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Bee Willey

What is your process, when creating a new piece? What steps do you follow?

My first stage, when working on a new piece is to doodle around, make illegible drawings and have a think. I never show these to clients. Then I collect reference, either drawing from life or taking photos, or getting other reference when that’s not possible.

I make loads of roughs and play around with layout, shapes, colours, patterns. I love textile patterns and print, and using texture, which I often collage into my pieces, to create atmosphere or allude to the context, where relevant.

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What tools do you use? (both traditional and digital, if any)

I have lots of pencil friends, I am always trying out different inks and brush pens and use the iPad and i pen too.I love graphite, and pen and ink.I have special nibs which I have from Mr Philip at Cornellissen, bought ages ago after testing the line quality I needed then. He had an amazing book full of drawings signed by illustrious people, thanking him for his advice and expertise. It was areal privilege to see this book which he showed me to refer to, in terms of nib behaviour! I bought a good stash then which was really lucky, as some are no longer made. I still have them in glassine bags labelled with his lovely handwriting. I have been back more recently and have found other brands which I am also happy to use, which is a relief!

What are your dreams, what type of projects/collaborations are you hoping to do, in the future?

Well, I have fantasies about drawings blown up huge on textiles or wall paper reflecting aspirations or uses of specific rooms, so kitchen fabric might have vegetables and utensils; a dressing room, loads of perfume bottles; a bedroom with a midnight landscape..I would love to do themed scarves, such as Grayson Perry’s one, or ones for Hermès! I did make a some silk ties for Paul Smith, hand-painted and sewn by me, and also for Richard James, Aguecheek. They were in the Harrods catalogue at that time. I collect vintage perfume bottles and would love to be involved in packaging

How does it feel when your're drawing ?

Drawing is a way of thinking: the drawing process resolves ideas, makes them tangible and real, and it is then possible to develop and tweak the outcomes, and have a play and get more ideas, and it goes on...…I also do a lot of doodling, often flowers and patterns..

What is your biggest challenge?

Finding my colours when using my Karisma pencils: I still have loads that are wood coloured on the outside and it’s really hard to find the colour I’m after when there are 400 or so in drawers and on the desk…and keeping my roughs, drawings and studio tidy. There are a lot of piles of books and papers on the go.

Drawing with my fat finger when sketching on the phone screen on jolty train trips practising apps is challenging and fun. Challenges are fun: I’ve decided to do so many jobs and projects on that basis.

If you didn’t illustrate, what would you do?

There are so many areas in which having illustrator skills can be useful …One is being curious and looking, seeing details and understanding through looking and drawing. It’s a very positive process, you’re always learning.

I think I would like to be a cook or food photographer or a gardener: using lovely fruit and vegetables, arranging them in an image or on a plate for people to enjoy.


What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Forgetting the time and getting stuck to my chair!

What are common traps for aspiring illustrators?

For aspiring illustrators, finding a niche in a huge market can be overwhelming, especially when looking on the web.

The main thing is to be versatile with your odeas and media, be curious and explorative in drawing and other visual solutions. Imitating what’s around can be useful to hone skills.The most important thing is really homing into content and areas of work and processes one enjoys is key.

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Does illustrating energise or exhaust you?

I am always excited by new projects and commissions, meeting the clients, understanding their needs or perspective; getting into it, discovering new subject matter, seeing things in a new context is refreshing and inspiring; and being part of a team or collaboration is really fun.

What illustration pilgrimages have you gone on?

Sissinghurst gardens; the Alhambra in Granada for the garden and also the amazing tile patterns and calligraphy; the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua to see the amazing blue preserved on the ceiling, and Giotto’s paintings; the Botticelli painting in Florence; Edward Lear’s watercolours and bird paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge: we got given white gloves and it was really incredible to be so close to them. They also have William Blake which I would like to visit. I will combine this with a visit to the Polar Museum in Cambridge. I have a thing about glaciers, snow and ice.

Last year I went to the Tove Janssen Moomin exhibition in London; I had been to see some in Finland a long time ago and love her way of using colour separation, and creating tone in ink.

I have a little drawing she sent me which is very precious to me