Q&A with Natalie Hughes
Bristol-based artist, Natalie Hughes, draws quirky illustrations inspired by her love for travel, maps and wildlife.
With a degree in Illustration and Animation from the University of Gloucestershire, Natalie Hughes now designs greeting cards, children’s illustrations and exhibition work that are rich in both character and colour, under representation from The Bright Agency. We caught up with her in between drawing, daydreaming and cooing over sausage dogs to talk about style, clients, aspirations and more.
I grew up watching Steven Spielberg movies, David Attenborough shows, painting pictures and wandering around the countryside in Knebworth.
Tell us a little about yourself and what encouraged you to become an illustrator.
I ‘m a 26-year-old illustrator living in Bristol. I grew up watching Steven Spielberg movies, David Attenborough shows, painting pictures and wandering around the countryside in Knebworth. I spent my time at school drawing as many pictures as possible. I ended up studying illustration, and eventually embarked on a freelance career. I currently also work as a full-time graphic designer for a children’s magazine publisher.
How would you describe your style?
It’s bright, colourful and contemporary, but with a 50s style too; a mixture of geometric shapes, quirky characters and a lot of hand-made textures thrown in for good measure.
Who or what are you inspired by?
I’m inspired by so many creative people. My favourites include Charley Harper, Oliver Jeffers, Bjorn Rue Lie, Marc Boutavant, Edward Gorey and Frida Kahlo. I’m also inspired by movies – E.T is my favourite movie. Mountains, whales, New York, sausage dogs and the sea are all things that make me happy too.
What is a typical day like for you and how do you approach your work?
Currently a typical day includes creating mazes, puzzles, stories, etc. for the children’s magazines that I’m responsible for. It’s really fun work and has taught me a lot which has, in turn, informed my own illustration work. I work on my freelance illustrations any spare moment I can, so you’ll find me at my desk in Bristol drawing my socks off.
I approach my work by looking at lots and lots of images, using Pinterest mostly! Then I do pencil sketches, scan and colour them up digitally. Diet coke and pistachio nuts are my fuel of choice, and my patient boyfriend is usually on hand to cheer me on.
You’ve had your fair share of exhibitions. How much work and emotion goes in to creating an exhibition – from playing around with sketches to actually having people see your finished work?
Exhibitions are pretty full-on! It’s a lot of pressure to put on a solo show, but sometimes the pressure can be helpful to both get the work done quickly and avoid dwelling on what others think. You just do what you like and hope other people will like it too.
You’ve compiled a pretty impressive list of clients and publications too. Were any of them particularly fun to be involved with?
I really enjoyed working on a book for Oxford University Press recently. It was about the Artic Tern bird, so I got to draw a few world maps and migration routes, which is always fun!
How much creative input do you get when you’re working with clients?
It completely depends on the client. Some I’ve worked with have been extremely sure of what they want so there’s little room to budge. It can be frustrating but also quite freeing because you just get on with the ‘doing’ part. Some clients are more open to suggestions, and it’s always nice when you can add in your own little details of choose a colour scheme.
Who or what would your dream client be?
An illustration for Greenpeace would be pretty amazing. Re-designing a Roald Dahl book cover would be pretty exciting also.
Any personal favourites amongst the work you have done?
I really enjoyed working on a pre-school counting book for Hansol Publishing in South Korea, featuring lots of acorns and squirrels. I also enjoyed creating the Bristol festival Big Green Week logo, and it’s rewarding to see it around the city every summer.
It’s always really interesting to step outside of your own country and see how illustrators are working elsewhere, because often the approach and styles are really different.
What is the best exhibition you have been to?
The best exhibition I ever went to was a graduate show in Bologna, Italy. It was in a very old building in a very beautiful place, and the work was crazy awesome. It’s always really interesting to step outside of your own country and see how illustrators are working elsewhere, because often the approach and styles are really different. It also shows you don’t have to go to a big gallery to see an amazing show.
Are there any other artists that you would recommend our readers check out?
Take a look at Julie Mercier; an awesome French children’s illustrator who I just discovered. Also try Kevin Waldron who is equally as fantastic.
What else do you get up to when you’re not drawing?
I explore the parks, pubs and shops of beautiful Bristol! I like to travel as much as I can and watch copious amounts of movies, and cooking/eating is a major past time too. I also run my own blog.
Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I’m working away on a children’s book about llamas and sheep. It’s all up here in my brain at the moment, but I’m hoping it’ll be pretty nice… think Peruvian patterns, goofy llamas and bright colours.
Sounds lovely! Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
Still doing what I’m doing; being paid to draw and be creative. The dream is to have a house with a studio somewhere near the sea, with my own sausage dog companion by my side while I draw.