We had a chat with illustrator Mandy Sutcliffe and asked her about her background, inspiration and the work that goes into creating her adorable characters, Belle & Boo!
How did you get into art and illustration? What is it that appeals to you? Have you always loved drawing?
Yes, I have always loved drawing. It was the thing I was good at and being an eldest child I think I suffered from wanting to be approved and noticed – so I drew more and got better. I didn't always love it. I suffered terribly (still do) from feelings of inadequacy. I remember the exact moment when I was choosing paint for a new illustration and feeling excited and thinking, ‘WOW this is the first time I have felt excitement rather than fear’. It was a pivotal point. Now, when I can I lose myself within the illustrations and there is truly nothing better.
Did you know your work would be so popular?
No, never. I always thought I was OK, maybe a bit better than average. I still get overwhelmed when I look at my favourite illustrators and have moments where I think ‘what's the point’, but then very quickly I feel challenged to keep trying, keep creating, work harder and push myself. It's so rewarding and humbling that people like what I do. What a pleasure!
What is your background – do you have any design or creative qualifications?
I did an art foundation course at Stockport, which was one of the most influential years of my life, creatively. I had some amazingly inspiring teachers and to DO art everyday all day was incredible. I then went on to Leeds to study a degree in Illustration. During my second year I went on an exchange to Paris and, again, this was such an influential time as I surrounded myself with art works by the greats: Degas, Bonnard, Vulliard. As a student, all the museums were free so I would pop in just to see a particular painting [ssiggghhhh]… to have that time again would be wonderful.
Are there any other illustrators or artists whose work you admire, and why?
So so many! My contemporaries would be Emily Winfield Martin, Julia Morstad and Rebecca Cobb. My dad is a wonderful draftsman and he taught me many of the things I use today– particularly perspective and the reminder to just start. A blank piece of paper is a scary piece of paper. My all time favourites are Cicely Mary Barker, Jessie Wilcox Smith, EH Shepard… the usual greats!
Tell us what inspires you the most in your designing and why it has such an influence.
The books from my childhood inspire me the most – and the golden age of illustration! They were such great draftsmen and that is usually what I look for – the line work and the sweetness of the pose. I am fascinated by children and the way their minds work. They have such great imagination and ease with which they exist in the world; the freedom to just be, I guess. Aesthetically, I am drawn to cute poses of children with big hair and turned in toes. Now that I have 2 of my own little models around the house, it is a joy to watch the way they stand and play and express themselves. That is my inspiration.
How did you come up with the names Belle & Boo?
I drew them and I named them. It's just who they were and have always been – no more interesting answer I am afraid.
What one design would be your favourite from the Belle & Boo range?
I tend to always love what I am working on at the moment. Currently, I am creating a Belle & Boo paper play Pirate ship. I also absolutely LOVE the cross stitch patterns that have so cleverly been created. I especially love seeing them as cushions. I use our new stationery and home wares from the ‘The Make Everything Better’ range around the house which I really enjoy. As having two boys that love Batman and Star Wars, my Belle and Boo pictures are slowly being replaced in their nursery booooo :(
What do you want people to get from cross stitching the Belle & Boo characters?
Peace, creativity, sweetness, an item to be hopefully treasured by the receiver and a curiosity about the characters and their story. We hope our products will be handed down the generations, I have art work on my children’s wall now that I had as a child in my nursery. If the same happened with a Belle & Boo cross stitch piece, that would be wonderful!
Tell us about the process of creating in your working day.
I work 3 full days a week. On those days I am at my desk with a coffee by 9.30. I then catch up in the studio with everyone socially and work-wise! Then, I check emails. Once I am read to start work I put on my huge headphones and download LBC's James O’Brien show from the day before – or the Archers Omnibus on a Monday!
Then I start! If I am working on a new project, I usual start by looking on Pinterest for inspiration. Then I roughly sketch out my ideas. I work on tracing paper and scan in lots of different bits and then manipulate my drawings in Photoshop, print them out, sketch back into them over and over until I am happy with the line work. At that point, I move on to colour which I also do in Photoshop, adding textures and drawn patterns as I go. How long a piece takes is so difficult to determine… I find time bends to fit deadlines so I guess the answer is how much pressure I am under to finish the piece!
Don't miss the fab Belle & Boo project in issue 239!