Feronia Parker-Thomas is yet another graduate of Camberwell College of Arts. She is now qualified as a teacher herself, signed to The Bright Agency and has just produced the illustrations for her first children’s book How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow. Her fab piece for Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion features one of her favourite animals…
Would it be fair to say that you liked bears? What is it about them that appeals so much?
Yes, I am incredibly in love with them! I have done since a young age but have never really thought about why I find them appealing. Thinking about it now, there are two reasons that jump out at me. Firstly, they are lovely to draw, their fur is a fun texture to render and their shape is full of beautiful curves. Secondly, I think humans have always been fascinated with bears; there are examples of bears in prehistoric cave paintings and there are lots of bears in myths and legends. They have quite human features and I think we project whatever we are feeling on to them.
How did you settle on your idea for my colouring book?
I love picture books and this is the area of illustration I am drawn to and mainly working in, so I wanted to do a narrative piece about a girl and her ‘imaginary’ bear. I was thinking about my sister and I when we were children sitting under tables creating imaginary worlds. I liked the idea that the girl was collecting food for her bear and then we get to see the big feast that ensues.
What is your preferred method of producing an illustration?
I draw out a loose sketch of what the illustration will look like and then flesh it out in pencil, I then use my lightbox and the original as a template. I will usually do a watercolour base and then add pencil over the top for detail. I have dabbled in digital colouring recently but I am still not sure; I like the flexibility that digital can give you, but something doesn’t feel quite right for me. There are some amazing digital illustrators out there doing a much better job that I can! I work in the flat I share with my boyfriend in Streatham, and we have lots of books and plants and artwork on the walls; it is a lovely space with lots of light.
Since graduating from Camberwell College of Arts in 2010 what have you learnt about the business of being an illustrator?
It is a rollercoaster; it has highs and lows. A high has been signing to The Bright Agency, they are going through quite an exciting time at the moment so it is great to be a part of it. I have learnt you have to put yourself out there; your work can’t be found if you are hiding it! If I was to give one piece of advice it would be to join Twitter and Instagram and share your work, get your work seen by anyone. There is a great community of illustrators on Twitter that support each other, it is lovely to be a part of.
Why do you enjoy teaching so much and how do you balance being a teacher with being a working artist?
I love teaching because it forces you to look at art in different ways. It sounds incredibly cheesy but I love seeing the new generation of artists develop (insert puke noise here). The arts in schools are under threat and I think it is important to try and show young people that art can have so many different applications in life, I really enjoy winning round unwilling kids. It has been hard at times to balance the two, especially when you might have a tight deadline, but I love illustrating, so when you love doing something it isn’t hard to motivate yourself.
Can you tell us more about your first picture book? it sounds great!
How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow is about an argument between the Sun and the Clouds. Without them working together there are no rainbows, so some very determined crayons work together to try and fix the problem; it is a great story about team work. The book was really fun to do and took me out of my comfort zone a little because they wanted the illustrations in crayon, which isn’t my usual medium. I had a great working relationship with the author and editor; so it was a really positive experience for my first book.
How is development of your own ideas for a children’s book coming along?
Slowly but surely! I am trying to develop characters for several different ideas at the moment, it is nice to have the freedom to flit backwards and forwards and have space and time to develop. I am huge fan of David Roberts‘ illustrations for Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect. They are wonderfully detailed illustrations, I seem to be drawn to illustrators who use lots of detail. I love Carson Ellis‘ work and Janet Ahlberg‘s illustrations were a favourite of mine as a child. I loved Peepo and The Baby’s Catalogue; I could still look at the Jolly Postman for hours.
I love your drawings from Highgate Cemetery – what prompted this personal work?
The Transport Museum’s ‘Places and Spaces‘ theme for last year’s Prize for Illustration my starting point for these images. I didn’t end up submitting an illustration in the end but it was great to work to a brief. I am fascinated with cemeteries; I went to Paris last year and spent a large proportion of my time looking around different cemeteries there. In many ways it is an unfinished project, I thought I might do illustrated maps for ‘The Magnificent Seven‘ cemeteries in London but never got round to it; watch this space!
Who are the Pirate Kids?
The Pirate Kids were two characters I created about a year ago as a portfolio piece. I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t developed them more, at the moment they are frozen in time!
What else do you love to draw and why?
I really enjoy drawing people, I get an intense satisfaction when I do a portrait and it actually looks like the person I have drawn. Last year I did a series of portraits of women I consider to be icons, feminism is an important cause to me and I wanted to celebrate them.
Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion will be available to preorder on Kickstarter VERY SOON, so watch this space!
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