Illustrator Spotlight: Zoe Mellors
Award-winning Authologie illustrator Zoe Mellors lives in Nottinghamshire, UK. Zoe describes how growing up in a county most famous for Robin Hood meant she had lots of incredible history and fantastical stories about local legends on her doorstep. Graduating with an illustration degree from the University of Lincoln in 2012, Zoe’s first published work was also in this year. An artist who loves to be busy, she is passionate about working with a variety of authors and also exploring her own projects. She enjoys illustrating classic stories, and began with Jane Eyre! Zoe’s illustrations are textured, expressive and beautiful. We are delighted to have Zoe as part of our illustrator team.
Describe your illustration style in 5 words.
Textured, detailed, imaginative, charming .... and fun!
How would your art teacher at school have described you? I would like to think my art teacher would describe me as colourful, determined and curious. But if I’m being completely honest, probably a little messy too! I’ve always really loved my art, and
at school I got to experiment with many traditional mediums, including oil paint, which I usually got everywhere! But I am very grateful for my art teacher, as I never knew illustration was a career option until she recommended it to me.
How did you become an illustrator? I studied at the University of Lincoln from 2009 to 2012, where I received a BA (Hons) in Illustration. It took me a little while after that to keep defining my style, so I would regularly draw any themes or ideas that came to mind. It took me a long time to gain the confidence to share my work online, but I am so glad I did! I got my first fully illustrated children’s book project through my boss at the time, who introduced me to an interested author.
Can you explain the process you use when developing your characters? I always start off with a mind map, where I put all of the information that I know about a character, along with any embellishments that I think suit. So if they’re adventurous, maybe add that they’re a little clumsy, so they always have mud on their knees for example. Then I start the sketching, where I draw thumbnail size images conveying the most important bits about a character, and what will stand out about them. I keep going with this process until I get a design that I absolutely love! The next step is to do a full render using some super fun textures, and to create a character expression sheet, where I draw them in different poses and with different moods. This helps the character to be super consistent throughout the story.
What’s the strangest thing you have been asked to draw? I think the strangest thing for me was actually a tattoo design! I find it absolutely amazing that someone is walking around with my artwork on their body!
What illustration of yours are you most proud of? It’s so hard to pick one favourite design, as I love so many of the characters my fabulous authors have created! If I had to pick one through, it would be my Spring Paw Jax illustration. This piece was actually for a competition, and it ended up winning first place alongside a short story written by my husband! So it was super special for me to be able to collaborate with him on that.
Which techniques do you prefer to use when illustrating children’s books? I’m primarily a digital artist, so I love to mix and match a bunch of textured patterns to really bring my designs to life. So there does tend to be a little trial and error while I research new textures and test them out together.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process? My favourite part has to be initial sketching sessions. I find it so exciting to see my designs start from just a blank piece of paper, and sometimes I even surprise myself with where I end up!
Do you have a favourite illustrator? My favourite illustrator is Shaun Tan. The way he uses colour and texture is absolutely beautiful, and I am inspired by his lost and found aesthetic. My favourite book of his is “The Arrival”.
Do you have any rituals or routines which help you to think creatively and perhaps help you to overcome periods of creative block? I own a large collection of books (Over 1500 in total!) and a good amount of those are reference books and children’s stories. When I’m struggling, I tend to look through my books to help inspire me with the creative and imaginative ways that other illustrators have overcome their challenges. I also have a fair few sketchbooks lying around my home, so I look back on my old work, or just sit and doodle for a while until something comes to me!
Any tips for first time authors looking to hire an illustrator for their children’s book? I would personally always recommend paying for a sample illustration. It will help you understand how your illustrator works (as we all do things a little differently!) and lets you know if you will be happy to work with them for a few months whilst they work on your story. It’s important to know if their style meets your vision for your book, and its important to know that all artwork is bespoke and original for you. You can also judge how adaptable they are for making changes to their design and to check that you work well together! At the end of the day, and illustrator doesn’t just draw what your words say, they should add something to your story and help to define the atmosphere.
If you could illustrate for anyone, who would you choose and what are your ambitions for the future? Whilst there are numerous authors that I would be absolutely blown away to work with, I believe that it’s more important that I can relate to the story. Themes of acceptance, love, family and trust are really important to me. I feel that it is important for me to include diverse characters and themes within my artwork so that every child feels like they are represented, that they are important and that we love them for who they are. If I can make just one child in the world feel accepted and that their voice is being heard, then I am an incredibly happy illustrator.