Julia Patton – Illustrator Interview

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I didn’t know Julia was a Brit when I reached out to her but then I discovered she lives in the NE in the area where I went to university, has a great sense of humour, and is a great world traveler, so I knew we were kindred spirits.





[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[JP] I write and I illustrate picture books. I can’t create one without the other as they’re intrinsically linked as my dyslexia manifests itself as pictures when I see words, it’s the only time it’s a blessing. I find it very easy to work with both simultaneously, if for example I create a character, it’s name and a book title are born at the same time. Narrative is as important to me as aesthetics. 

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[JP] I live in rural Northumberland UK, but my heart lies in Asia, where I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled extensively. I love the exotic flora and fauna, warm climate, friendly people and incredible culture and it influences my work daily. I’ve just this week clothed a female character in traditional local costume taken from photographs on my last trip. I keep a visual diary of my travels documenting traditional cultures, dress, interiors, food, local crafts, celebrations which all sooner or later creep into my work. I love exploring the diversity of other cultures that I’ve witnessed, and am humbled to have such an important platform such as picture books in which to share these adventures. Creating picture books is huge responsibility I don’t take lightly. I’ve always believed it’s my privilege and responsibility as an illustrator to illuminate characters, suggesting the magical whilst interpreting the unspoken. 

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[JP] As a very young child I was given a large cardboard box full of art materials and paper from a close Aunt and I immediately felt like I’d found my special place. I have been cutting and sticking, drawing and writing ever since. I knew after school which pathway I wanted to pursue and I gained a BA(Hons) in textile design, specialising in fine art embroidery which was very drawing based. I continued my studies and gained an MA in illustration from Edinburgh University where my visual work was pared with narrative for the first time. I knew this was where I was meant to be. 

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[JP] I always carry an 6H pencil sharpened with a scalpel and sketchbook with me wherever I go and a pair of very sharp scissors to snip at any unsuspecting piece of paper/leaflet etc. that I may find. I love to find colours and textures this way. I write and draw both together as I described earlier and I fill my books daily with ideas, characters and stories. I have hundreds of sketchbooks which get edited down into a large A-Z filing system which I only place the very best ideas. I have on average 8-10 picture book concepts ongoing at any given time, leapfrogging metaphorically from one to the other as they blossom from seedlings into fully grown books. Here are some images of the tools of my trade. 

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from Snail Mail, and the process of creating them? 

[JP] Receiving Samantha’s text was a dream to receive and to be pared with her to illuminate Snail Mail was a blessing. It was an absolute pleasure to create the snail characters and breathe life into theme by one. Here are some images of the first character sketches and the fully coloured end results. Samantha is a dream to work with, friendly, intelligent, creative, hardworking, insightful and completely inspirational. We’re getting our heads together soon to collaborate on some more books together as we’ve loved this journey together and don’t want it to stop.


[JM] I so agree, Sam is a star, and I am thrilled this collaboration will continue. Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[JP] Dr. Suess ‘ Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are’  I believe the narrative is as poignant now as it was all those many *ehem years ago. I adored the fantastical creatures and environments he conjured up allowing me to be transported to another world. Richard Scarry’s Busy Day A-Z Book enabled me to pour over the tiny details for endless hours, always finding something new to discover. I have chewed this book almost within an inch of it’s life I loved it so much.   

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[JP] Here is a sneaky peak of my new studio. I’ve just moved from a very rustic (and cold) woodshed to an underfloor heated studio with ceiling to floor glass windows over looking the undisturbed rural Northumberland countryside. I am a very organised creative which keeps me calm under deadline pressure. 

[JM] Love your tools! Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to? 

[JP] I’m instinctively drawn to characters that have a unique voice, who’s story I feel needs to be told and shared. One of these is a non-gender specific character called Charlie whom doesn’t speak, doesn’t feel like they fit in, someone who lives in others periphery. That is until they find their missing ‘voice’ a rescue dog called Pip. Pip shows Charlie how to engage in the world, illuminates her daily life and gives her the confidence to become seen and heard. This very special book is about to be created with Sourcebooks, the second title after The Very Very Very Long Dog. The later title had a sublte message which was very close to my heart too  “We love our friends not in spite of their flaws, but because of them.”

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your home? 

[JP] I’ve only hung a few sea scapes drawn in pencil from one of my local coastal villages. I also have created some artwork inspired by my last home which I have created in collage and mixed media. All these artworks are in a minimal muted palate as I like to live very simply surrounded my natural materials that keep me calm and relaxed.  

[JM] At what point in your process do you start thinking about the end pages? And do you have some favourite end pages you would like to share with us?

[JP] Here are some of my favourites I’ve created from ‘Snail Mail’ Running Press Kids, ‘Unstoppable Max’ OUP and ‘Drat That Fat Cat’ Sourcebooks. The latter’s endpapers were drawn initially before any text was conceived, and when I showed them to my publisher as a concept for a book they fell in love with the character and commissioned the book, so they’re a particularly important part of the creative process. 

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? (photo?)

[JP] This little wooden hut in the tropical rainforest on Tioman Island off the east coast of Malaysia, my go-to happy place.  

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[JP] No pets, just two boys that are as smelly and noisy as wild animals! 

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city/town!

[JP] I’ve a suggestion for an alternative but it’s top secret. There is a very tiny little secret harbour called Cove which is not too far from me, the best thing to do it build a little camp fire with driftwood on the beach and cook some local seafood just brought in daily by a little blue wooden boat. Shhhhh!

[JM] OMG, my dream destination! What was your first paid job out of high school?

[JP] I founded my own greeting card company creating handmade cards that I sold to large stationers and high street stores. 

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[JP] Green tea and tom yum soup

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