Michelle Allberrey won our competition to design our Facebook cover picture for June with a beautiful papercut illustration. We wanted to know more about this illustrator who ‘draws with scissors’ so Scarlett set her some questions..
Tell us about Michelle, how did you get into illustration?
Hello! Well, I’ve been mad about paper ever since I was little, I was obsessed with those dress-up paper dollies and making my own little pictures with flaps and pop-ups and whatnot. When it came to University time, it was a choice between studying English or Art, and at the time I thought I’d like to be an Art teacher so I convinced my Mum and Dad that there would be a job at the end of it. However; I had so much fun having the freedom to develop my work and got so much encouragement from my lovely tutors that by the end of Uni I really fancied being a freelance illustrator! I did start a teaching course, but my heart wasn’t really in it anymore, so I left, which is a shame, but I’m glad that I did because it’s obviously not the sort of job you can do half-heartedly.
I have a (quite random) full-time job as a laboratory assistant at Bedford Hospital, which is really interesting, even though I’m in no way a Science person! It has enabled me to buy a lovely house with my partner Jason. So I kind of do the illustration in my spare time, and have spent quite a long time trying to perfect my technique to get a consistent style that I am happy with.
You have an illustration in the brilliant Gemma Correll’s book ‘What I Wore Today’, are there any other illustrators you admire, or would like to work with?
I have indeed, I was so excited about that! I love every picture that Gemma Correll draws, her drawings never fail to make me smile! I admire lots of other illustrators as well (to the point of intense jealousy), including Rob Ryan, Anke Weckmann, LeeMay Foster-Wilson (Bonbi Forest) and Kate Slater. Oh, and Lauren Child! My all-time favourites though are Janet and Alan Ahlberg! (The Jolly Postman is quite simply genius).
As a papercut/collage illustrator (is that a good way to describe you?) I can imagine your workspace gets very messy! What’s an average working day for you?
Haha, you imagine correctly! Yes, that is one of the downsides to collage, it makes such a bloomin’ mess! I start off by making a cup of tea and having breakfast (chocolate Digestive biscuits) and sit down to sketch my ideas to get an idea of composition. Then, with a rough idea in my head of the sort of colours I am going to need, I start sifting through my filing cabinet of papers (organised into different colours). I also have lots of magazines to hand as well, especially when I want more photographic textures like hair or trees. I sometimes also use watercolour paint to paint my own paper (especially for skin, as it gives a warmer, more tonal feel than a solid flesh-coloured paper does). I start cutting the main shape of what I’m illustrating, so if it’s a face, I will start with the face shape, glue it down on some smooth white cartridge paper, and cut out and add the features. For eyes, and sometimes clothing, I use a black pen to add extra detail.
I rarely draw shapes onto the paper before I cut things out, because it feels more natural to me to ‘draw’ with my scissors. I also quite like the slightly imperfect feel this gives to my pictures. When I’m finished, I scan my picture and edit the contrast in Photoshop using the ‘levels’ tool and I sometimes tidy up any unwanted marks using the ‘clone’ tool. I’m pretty bad with Photoshop, so I’m probably not using it to its’ full potential!
What are you working on at the moment?
Well, my ongoing project (which has been ongoing for yonks) is to re-illustrate a short children’s story that I wrote and illustrated at college. I really like the idea of it, and it’s got a fun rhyming pattern, but it desperately needs re-illustrating. You know how you look back at artwork you did ages ago and you’re like, ‘what was I thinking?!’. When I’ve done some good example artwork for it I want to send it out along with the written text to some children’s book publishers, and see if anyone likes it. I hope that they do!
I have to mention your awesome version of the Florence & The Machine album cover, it’s gorgeous!! How long did it take you?
Awww thankyou! I think it took me about 10 hours…the background was really hard because I couldn’t really tell what was going on in the original image as it was so dark! I do love illustrating famous iconic images or characters, it’s so fun! Especially because my style is quite playful and immature and I like the twist it gives to certain well-known images, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for example! My version is so silly, but I think that’s why it works, it’s such a contrast to the original!
Tell us an interesting fact about you.
Oh dear, I’m not a very interesting person! I suppose I can tell you my war story of how I had Scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I had an operation when I was 17, and now have a very impressive scar down the right side of my torso. It looks like a shark bite, let’s pretend it is, that’s more exciting! I actually illustrated this little event for my final major project at Uni, I should put my illustrations up on my blog sometime…
Tea or coffee?
Tea please! Although I do love the smell of coffee, mmmmm…Tea for drinking, coffee for sniffing, then!
..and lastly, will you be coming to our next Drink & Draw meet up?
Yes, I think I will, thank you for inviting me! Although you will all be far better than me at drawing, so promise not to laugh!
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You can view more of Michelle’s work on her gorgeous website : http://www.smallberrey.com/
Michelle’s illustration will be up on our Facebook Page for the whole of June. To submit your work for our July cover picture email us and see our Facebook Page for details.