Ones to Watch: Karen Watson
Name: Karen Watson
Inspiration: Arthur Rackham, Lisbeth Zweger, Alan Lee, Jessie Willcox Smith
Karen’s illustrations portray the mythic, the fairytale. Stemming from such works as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, and German fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, Karen’s illustrative style is indeed preoccupied with those weird and wonderful
stories we all remember from our childhoods. Asked on her interest in this kind of subject matter, Karen said ‘I absolutely love a good story, and when reading a compelling tale my imagination can’t help but create the imagery being described. Fairy tales are especially fun because they are filled with whimsy and magic. When looking at an illustration created for famous classic stories such as “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland”, a glimpse of the scene from the Mad Tea Party can bring you right into the story and create feelings of sweet nostalgia. Illustrating those images, paying attention to every detail described in the book, brings me a feeling of great accomplishment when the painting turns out and pulls you in to the story’.
Stories are an inevitable and universal source of inspiration. So pivotal to our way of life, our ancestry, our socialisation, stories hold the key to much of today’s civilisation. It is no surprise then to find the story is Karen’s inspiration: ‘A talented author with great imagination and creative descriptions can certainly conjure up the inspiration required to create a beautiful, whimsical illustration.’
It appears that, like stories, art and illustration were two things ingrained in Karen’s mind from an early age. ‘Since childhood, art has always been a great interest of mine, but illustration became a passion while I was living and working as a VFX artist in Munich, Germany. I loved visiting the art department, where they drew the story boards, developed the character designs, and then sculpted them. I met an artist there, who is still a wonderful friend, and it was she who inspired me to illustrate. We would ride our bikes around Munich, from art stores to the English Garden, and on the
weekends we would always do something creative. Being away from home, I started creating original Christmas, birthday, and greeting cards for friends and family. I had so much fun illustrating them that my passion grew from there.’
Asked on her artistic process, Karen replied ‘When I start on a new book or commissioned illustration I begin with simple thumbnail sketches. I draw as quickly as I can; they just look like a bunch of squiggles to anyone else, but I’m working out the composition, the angles, flow, and light direction of the illustration. I do lots of these little thumbnails until I find a composition that is really working well. By doing quick sketches, I can quickly try lots of different angles so that I don’t get stuck in one direction. I then start working on character design, writing down the characteristics that I feel are important to portray individual personalities, paying close attention to any details regarding the characters’ appearance, as they are described in the story. I draw the characters from all angles in order to create a consistency throughout the pages of the book. Once I have layouts and characters that I’m happy with, I move forward to creating larger versions of the sketches on trace paper. This allows me to change little details of the illustration until I get a final sketch that I then transfer to watercolour paper and begin the final process of painting, and perhaps inking, depending on the look I’m after. In some of the illustrations I created for the art show, “Drawn from Words”, I added a 3D element of cut paper to add depth and texture.
This was a new process for me, but I’m sure I’ll use it again in future as it was met with great response and adds a unique quality, especially to the original. Each illustration is then scanned to create a digital copy, where I will occasionally add or fix small details. My years of working as a VFX artist has given me a great advantage when it comes to digital imagery, and although I create the majority of my work in a classical medium, I still have full control to change, add, or enhance anything in the digital copy’.
Karen hopes that by 2022, she will be ‘regarded with respect in the industry as an illustrator with distinctive yet original designs, and known for my whimsical, classic style. It is my plan to delve into creating interactive e-books for children as I feel that would be the perfect combination of my fine art and technical skill. Several published children’s books would certainly be a nice feather in my cap.’
Buy Karen’s illustrations from: Society6.com