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An Interview with Lisa Stickley

Can you talk a bit about your artistic background?

I started out life as a printed textile designer, training at Central Saint Martins and The Royal College of Art. Soon after graduation in 1999 – from my bedroom back home – I founded my label Lisa Stickley and sold some of my very first products to Paul Smith, Designers Guild and the Cross.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work on collaborations for the likes of Burberry, Harrods, Liberty, Tate, Selfridges, Heal’s, John Lewis, Boots, Debenhams and Japanese stores including Ships, Hankyu and Isetan.

I took a break from business following a tough time with backers. It was heart breaking having worked so hard, for so many years, to have to go back to the beginning. And I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. But I have been very lucky indeed to have two little girls who came along around that time, and have brought me back to life. They sparked my passion for writing and illustrating children’s books.

Inspired by my daughter’s everyday musings, I began writing stories observing the world through their eyes, and indulging in all of the bonkers quirks that go on in my head. I bring them to life with playful characters (all of which make me giggle, often) and thoroughly enjoy messing around with colour and pattern in a much freer more illustrative way than I have before.

How did you first become interested in design and illustration?

When I was little, I was always making and doing, be it cooking, colouring, sewing, painting, drawing… I’d always be creating something or another.

I think things really took hold at school when I had a wonderful art teacher, who encouraged me to apply for a Textile Design degree. Training and working as a printed textile designer, illustration naturally went hand in hand with designing prints. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to transfer this into illustrating for books.

Where do your ideas for your illustrations come from and what materials do you use?

Gosh, it’s tricky to say. Sometimes, if I have the luxury of a bit of time, then I’ll set myself a few mini projects to go exploring and find interesting things, or new ways, to draw. Or, if I’m mid writing a story, then inspiration will be led by the new characters and settings that I’m creating in my head.

I do feel the need to ‘get out and draw’ more at the moment but it’s not always easy to find that bit of quiet time when there aren’t projects on the go, or little ones to hang out with (our two are quite lovely and little still).

I use a lot of different processes to draw and it’s great for bringing different characters to life by way of oil pastels, mono-printed line combined with collaged pattern (often from my own stash of designs), pen and ink, paper cutting and paint. I quite like a blank sheet of paper and often doodle on older, more worn out bits of paper I’ve collected over the years. It adds another element to the illustration, I think.

The first drawings of the day are always awful, and I’ll often make a number of drawings of any one thing until the right one comes along. At the moment I love drawing animals and have a particular penchant for drawing soft toys (old and new), building up layer upon layer of texture to give the right look and feel to the character. I love making them look a little bit wonky and odd, giving them their own unique personality.

Are you inspired by any particular artist?

Cy Twombly is definitely my top favourite in life.

For years and years I’d avoided drawing people in my work, and only really started when I began illustrating my books. It scared me to death! But with a little inspiration from favourite illustrators such as Mary Blair, Aliki and Saul Steinberg, I plucked up the courage to have a go, and now find it fascinating that a tweak of a nostril here or a shift of an eyebrow there can completely transform the facial expression of a person. It’s hilarious!

Can you talk about your process of working?

Every day is quite different. I’ve recently finished my latest book with Tate Publishing, which will be released in the autumn this year, and that took many days and nights illustrating and putting the spreads together. Once I’ve written the text and worked with my editor to get that bit right, I then start on the artwork. I paint and draw everything by hand then scan into the computer and collage everything together to make the final pages.

More recently, I’ve just finished a big ABC project, taking my illustrations and putting them to good use creating phonic alphabet images for posters and textile products. My girls have one of these posters up in their bedroom and it’s really useful with helping back up the phonic work they are doing at nursery and school in a super fun way.

I’m about to launch a collection of ‘personalise-able’ ABC cushions, where these illustrations, and my hand-drawn letters, are printed onto beautiful linen and made into cushions. Each cushion can be pre-ordered to have a child’s name handwritten into the design before it’s printed onto the cloth, creating a completely personalised piece. Perfect for new little ones who have just arrived into the world, or for mini folk who are practicing their letters and learning to read and write their name.

Where do you exhibit your work?

I have a website that I sell everything from ( and at the moment tend to do seasonal fairs and pop-up shops like The Mamahood and events at Farnham Maltings and The Horniman Museum and Gardens.

My books are sold in bookshops and independent stores worldwide and I LOVE visiting these, reading to kids, and creating workshops based around the books. I also do a lot of school visits, too.

With the launch of my personalised ABC cushions, I’m creating sample packs to send to some lovely independent shops for folk to order from, too.

What do you like about living in south-east London?

It has a great feeling of being a little village right next door to the big city. It’s super accessible for getting into town, but LOVELY to feel a bit far out, too, although it’s not that far really. It’s so great for kids with all of the green space. We literally wake up to birdsong in the mornings being so close to the brilliant Horniman Gardens. There are so many like-minded creative people around here, too, which is wonderful. The community is top notch!

How long have you been involved in Artists’ Open House and what do you like about being part of it?

This will be my fourth Artists’ Open House (I think!). We started pre children and did it for a few years when our youngest was very little. I had a couple of years off due to book festival commitments, but am super excited to be back! There is such a great buzz around when it’s on, and really nice to get to chat with folk who are genuinely interested in what you do.

What are you going to be showing for this year’s Artists’ Open House?

Weather permitting, we’re going to create a mini ‘Open All Hours’-style shop and reading nook on our doorstep, complete with counter and fork handles (Well maybe not the latter, in case it confuses non-Two Ronnie’s fans!).

I’ll be at said counter doodling away making original drawings to sell alongside my books, purses, pouches, posters and PRE orderable ABC cushions. Come along and say Hi! It would be great to see you!

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Photo © Ben Anders

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