Gemma Correll Illustrator Interview

Gemma Correll

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I remember discovering that I loved to draw and that I was good at it. When you’re a child and somebody tells you that you’re good at something, you believe it. So I thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to be an illustrator.” I would draw as much as possible when I was younger, making my own comics and picture books in my notebooks. I’d volunteer to make posters and decorate the notice boards at school. I also realized that if I offered to make art for the overhead projector for assemblies, I could often skip Physical Education class: my least favorite class.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
I read a lot as a child. My favorite place was the library. I was influenced by the illustrators of the books I read: Posey Simmonds, Quentin Blake and Terry Deary (who illustrated, Horrible Histories). I also loved to read my Dad’s copy of, The Far Side Anthology, and his annuals of the work of the cartoonist, Carl Giles, who was local to the town that I lived in. When other kids at school chose projects about football players or pop singers, I always made mine about Carl Giles.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
I don’t have much of the artwork I made as a child. I remember drawing lots of cats. Not much has changed!

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I knew that I wanted to make art but I was also unsure whether I could make it a career. I was afraid of the unpredictability of freelance work and because I got good grades in school, I felt that I should study something more academic, even though I won a prize for being top in my class in graphic design.
When I was in high school, I changed my mind frequently about the career I wanted to pursue. I originally applied to and was accepted at Cambridge University to study English and intended to become a teacher. I changed my mind and applied as a sociology major, then psychology, and then I decided to study to become a nurse. Finally, I realized that I really wanted to study illustration so I went to art school.

Did you study art in school?
In grammar school and high school, I loved art class. I also studied graphic design and textile design. I spent so much time doodling in my notebooks that one of my teachers bought me a sketchbook. In college, I studied graphic design, with a specialization in illustration.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
The impulse to make art has always been there. It’s my way of understanding the world and processing the things that happen. I’m introverted and spend a lot of time thinking. Drawing allows me to get those thoughts out of my head and onto paper. My ideas come from all over,
especially books and magazines. I like to read as extensively as possible in order to find inspiration from many places. I enjoy learning and studying and that helps to inform the work I create.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
Everything I create begins in my sketchbook. Ideas are central to my creative process and I like to generate as many as possible before starting a new project. I draw ideas as they come to me and if I’m working on a big project, I spend a lot of time brainstorming before I start on a “final” illustration.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
My favorite illustrator is Lynda Barry. I love the way that she combines text and images in such a humorous way. Her work is carefree and very creative.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
I would work as a therapist, or a teacher for children with special needs. I’m particularly interested in art therapy.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
I don’t remember my first set of art supplies, but I remember being obsessed with stationery when I was a child. All I wanted for Christmas were books and stationery. I collected the sharpener shavings from my pencils in a tin.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
My favorite place to draw is on the couch with my dogs. I enjoy drawing anywhere where I can sit comfortably. I love to take my sketchbook outside and draw in a park or a café.

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
My art is very personal. It comes from real life experiences and thoughts; with a little humor and surrealism thrown in. To understand my art, is to understand me, as a person.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?

I think that the public doesn’t always understand the scope of illustration. If I tell someone that I am an illustrator, they usually say “Oh, so you illustrate children’s books?” Of course, that’s true, but there’s more to the field than that.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
Art matters to me on a personal level. I don’t think I could survive without it. Art is a universal language, and in that way, it can bring people together.

If you could look back or forward a hundred years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
I sometimes worry about the effect of the internet on illustrators. So often now, I see my own and others’ work being used without consent in advertising, and on products, especially on social
media. You have to put your work out there to be seen, and social media is a great way to do that, but it’s also a place where ideas and imagery can be easily stolen.
If companies don’t want to pay to commission art and instead just use stock imagery, or something they found online, the quality of illustration will go downhill. Illustrators work to a brief with art directors, to create something tailored to the client. You can’t get that from a Google search.

If this problem isn’t resolved, making a real living as an illustrator may become pretty difficult but in a hundred years, who knows what could happen?