Lydia Monks is an award winning and hugely successful children's illustrator famous for her illustrations for Julia Donaldson's "What the Ladybird Heard" and many more. Lydia visited the course back in April 2010 and this interview was conducted by student Andy Thomson. It has been in storage since then, I think we had an idea we might create a visiting lecturer publication eventually however it never came to pass - so here it is now! Many thanks to Lydia for her wonderful talk back then and for her time in answering the questions so sharply and honestly.
Do you keep a Daily routine?
I have a very strict routine, but because i've got 2 children my work day is limited, so i work on a Tuesday from about 10 - 4, and I work on a Wednesday from 10 - 2 and Friday 10 - 2. So it is really strict and I have no time for messing around. I literally get into the studio sit down and work like mad and then get up and leave so it's quite full on work. So that's my weekly routine at the moment and there's never enough time to fit all the work in. If i'm doing things like talks that gets fitted in in the evening, and I prepare for them in the evenings or weekends. So thats my routine.
You mentioned in your talk that after graduation you went straight into editorial work. Did you ever supplement that with another job?
No, I was very lucky and started working full time straight away. I think I was actually working full time straight from college and I haven't stopped since. It's not all about luck though, it's hard work too, i've been a bit of a maniac about getting work coming in , i've been quite pro-active with keeping it like that.
Did you find it quite hard doing editorial work?
It is quite a hard slog, You have to constantly remind people that you exist and keep advertising, keep going to see people, sending out cards, keep your website up to date. So the whole background to it it's whats hard the actual work it's hard at all apart from the tight deadlines being stressful, but it's actually keeping the work coming in is a full time occupation in itself. You do run out of energy a bit with it as you get older it gets harder to keep motivated.
About self motivation, do you do anything specify to keep yourself interested in the image making process?
Well i suppose just writing new stories, i'm always interested in the new character and I enjoyed making stories, so drawing pictures is my favourite thing to do, so I don't struggle with relation to keeping motivated. I struggle with not having enough time to do all the ideas. I guess really it's what i most look forward to in the week so I don't need anything to keep me interested. Keeping motivated is about knowing that i've got to make money, which is quite a big motivation in itself.
Do you set your own briefs outside of client work?
Yeah of course, all the books are my own brief in a way so I'm constantly doing that and thinking whats the next book? I'll be working on one at the moment but i'll be thinking whats the one after that. Is there another one in this series? so it's constantly planing for the future and other projects i'd like to do. It's white a good point, about being an illustrator, you've got to be very foreword thinking, you have to plan for the future and what you'd like to do next. What your ambitions are it's important to have goals set for yourself, so you can aim to reach them.
Do you have any particular goals that you are aiming for at the moment?
There are lots of thing I'd like: i would like to have the animation series, if one of those came up it'd be nice. More books and better books, just to keep going really would be nice. I think that you can never really have enough success, It's not something you can have enough of, and I don't think anyone ever believes they've reached the top . You are always striving for better and more. I still have ambitions…for world domination!
What methods of self promotion do you use/ find to be most effective.
The children's book market is kind of advertising in itself, because obviously people buy the books and thats how I get most of my work, the publishers know me format he books, I haven't had a website up to this point I'm just developing one at the moment (here) and I feel a bit behind in that but I haven't needed one up to this point, and I probably don't really need one now but everyone has one now. Apart from that I don't' do anything else, in the old days I would perhaps send out postcards and new work , clips of new work but now being more established I don't really have to do that. It's very important though when you're just starting out, and it gives you nice projects to do too, you can set yourself a self initiated personal project and make it into little cards. I used to do silly things like a card which you could stick your nose through to make a funny face.
You mentioned in your talk how quicker sketchbook work helped you to loosen up, how important are sketchbooks to you now? And what kind of work do you do in them?
The sketchbooks I have now are really just full of writing, and little squiggles I don't tend to do much drawing in them now,they tend to be just ideas books which I carry around with me. They are still very important in that way, I have friends who are illustrators who just draw constantly, on trains, just their surroundings but I'm not really like that, I tend to just write down ideas a lot of the time. I have ideas books in my bag, I just do little squiggles, otherwise I'd just forget things. Also ideas that you write down, things that you might dismiss actually might become something in the long run so I think it's good to write everything down or draw everything, you never know what might come of it.
I noticed in pictures of your studio that front and center on your desk there wasn't a computer, I think that might be quite shocking for a lot of students and even a fair amount of people working in industry. Do you use computers at all in your working process?
I don't use any software to make the pieces, I use it for scanning textures in and e-mails. I purposefully didn't bring a computer to the studio because I'd just find it too distracting, I'd just be e-mailing people and looking on the internet, going on youtube and it would be too much of a distraction. so I purposefully didn't bring one. I do use it a fair amount, scanning in, emailing, all the roughs are e-mailed these days even art work I e-mail so that clients can see how it's going, and in that respect they are an invaluable resource, but I don't use any software to create the pictures. I mentioned David Roberts in the talk as well, he doesn't have a computer in his studio either. I think more people are making a conscious choice to take some time away from them because they can become a bit all consuming.
What inspires you?
It's just silly stuff in everyday life really, stuff around me that I might find funny, or I might suddenly think of something that's funny. I like entertaining myself and making myself laugh so if one of the children does something funny, or I see something in the street, it's just that that's inspiring. The nice bits in life I suppose; telly other peoples books, positive stuff.
If there was one piece of advice you could pass on to a aspiring Illustration graduate aiming to work anywhere in the illustration profession what would it be?
Work hard, I think it's interesting coming in today and seeing all the students, I think I did work very hard as a students but I think that it's not easy and it's not just going to happen, you have to just slog your guts out and work hard there are hundreds and hundreds of people who want to do it but only a few will actually struggle through and make it. It's not just about talent, there are loads of talented people but it's the ones that work hard, who are persistent, motivated and hard working that will make it in the end. Cram as much as you can into every day, just keep going. Staying in bed isn't all it's cracked up to be.
if you could share one truth about working in the industry as an illustrator what would it be?
I can hear a lot of illustrators in my head saying "illustration is rubbish." It's just that it's hard, you know. We all love making these beautiful pictures, but trying to sell it to someone is a bit like selling your soul! I think to bear that in mind I think you've always got to be happy with your own work and what you are doing; get happiness from that it's not all about the commissioned work. Commissions don't always bring the happiness you are looking for, so be true to yourself as well as doing commissioned stuff and try to find a balance the two. We all strive to get work and commissions and actually a lot of the time the commissions are quite disappointing, so keep that in mind and keep your own ideals going. I hope that's good piece of advice?
Thanks very much Lydia for answering our questions!