to do is share your best childhood book story in the comments below - the best story wins! Competition closes on Friday 27th and any stories submitted after that date will not be considered.