I am an author/illustrator as well as a fashion designer, so each day varies a great deal depending on whether I am researching ideas, designing, writing, or in the process of making artworks for a picture book. Last week was spent at a fashion presentation and designing ladieswear for a high street retailer, and this week I’m back in the studio working on book ideas. If a deadline is looming I could work 12 or 14 hour days for several weeks to meet it, setting an early alarm and barely stopping for food. If not, I’ll have a lie in and start working at around 10. For years I left the house very early to travel across London to work, but now I live on the coast with my husband, and commute to my studio on the second floor of the house.

Jo Williamson

Jo Williamson

Most mornings after a quick shower and breakfast in the garden, I head upstairs to work. The studio has decent light with white painted walls and floorboards, and it’s where I do all my creative work. In the centre of the room there is a large worktable, and an armchair to think. My desk and computer covered in post-it notes and to-do lists sits next to a bookcase of children’s books. I love vintage children’s books from the 50’s and 60’s, which use reduced colour palettes, and I find them in charity shops and on eBay. Most of the furniture in the room has come from junk shops further along the high street, and the latest addition is a scruffy set of tall drawers, which are perfect for my inks and paints. There’s also a sink, three large silk screens and two easels, as well as a further cupboard full of printing inks, paper and fabrics.

At the moment I’m trying to come up with some new ideas for a picturebook. To encourage inspiration I sit in the armchair drinking cups of coffee and jotting down any random ideas that come into my head. If this fails I will get out my sketchbooks and start drawing characters. This can lead off into all sorts of directions, and so I just keep on drawing to see where it takes me.

Once I have an idea for a story I’ll send it off to my agent or editor and hope that they like it. If they don’t, or if it needs more work I’ll go back to the drawing board and keep going until they do. Once an idea is agreed I continue writing and drawing in tandem as I work out roughs for each page of the picturebook. These pages are done in pencil as little thumbnails at first, and then progressing to full size as details and ideas firm up. One of the challenges of illustrating a picturebook is being able to draw absolutely anything. For my latest picturebook, ‘What’s for lunch, Papa Penguin?’ I had to learn to draw several new animals as well as penguins, including pandas, camels and hippos. Surprisingly, camel’s faces are extremely hard to get right and it took around thirty attempts to nail it, whereas pandas were easy. I have to be able to draw my characters in different situations and I enjoy bringing them to life and making them run or jump, and do things that would be impossible in real life. Needless to say the plan chest drawers are full of hundreds of sketches and unused pages, but I adore drawing and it’s a great way to spend time.

Creating the final artworks is the reward for all the preparation and hard work. When all the decisions have been made and every page is finalised, I tidy the studio, put on my favourite apron and mix up my chosen ink colours to start screen-printing. It’s a really laborious process, printing one colour at a time, but so wonderful to see the colours working together as the pages hang drying on a makeshift peg line in the studio.

Today I’ll probably leave the studio at around 6 or 7 and go in search of dinner. If I was working on final artworks or another deadline, I might finish around midnight only to do the same thing again for several weeks until the work was finished. So I’ll enjoy a bit of downtime now and maybe have a glass of wine and watch some TV before heading off to bed. Instead of reading a book I’ll lie in the dark thinking of different characters, and hoping that an idea comes to me as I drift off to sleep. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably get up early tomorrow and start doing some sketches. At the moment I’m learning to draw horses and donkeys. I think I’ll start with those and see what happens.