by Mandy Sutcliffe of Belle & Boo
Hello my name is Mandy, and I draw the pictures for my company Belle & Boo. I run the business with my good friend Kate, and we have another two lovely ladies, Tracy & Helena, who look after our retail and wholesale orders.
From time to time I get asked to answer questions about my work from students, and it never fails to remind me just how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love as my career.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago (although it was!) that I was sat in the college library with my best friend Sharon. We were in the third year of our Illustration course at Leeds Met Uni, nervously writing to our favourite artists, and I do mean ‘writting’ . Email had yet to arrived in Leeds! My letter was to Sally Mann, via her publisher in the States, and I was thrilled when she wrote back to me a few weeks later and sent me a signed photo. Sharon’s was to a local artist and she was invited to visit her studio and then for afternoon tea at Claridges, it all sounded very creative & glamourous.
So I was particularly reminiscent when I received an email from a current Leeds illustration student Claire, asking if I would have time to answer some questions. It was around the same time Sara asked if I would contribute to her fantastic new blog, so we all agreed that others might find my answers interesting. I do hope so, and if not skip my post and read some of the other fantastic articles that have been posted below.
1. What first made you interested in illustration as a career?
I always suspected I would do something creative as a career, as it was the thing I was best at growing up. When I started my 1 year Foundation Art course after A-Levels I had no idea what direction I would choose, and that was exciting. We got to do 2-week tasters of lots of different disciplines – photography, printmaking, sculpture, fashion. My strength was drawing, and I specialised in the painting module.
When it came time to apply for degree courses, I was undecided between Illustration & Fine Art, so I would visit both courses at each art college. I found many of the Illustration courses too clinical, drawing boards & carpeted floors, but equally I found the Fine Art course to unstructered & scary. It was at Leeds I found what I was look for, an illustration course with Eassels, paint on the floor and intersting open briefs. I arrived on the day of my interiew with a suitcase full of sketch books. I think they new I was serious and made a joke about coming to stay.
2. Which designers past or present have influenced your work? (or any particular pieces of work that you love?)
I am heavily influenced by the story book illustrations I grew up with. My particular favourite was Milly-Molly-Mandy, the map at the beginning is etched on my brain. I think E. H. Shephard and Cicely Mary Barker are absolute genius. Other favourites are Bonnard, Vuillard, Degas, Maurice Sendak. Contempaires I admire are Jen Corace and Mark Rydan.
Left to right:
- The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
- My favourite flower fairy drawing as it reminds me of my little sister & I (we looked just like that)
- I have this Jen Corace letter press print hung in my bedroom
- This Vuillard painting gets me every time… simply stunning
3. Are there any blogs or websites you follow regularly?
Yes, I subscribe to Tiny Showcase, and I regularly check decor8, but to be honest, what often happens is whilst replying to a comment that has been left on my blog I see something that catches my eye on their blog, that links through to another blog, through to another, etc, etc, and two hours later I remember I was meant to be doing something else! I am always looking at Etsy, I find the the Time Machine function useful to see what’s being listed and sold – it is dangerous though for the bank balance!
4. Any illustration/design books you could recommend?
I just really enjoyed Play Pen by Martin Salisbury – it includes a good selection of the best of contemporary children’s illustrators from around the world. In the introduction, Martin Salisbury has an important quote from Walter Herdeg that pinpoints why it’s so important to expose children to good art: ‘The smallest owner of books has his special, private art gallery and a unique relationship to it, for he pores over his favourites endlessly, staring at them with a fascination that guarantees indelible memories of scenes and subjects – French, Swedish, Swiss, English, and many others.’
5. How would you describe your work if you had to explain it to someone?
I keep saying it is ‘Vintage with a contemporary twist’, but I really need to come up with a new line! I usually end up waffling on about picture book type illustrations but for your walls. I find it very difficult to talk about what I do. I am very lucky that I have a great business partner, Kate, that can do all the talking for me.
6. I realise that you are an individual illustrator, but have you ever worked collaboratively? Do you think this helps or hinders your work?
Belle & Boo is definitely a collabrative effort. True I do do all the art work, but I am often asking for the other girls’ opinions, and our customers are always sending in new ideas. I have just finished working on a new collection of girls clothing with a UK-based designer, and before that I worked with Australian designer Tea Pony on two sweet Belle & Boo dresses. I need to talk through my ideas, sometimes the smallest comment can lead to the biggest and best ideas. I regularly try and meet with creative friends, and like I said, my partner Russ is creative, which helps us both HUGELY. He understands that sometimes you can’t just finish work at 6 o’ clock, or the plans you had made for the weekend have to be cancelled at the last minute, we are a true collabortaion !
7. How did you start out in illustration and get yourself noticed in the industry?
I sent mini portfolios of my work to different publishing companies, and luckily one called me in to chat further. I left the meeting with a story to have ‘a go at’. I worked so hard for weeks, but in the end the I didn’t get the job.
That was the first of many times I had to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again! I took the advice of a wonderful lady at Walker Books, ‘Show you can draw the same characters in lots of different situations, show you can capture emotion, and brighten up your colour palette’.
Once I was confident I had achieved all this in a new series of art works, I arranged a meeting and again I left with a story. This time it worked out, and once I had my first book published it was then easier to approach other companies.
8. Anything else you’d like to add, or any other advice you could give to a budding illustrator?
Gosh, my advice would be to work hard and most importantly believe in yourself. I was told for years whilst working in the greetings card industry that images of children from the front don’t sell. I have since gone on to sell 1,000’s of cards with forward facing children!!!
Claire ended her email to me with… ‘Bit of an epic questioning session there, but if you are ok with answering any or all of the questions above, it would make my year!!’ How could I refuse that?