Natural talent - Hannah Bailey, illustrator

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The illustrator behind the leaping dolphins and colourful anemones in our SUP spotters’ guide, Hannah Bailey’s vibrant, textured images have graced the pages of many magazines and children’s books. She put down her pencils for a few minutes to talk looking closer, loosening up and “avoiding jelly blubbers”…

How would you describe your art?

Colourful, very textured, warm, a celebration of nature.

What are you trying to capture/ inspire in people who see it?

I love drawing wildlife and natural objects, and hope that my awe and fascination for the subject matter translates into the work, inspiring others to see the beauty in both the ordinary and extraordinary things in nature.

How do you use colour and texture in your work?

Texture is intrinsic to the process and the look of it. I think it adds to the hand-drawn feel that can be lost with digital illustration.

I used to use very limited colour palettes until I began to work more in non-fiction illustration, and since then I feel like I've gone the other way in order to capture the sheer variety in nature! More is more with colour so I don’t try to limit that at all. But I always use the same inks which I think gives my work a sort of colour ‘identity’ – fresh greens, blues, earthy reds and oranges.

How do you look at things you’re illustrating? Do you often find things you may have missed at first glance?

I work tightly from reference to start with and then try to loosen up a bit in order to capture the subject without overworking it and give it life and movement.

But sometimes, I think it's easy to get caught in a way of drawing an object without paying much attention to it – for instance, there are some things I draw quite regularly, and then I suddenly realise, I've been drawing a vague approximation for years! I'm always learning.

Vermouth Final Colour

How do you get started?

I begin by drawing a tiny thumbnail size layout to get an idea of the composition, before moving on to a pencil rough at full size.

I then trace over all of the elements of the rough separately, and cut them out with a craft knife. I use coloured ink with dry brush strokes to fill the stencils with texture, sometimes four or five times to create different textures within the boundary of the shape. I might use a soft pencil or charcoal to accentuate features of the subject matter, and larger brush strokes and textures with which to create a background – all on separate layers!

Then I scan the artwork and use Photoshop to place them over one another and create a final composition, using my original rough for guidance.

What do you look for in reference images?

Usually a pose or angle that complements my layout, and a reliable source.

Gin Final Colour

What did you like about illustrating the SUP Spotting Guide for Watergate Bay magazine?

I really enjoyed this project, firstly because it's lovely to illustrate wildlife that can be found in our very own South West.

Secondly, it was a really good opportunity for me to develop a new approach I had been thinking about for a while – 'loosening up'. The soft-edged spot illustrations were perfect for me to experiment with using broader textures to capture a scene, without getting too niggly about detail. I’ve carried this forward into all my work since.

Have you seen much of the wildlife you were drawing in your own life?

I've yet to tick off the spider crab and the extraordinary sunfish, but here’s hoping. Avoiding standing on 'jelly blubbers' and seeing dolphins in Cornwall is a really delightful memory from my childhood holidays near Polzeath.

Sup Spotters Guide

What does spending time by the sea mean to you personally?

I have many fond memories of the South West coast, from the pale sands of Daymer Bay, the magnificence of Bedruthan Steps, to our own pebbly and silty coast in Somerset where I live. I love swimming in the sea and try to take every opportunity, it ALWAYS makes you feel great.

What are you working on at the moment?

I regularly work with the Wildlife Trusts magazine to illustrate a feature on gardens, and how to encourage wildlife to flourish in your own space, which is always fun and interesting. At the same time I have several non-fiction titles in the pipeline, about the oceans, American National Parks, and British Wildlife amongst others – all wonderful projects with inspiring subject matter.