Growing up in Grantham, Abi has been drawn to illustration since childhood. She received a degree in graphic design from Leeds University, before working in London and New York, later returning to the UK and settling in Yorkshire. Her time in the US is a big source of inspiration, with the landscape, culture, people, food and wildlife across the country feeding into her personal work.
Sketching and working digitally, Abi’s approach is informed by her graphic design training. She uses illustration to communicate, never to decorate, and it’s always about stripping away the noise and concentrating on the message and emotion of the piece.
There are two main threads in the Paperface portfolio. The first is based on clean and colourful line work, using strong, graphical forms to make an impact. Abi’s second style reveals her love of texture as she paints in loose brushstrokes, often creating characters in monotone shades and capturing all the nuances of hair and fur, wood grain, wrinkly skin and more…
2019 – World Illustration Awards – SAA Agents Award for New Talent
Question: What led you to become an illustrator?
Paperface: I’ve been working as Graphic Designer for the past 11 years and went freelance about 5 years ago in order to concentrate more on illustration. I’ve always loved illustration and got to illustrate a job during my final year as a full-time designer - I think this really made me understand that I wanted to make the switch.
Question: Did you study illustration in college?
Paperface: I actually studied Graphic Design at Leeds Uni.
Question: Where did you grow up?
Paperface: I was born in Norwich and grew up in Grantham.
Question: Do you have a childhood memory relating to drawing/art that you hold dear?
Paperface: I was recently sorting through a pile of childhood stuff and came across a sketchbook of portraits containing one of my Mum, my Dad, Emma Forbes, Andi Peters and Dave Benson-Phillips. Clearly the most important people in my life at the time.
Question: Where do you live now and what drew you there?
Paperface: I live in Yorkshire now, in a tiny village called Saltaire where we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by nature and greenery. Before that my husband and I lived in Brooklyn, NY so i think the draw of a garden and lots of green, open space was a big one!
Question: Describe your studio for us.
Paperface: I either work down in the basement and when I start feeling like I’m turning into a troll, I work upstairs in the spare bedroom.
Question: Describe the view from your window.
Paperface: Basement: a leafy light well with the occasional grumpy frog thats fallen through the grate. Upstairs: lots and lots of trees.
Question: Who or What is your biggest inspiration?
Paperface: I think Instagram is brilliant for finding illustrators and inspiration - as long as you don’t fall down a rabbit hole! If I spend too long on there I actually feel totally unmotivated so it’s a balance. In terms of people, I love Geoff McFetridge and McBess - and I love flicking through books about old Disney animators’ sketches when I’m stuck for inspiration.
Question: How do you get your ideas?
Paperface: They can literally come from anywhere - having had to spend more time at home in the last few months, my home and local area has provided a lot of inspiration recently - flowers, trees, and wildlife have cropped up a lot. My husband also keeps bees, so that leads to endless bee-related inspiration - and more flowers!
Question: What are your interests outside of illustration?
Paperface: I love playing video games, I’m in the middle of Disco Elysium at the moment and it’s so weird and beautifully done.
Question: What is the first record you bought?
Paperface: Kids by Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue. I wish I was joking.
Question: What was your favourite assignment ever?
Paperface: I recently finished working on a job all about dogs and puppies! One of my favourite subject matters!
Question: What would be your dream commission?
Paperface: I’d love to illustrate a kid’s picture book. Or anything cake related.
Question: What is the best use of illustration you have ever seen?
Paperface: I still absolutely love Robin Davey’s illustrations for Oscar Healthcare in the US. It was a perfect example of copy and illustration working in harmony to make a very dry subject matter accessible and engaging. I also love Franz Lang’s illustration for MailChimp - so unexpected and brimming with personality.
Question: What makes a good client brief?
Paperface: Something that isn’t too locked in place and has room for exploration.
Question: How much of your work is hand drawn?
Paperface: My process involves going back and forth between hand drawn and digital until there’s a nice balance of clean shapes and wobble.
Question: How do you envisage illustration evolving?
Paperface: I think hopefully it will continue to be seen as a very valuable communication tool, as opposed to ‘pretty pictures’ that can be taken or left. The more it is commissioned and seen out in the world delivering messages that move people, I think the understanding of what it can achieve in the right setting will keep growing.
Question: How do you keep on trend and up to date in our quickly changing industry?
Paperface: I try not to look! The pressure to ‘keep up to date’ is a bit of a trap that invades lots of layers of life and I think it’s more important to understand what you’re trying to say with your work. It’s interesting and important to keep your eye on what’s happening in the industry but you can’t let trends dictate what direction you go in.
Question: What is your go-to comfort food?
Question: What movie can you watch over and over?
Paperface: The Sting
Question: What do you listen to when you’re illustrating?
Paperface: The ‘Stuff You Should Know’ podcast
Question: What is the last show you binged?
Paperface: Ashamed to say - Tiger King - I was getting desperate!
Question: What was the last exhibition you saw and loved?
Paperface: Good Grief, Charlie Brown! at Somerset House last year
Question: What was the last concert you went to?
Paperface: Going out to a gig seems like such a distant memory! But think it was First Aid Kit at Leeds Academy.
Question: What is your favourite book?
Paperface: I love the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett
Question: What do you do when you have creative block?
Paperface: Flick through illustration books or get on Pinterest - I love old Disney books and video game art books.
Question: What is your go-to karaoke song?
Paperface: ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it For You’ by Bryan Adams