Marion has built a justifiably formidable reputation over a twenty five year career as an author, designer and of course illustrator. Working in a diverse range of fields including editorial, packaging, retail, web design and architecture. Her distinctive illustrative hand-lettering style has been used in campaigns for Samsung, HP, Formula 1 and stamps for The Royal Mail. Through her best selling “Let’s Make Some Great Art” and “Draw Paint Print Like The Great Artists” books, she is an tireless advocate for the importance and power of creativity in educational development.
The role of creativity in early life is obviously something thats very important to you. Your books help families and young people explore their own creativity. What was your experience of creativity in school and does that still directly influence the way you work now?
I went to school in a small town 20 miles from Edinburgh. I don’t remember much art from primary school but at my secondary school I was lucky to benefit from a pretty extensive art department. At that time the government had put some funding into departments like Home Economics and Art, but they were not seen as serious subjects, more like alternatives for less academic children. I had one particular teacher who was very inspiring as he was slightly eccentric but passionate about art. He used to visit Salvador Dali every year and always came back with photos to prove it. He was the only Scottish artist at the time who had that relationship with him. He fashioned himself a little on him, complete with curly moustache. The careers advice officer at school on seeing that I was interested in art suggested that I might be interred in cake decoration as a profession. They didn’t have a clue about the Arts Industry.
Is this something you can relate to, how do you feel your work, particularly your books address this?
Absolutely. We are all creative, but it is not valued or rewarded at school and so not taken seriously from about the age of 11. You would think by now (looking at our successful creative industry) that the government might have learned that this is an area worth more investment. It beggars belief that it is constantly shunted to the bottom of the pile. Most people who make it into the creative industry do so through their own self belief and fight against the system. Most people regardless of their profession would benefit from some kind of art education. I used to think everyone should do an Art Foundation course regardless of career choice. Not only to enhance whatever practice or profession they chose but to help them enjoy and appreciate life more.
“This is my favourite project as I feel it offers an insight into creativity for children and adults alike. Many of the things I have learnt at art school and in my professional life, I’ve put into this book.”
You’re part of a really amazing work space with many cross-disciplinary creatives under one roof. How important is having a shared studio space to you and work?
Since leaving Art School I’ve been part of a shared studio. I’ve never worked from home. Until recently, I think I’ve taken this for granted but it has really come into focus recently as I fear it may end soon. Affordable workspace has always been around, not necessarily in the trendiest parts of town; it has been accessible and affordable. I’ve worked in Hoxton, Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, we were slowly moved a little further out (Dalston) as property prices rose and most of our studios ended up as luxury flats. Now that Dalston too has been gentrified, our lease is up for renewal and we will be forced out due to a dramatic rent rise. We are running out of places to go in London! I do wonder what many folks will do, perhaps leave the city, or perhaps just move even further out. I am a bit reluctant to do this now as I enjoy, walking, cycling to work. It may be that we will all have to learn to downsize and have to pay more for the luxury of shared workspace. It does work well as a model. My studio is a place where I feel I can get things done, make a mess, be sociable, be inspired and have fun. It’s never felt like a place to go to work. It’s a place I go to play and somehow things get done much more efficiently there than if I stay at home.
What’s the biggest challenge for you right now in the industry?
The industry has changed quite a lot but mainly in a positive direction. I can only talk about my own little specialism, Illustration. In the 25 years I’ve been working, it’s constantly evolving. Jobs I used to do don’t really exist any more, for example making images for Annual Reports, or the thousands of magazines that needed illustration. However, I think other more interesting areas have opened up for Illustrators. It’s less twee and narrow, and many illustrators are powerful image-makers who communicate beyond the page.
The area I’ve also moved into recently (books) has also had a renaissance. I am overwhelmed by the quality and output of children’s books. The competition is tough but the variety and integrity of the work is incredible.
We often find at the AOI that illustrators can lack confidence and that effects their business practice. Bob the Artist learns in the end that being confident and creating your own aesthetic niche is key to success. What do we learn form Bob?
Confidence is everything and I appreciate that more and more. I don’t know where I got my self belief (I’ll give my mother the credit for unconditional love and support) but without it I really don’t think I would have had much success. Confidence makes you speak of your work differently to others, it exudes from your work, it helps you start and finish a piece of work. My fear sometimes is to wake up and my self-belief has gone, I don’t know how I’d keep producing art. You have to be quite driven, focused and aiming for something, whether it’s just to produce something you are proud of. I always think my best project is still around the corner and maybe that’s what helps me get out of bed and go to my studio everyday.
Bob the character in my latest book does have some autobiographic elements. He is partly based on my brother and myself. I don’t think one consciously writes about a moral tale or truism but after the book was published it was easy for me to see where it had come from. As a kid I did use art to be more liked. I would draw pictures for friends at lunchtime. We all like to be loved.
What is the key to the success of your books?
Sometimes it’s just the right time and the right place. There was always going to be a counter culture to the screen culture and craft, making things, drawing, colouring in have all had a little blip of popularity as a result.
I’d like to think they are good quality and value for money. I put a lot of work into the activity books. I try not only to make them aesthetically pleasing but also to be highly functional. With Bob the Artist, my first picture book. The criteria was slightly different. Picture books are a tough market; there are so many gorgeous books out there. I just had to make a character I believed in and make a picture book in my own way rather than look to closely at ‘what makes a good picture book’. I can’t do detail or highly complex images, there are many things I can’t draw very well. I do know I can do ‘simple’ very well and it’s not always as easy to do as it looks.
We can all agree 2016 was a pretty crap year however it wasn’t all bad, we did meet the lovely Bob for the first time! Whats in store for you in 2017?
At the moment I’m working on another Bob story called Bob’s Blue Period and also on another non fiction book for adults on Colour. The latter has been a long time in the making and has gone through a few ups and downs as I tried to find my own voice on the subject. It’s such a huge, colossal, scary subject that I lost my way on it a few times, but now I’m over half way through and it feels like I’ve managed to make a personal response to it and, I hope, an interesting book. What I love about he subject of colour is that it is accessible to all, not just artists or experts but everyone; we all, regardless of age, race or country have a view on colour and how it affects our lives. It was great to see the female anti Trump marches around the world and see the association with the colour pink, for example, change forever.
“I’m of the belief that we are all born creative people and over time it can be systematically eroded away through schooling and modern society. One has to be strong and work hard to stay creative.”