Life Portraits – Nina Cosford & Zena Alkayat

Life Portraits is a brand new series of books depicting the lives of various influential women in art and literature.

First up to have their stories told are Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, two literary icons who left behind an immense and impressive back catalogue of work as well as a legacy which has stood the test of time.


The biography of Jane Austen – who’s work includes classics such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice – explores Austen’s inspirations and influences, her domestic life and the society she lived in whilst the book on Virginia Woolf – who’s catalogue of work includes Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse and The Waves – focuses on her work as part of the Bloomsbury Group – a band of revolutionary friends which also included Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Leonard Woolf.

Both books, not only tell the women’s fascinating and triumphant tales, but also include an array of fun facts, anecdotes and imaginings such as Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s nicknames for each other, Jane’s childhood love of dressing up and a look at what you might find on each of their desks.

Delving into the intricate details of their lives gives a great sense of the women’s personalities and injects an infusion of life into each of the titles.

Zena Alkayat, in charge of meticulously researching and writing about the lives of these infamous literary figures, has previously published successful guidebooks Tea & Cake London and London Villages. Zena spent 10 years working as a journalist at publications including the Metro and Time Out London before moving into publishing.

Both titles are illustrated by Nina Cosford, a freelance illustrator who works both Hastings and London. Nina’s previous work has been featured by NYLON magazine, HBO, Buzzfeed and Time Out New York.

Elegant yet playful, lavish yet understated – Nina’s charming visuals turn the books from fascinating stories into things of beauty. Most admirable about Nina’s creations is her tendency not to over-complicate.

With the creation of simple imagery – awash with white space soothing colour tones – Nina leaves just enough to the imagination and creates sympathetic and evocative visuals.

The combination of the immense talents of Nina and Zena coupled with the remarkable stories of Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, has proved to be a recipe for incredible success. So far, the series has created two beautiful and respectful tributes, entirely befitting these literary icons.

What’s more, this is just the beginning! With two more books planned for 2016 and who knows how many after that, this looks to be the start of a fruitful partnership and unmissable series.

You can pick up copies of both the Life Portraits books here.


Posted on Jun 23rd, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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