3 July 2020

Meet the Artists – Heather Gatley

Posted in: Design, Editorial, Food, Illustration, Meet the artist, Painting, Pattern design, Publishing

Heather Gatley’s illustrations are all about emphasis; sparingly using specific lines and marks to hi light and draw the eye to an element of a composition, Heather creates images that are harmonious in their balance of colour, gesture and weight.

After joining the Artworks through the Startworks programme in 2006, Heather has brought her reportage style of drawing to a number of different visual contexts; her keen eye for capturing the characters of buildings, places, people and food have seen her work with clients like Condé Nast Traveller, Waitrose and Penguin Books.

Through Heather’s use of inks and watercolour washes, expressive colours are layered upon sparingly detailed pencil and ink drawings, making clear the subtle changes that happens throughout the time one looks at a subject; the slight changes in position of the viewer, the light moving throughout a day and the life that continues in and around these objects. Heather’s illustrations remind the viewer that nothing is static and her images are, before being put to paper, experiences first and foremost.

We spoke to Heather about her new studio, feierabendbier and Quentin Blake…

Where do you live?


Where is your studio located? 

I’m just about to set up a new studio with none-other than The Artworks’ very own Aurelia Lange! It’ll be our own space inside a co-operative building working alongside a bunch of other artists and designers who inhabit the other floors. Plenty of space to make all the mess with ink and paint that we want, keep a jungle of plants and enjoy the amazing view over Berlin from our 4th floor balcony.. exciting times!

Can you describe your creative process?

I start every project with a lot of visual research, seeking out inspiration relating to the subject I’m illustrating and also finding the right reference material to work from.

Then it’s drawing time! Either on my ipad to do very messy sketches to work out composition within a layout, or straight to the real pencil on paper stuff if I’m working with a bit more of a looser concept or unrestricted space. I’ll usually do multiple drawings of the same thing before I’m happy with the result, the looser the better and often that takes a few tries! Once I have the line-work down I’ll paint washes with either watercolour or ink which I’ll layer over the top in Photoshop. Then comes a lot of fiddling around tweaking colour/scale/placement etc until that special moment when everything clicks. Ta-da!

What does a typical working day look like?

Always begins with coffee and if I’m not strapped for time I’ll often use the whole morning to make a fancy breakfast too. When I do sit down to my desk I’ll usually start with emails and organisational stuff to give my creative-brain a bit more time to wake up and then I’ll typically work straight through the rest of the day before an evening bike-ride which probably ends with a feierabendbier (traditional after-work beer in German!).

Do you listen to music or the radio whilst you work? If so, what’s on your playlist?

I have a couple of podcast staples (thanks Adam Buxton and Mark Kermode!), but mostly it will be music all day. Genre-wise it’s all over the place but if I need some serious focus I‘ll put on atmospheric stuff like drone or movie-scores so I can just zone out/in to the process. If there’s a deadline looming and the pressure is on, a bit of post-punk or industrial techno can really do the trick!

How long have you been with the Artworks for?

Since 2006, they scooped me up fresh out of uni!

What drew you to Artworks?

I already admired many of the incredible artists they had on their books and the agency being on the smaller, more boutique side was a real draw for me too.

I felt immediately at home with the friendly and personable way Steph and Lucy were running things and feel really lucky to have also become part of the family with the other artists to have that sense of extended community, even when we’re all working so dispersedly.

What books or programmes did you love as a child? Have they influenced your work in any way?

I was obsessed with Roald Dahl so naturally Quentin Blake was always going to be a huge influence. All those scribbly wobbly lines that look so effortless, he is the king! On TV, my siblings and I would be glued to Art-Attack and anything stop-motion/claymation was always a big hit.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be instead?

Probably a cowboy? Yep, final answer.

What was the most important lesson you learned at Art School, if you went!

To not be too precious. (I’m still having to remind myself!)

What inspires you the most to create?

Travel for sure. Architecture, landscapes, people, the excitement of the new!

Name three artists that you admire.

Egon Scheile, Edward Hopper, Cecilia Carlstedt.

What kind of commissions do you enjoy the most?

My favourite jobs are where I’m asked to illustrate single objects/things.. like clothes or ingredients or products for example. Having just one thing to focus on I often have a bit more freedom to experiment with mark-making and play around with shapes and abstraction. Anything travel related is great too as it can sometimes feel like a little holiday right at my desk!

What would your dream commission be?

I’d love to do cosmetics branding, or working on something informational for a museum would also be cool!

Do you have any pets? If so, what and what are they called?

Right now I value my no-responsibilites freedom too much.. but future-me has many many dogs! 

What 5 things could you not live without?

  • Good speakers/headphones. 
  • A comfy couch for movie watching. 
  • A direct line to my favourite humans. 
  • Proximity to nature. 
  • Plans for a future adventure!

What is your very favourite meal?

Mexican. Every single item on the menu please. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Bike-riding into the surrounding nature of Berlin, cooking up feasts for friends, going to the cinema and concerts (…when that’s a thing again!).

What is your current dream travel destination?

Japan. The food, the landscapes, the stationary stores!!

To see more of Heather’s work, click here.