Texture loving soul, Billie Francis is an illustrator based in Birmingham UK. With her heart set on Children’s book illustration and her ever expanding use of texture, Billie chats to us about her creative journey and her inspirations when it comes to putting pen to paper.
Let’s begin our little chat with a question that optimises your work; texture! How did you discover your love of using so many shapes, lines and layers in your illustrations? Have you always created your pieces in an abstract way?
Yes texture! I’ve always had a big love for texture. I love everything tactile so for me texture just creates this depth and interest to an image. Since when I was teeny tiny, reading the Hungry Caterpillar I always remember being engrossed in the beautiful illustrations not realising my love for texture. Saying this my work didn’t start off this way, for me my work really developed during my studies. Leaving sixth form after doing A Level Art, my work was super traditional. I would create these beautiful realistic line drawings, which would take me days and days to create! I loved the layering process of a line drawing and how you could keep layering on top creating loads and loads of depth. This is something I still do now.
In my next educational step, I went to Bourneville School of Art to do my foundation (and yes I had to walk past the glorious Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory everyday, and yes I ate chocolate everyday because I couldn’t get the smell of chocolate out of my brain!) My work started to really grow; I didn’t know what aspect of art I wanted to go into and felt like a blank canvas. The fast nature of it really pushed me. I couldn’t spend days and days doing just working on one line drawing so I had to really strip my work back. Looking at artists like Matisse and Olympia Zagnoli, I found my love for everything shape based!
Moving onto Leeds Collage of Art, I then fell in love with traditional print methods again, bringing my work back to lovely hand crafted pieces that allowed me to spend loads of time on. Again time was an issue, so I tried to find an in-between. I played with how I could get the effect of the layers and textures of screenprint into my digital work. This is where my work became my work! I spent a lot of time creating all sorts of textures, from screenprint textures, pen, paint, chalk, and just anything I can make a texture with. From there I scan all these textures into my laptop, and the magic begins there. I have my own little library of textures to work from without having to get my hands dirty every time I create an image. Here I also learnt the power of an illustration and discovered visual metaphors! Discovering editorial illustrators like Noa Snir and Gizem Vural, taught me how to play and push the stories of an illustration. I love telling stories, so trying to tell a story in a more none literal way really helped my growth.
Sounds like a really interesting journey Billie! Having studied at Leeds College of Art, how did you find education in the creative sector? And what is one bit of advice you would give your First year self?
For me my studies were a love hate relationship. I found the education aspect so fabulous and without studying illustration I don’t think my practice would be the same as it is today. Saying that at the time, there were a few stages during my education where I really struggled. Being in a small class and surrounded by fabulous work did affect me, mentally. There was a huge amount of self-doubt I had as an Illustrator and didn’t think I was good enough to later on have a job in the creative sector. This was a big struggle for me in second year, where I was stopping myself from progressing, then getting annoyed that I wasn’t progressing creatively.
Being in an educational setting, having the tutors support made a huge difference. Matthew The Horse (Matt) was a tutor of mine and is a fabulous working illustrator. Ben, known as Ben Jones also an incredibly creative Illustrator helped me through this process. Together Ben and Matt taught me how to play, and not to be afraid of playing! It’s tutors like this which I think that learning in the creative educational sector really help someone grow, and makes doing a creative degree worthwhile. I personally don’t think you get the chance to learn such skills and be told true personal stories about the working world. They have experienced it and gone through the highs and lows, so being able to be taught by great tutors makes the educational process super worthwhile.
If I was to say to my first year self, I would say what Ben and Matt told me; play!!!!!!!! Have no fear in making the wrong choice or to be afraid of making ‘bad’ work. It’s these mistakes that help your practice grow, and without them it wouldn’t be where it is now.
Being based in Birmingham, the Midlands, what is the creative scene like in this part of the UK? Do you find the city offers some cool exhibitions and opportunities?
Personally I love Birmingham. As a city I love its architecture, and the juxtaposition of old and new. At the moment it is very up and coming with more and more independent shops and restaurants opening. The Custard Factory situated in the Digbeth area has loads to offer!! This particular area is known for its graffiti, so there’s lots of amazing street and brightly coloured buildings to be inspired by. There’s always a little exhibition that you can stumble across then have a nice coffee or a pint to finish it off. On the other side of town there is Brindley Place where you can find one of my favourite ever art galleries, The IKON. This always has amazing exhibitions on, so when in need of a little pick me up or to be inspired I advise taking a trip there. With the city being in the middle of everywhere it is so accessible to get to London or take a trip up north. So even though it’s up and coming it’s so easy to go on a little adventure and be inspired by new surroundings.
Hopefully in the next few years there will be even more independent shops and bookshops in Birmingham where we wont have to travel. With amazing illustration agencies like WEAREGOODNESS situated in the city, hopefully more agencies will grow and relocate here. Also I would love if it there were more illustrations fairs in Birmingham, bringing a new audience to the city.
We love the IKON too! What a great little gallery. Next up, how would you describe your creative space? Do you find you work better early in the morning or later at night?
My creative space used to be in my bedroom, and this I struggled with. I found it hard to switch off and have my own relaxation space. So I’ve set up a little ‘studio’ in my dad’s apartment just down the road from me (sorry dad). I found this to be a really beneficial as I am someone who is motivated by a space. Having that distinction knowing when I sit at that desk its work time, helps me stay super productive (well most of the time). I am definitely an early bird! I find I work best after I’ve done a little bit of exercise or cleaning to clear my head. I’ll then stroll down and start to work. I need my sleep too much to be a night owl.
Looking to the future, where do you see yourself in five years time!? Additionally, do you have any exciting projects coming up in 2019?
In five years time (I can’t write that without singing Noah and The Whales 5 years time in my head) I would like to see myself with a published children’s book that I have illustrated, maybe more than one, as well as having a well-established gifting range. Children’s illustration is a big goal of mine so if I accomplish that I’ll be super duper happy. Saying that I am pretty rubbish at making these 5 year goals, as what attracts me to illustration and the creative industries is that it can lead you anywhere! It’s just so exciting as you can try all sorts of things which you wouldn’t expect. Also I don’t like making a million goals as such as I don’t like the disappointment if I go off track, I’m very much a go with the flow kinda girl.
This year I am going to take more time to do personal lead projects. I am collaborating with a dear friend who has a passion in writing. She has written a children’s book so I’m going to take time out to illustrate that, who knows where that could lead. I have a couple of commissions which I can’t talk about just yet but apart from that I don’t have anything coming up just yet!
We’re super excited to see where your projects lead in the future Billie! Thanks for taking time out to chat with us.
You can find Billie using the links below:
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