7 April 2020
Laura Barrett gives some beind-the-scenes insight into her process for "The Little Mermaid"
14 August 2020
Dawn Cooper’s illustrations are teeming with references to the natural world, her work capturing and celebrating the small differences to be found in her chosen subjects; whether that’s ocean inhabitants, species of butterfly or the variations in shape and type of leaves. This consideration given to the smaller details is found throughout Dawn’s work, conveying that most important feeling; of care and consideration when it come to crafting her images.
Equally impressive is Dawn’s ability to pair natural, wilder elements with domestic scenes, reminding a viewer that we are never far from the great outdoors. Dawn is able to bring these natural forms home with her (from one of her many long walks) and skilfully commit them to paper: an ever present texture in her illustrations.
Dawn’s well observed style has found a wide variety of applications across book covers, packaging design, brand identity and much more, being put to use for clients like BBC Wildlife, Heath & Heather and Lonely Planet.
We spoke to Dawn about, Zoom meetings, Radio 4 and potentially owning chickens….
Where do you live?
In a particularly green part of Bristol, in close proximity to two nature reserves.
Where is your studio located?
I’m between studios at the moment, so I’m currently hot-desking in our study-come-music room at home (my other half is the musical prodigy). While I love the regular tea and biscuit deliveries, and having a window into my three year old’s latest schemes, I’m hoping to dive back into a shared studio space as soon as I can. I find the social and support network completely invaluable.
That said, our agency Zoom meetings have given me some pretty wild studio envy, so I’m also researching building a cabin in the back garden.
Can you describe your creative process?
After spending a bit of time with an illustration brief, I normally start by sketching a lot of different elements in pencil on paper, and trawling the web and my bookcase for reference images. I’ll then bring my sketches together to form a composition in Photoshop. Sometimes I’ll sketch some very rough thumbnails before I start a book cover, for example, but often the layout comes together more organically. After I’ve made any amendments, I’ll draw the individual layers in pen, scan and colour them in Photoshop. I love the colouring stage, and seeing the artwork come to life! I’ve recently bought an iPad, but I’m still very much getting to grips with it, so it hasn’t replaced much of my old process yet.
What does a typical working day look like?
I don’t approach my day in a hugely structured way; I just crack on with whichever project is demanding my attention while catching up on Front Row or Woman’s Hour, and I never miss elevenses.
Do you listen to music or the radio whilst you work? If so, what’s on your playlist?
I can usually be found binging on Radio 4, but if I’m trying to concentrate on a new brief or trying hard to meet a deadline, I might be listening to Caribou, Wilsen, Tycho, Elsa Hewitt, Jessica Pratt or Arlo Parks.
How long have you been with the Artworks for?
Since January 2014 – six and a half years!
What drew you to Artworks?
The amazing artists they represent, and how their styles are different, but so complementary at the same time. The day I was accepted into the Artworks family is one of my happiest memories! I didn’t feel like I was the finished article, but I think The Artworks has an amazing ability to see potential in artists who are still developing, and believe in them enough to take them on.
What books or programmes did you love as a child?
My favourite book in the school library was a book about a little family of mice who lived in a beautiful townhouse, but I’m not sure I’ll ever remember what it was called, and my dad had a big book about giants; it alleged they were responsible for painting the big white horses on hills in the countryside. The illustrations and folktales must have captured my imagination, because I was convinced giants were real.
Have they influenced your work in any way?
I’m not sure either of these things reveal much about my work today, but I used to draw in the margins of my school books, so I think I’ve always been something of a compulsive drawer.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be instead?
I think a florist, or a writer. Or perhaps studying for a botany degree.
What was the most important lesson you learned at Art School, if you went!
Put the hours in to make your best work! One of my tutors had a very frank conversation with me about my work output about halfway through my course, and it changed my attitude towards work forever. The other thing they impressed upon me was that images are more powerful and interesting when they tell a story. I always try to achieve this in my personal work, and in my commissioned work where I can.
What inspires you the most to create?
The natural world, exciting new projects, stories, seeing other people’s beautiful work, and our growing collection of picture books.
Name three artists that you admire.
Carson Ellis, Oana Berfort, Melissa Castrillon.
What kind of commissions do you enjoy the most?
Anything that indulges my interest in plants and animals, is a bit mystical, or where I can draw my own hand lettering.
I like open-ended briefs where I can visualise my own ideas, but I’m equally happy to interpret someone else’s vision.
Non-fiction books are a real labour of love and bring an incredible amount of satisfaction at the end, but quicker projects like book covers are a lot of fun too. I love the variety!
What would your dream commission be?
I’ve already done it! I was days away from having a baby (think single figures), when a brief to illustrate a cover for Pride & Prejudice landed in my inbox. I couldn’t say no! But I’d also quite like to write and illustrate my own picture book. I’ve an unfinished story up my sleeve.
Do you have any pets? If so, what and what are they called?
None! I’m quite happy to enjoy other people’s pets, without any of the responsibility, but one day I think I’d like some chickens.
What 5 things could you not live without?
My family and friends, the outdoors, radio, creativity and snacks.
What is your very favourite meal?
My partner’s chilli (meat free, of course!). It’s comforting and delicious.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
If I had the luxury of spare time, I’d go for a beautiful walk and take pictures with my camera, then I’d amble through an art gallery and spend an obscene amount of time in my favourite bookshop.
What is your current dream travel destination?
I’d be more than happy in a treehouse in Wales, but I’d also like to take a train to somewhere like Ghent in Belgium, or Lille in France.
To see more of Dawn’s work, click here.