Q&A With Illustrator Sophie Beer

Queensland based book illustrator Sophie Beer shares with ABDA some insights into the inspiration and processes behind her bright, buzzing illustrations. 

Did you mean to end up as an illustrator? What was your trajectory?

A very circuitous one! I went to uni for law and literature but had no passion for law and was warned off going further with my lit degree by my professors who said there were no jobs in the field. I started drawing as a way to cope with feeling directionless; never in a million years thinking I could actually make a living out of being creative. I put my drawings up online and received positive feedback, so I started an Etsy store and the rest is history!

What does a typical work day involve?

I usually break my day down into slots for the jobs that I’m juggling at that moment. I use a revised Pomodoro method to make my brain stay on track: an hour of work, ten minute (tea) break, an hour of work, etc! It’s not easy to keep yourself in check when you work for yourself and have to be your own boss, especially when you have cats wandering all over your keyboard and a dog who wants to play.

Walk us through your image-making process.

I usually start off with pencil and paper thumbnails as this allows me to get a striking composition. Then I use my phone to scan it into my Mac (TECHNOLOGY!), import it into Photoshop and do the rest on there. I use a few handmade brushes and textures in Photoshop too.

How do you know when a project is done?

Never! I could work on an image for a million years, always trying to make it better! I’m hardly ever satisfied with an illustration and my editors usually have to pry it from my hands to stop me making changes. The last picture book I illustrated, Arthur and the Tiger, had a completely different colour scheme a week out from printing. I don’t think the production designers were pleased!

What inspires your colour palettes?

Sunsets, flowers, bees, walks in the park, Scandinavian wall tapestries, tropical birds, 50s illustrations, print fabrics, anything! However, sometimes I get SUPER stuck and will just endlessly click through coolors.co until I find a scheme that pops. It has saved my life before!

What tool – digital or otherwise – can’t you live without?

My Cintiq tablet. My back thanks me for this extravagant purchase.

Dream project or client?

I’d love to do a series of books about endangered animals. I’m a nature addict and the threat of climate change is so catastrophic that I’d love to help in a substantive, minds-changing sense. I’d like to start a conversation with kids about the very real effects of how we’re treating the world and what they can do to help seems urgent. Perhaps the Prime Minster would be a better recipient of such a book!

Who is one of your favourite artists and why?

I adore Mary Blair’s work! She was one of the few female animators at Disney in the 50s and had imagination and talent in buckets. She’s my computer background AND my phone background. I’ll never tire of her approach to colour.

Your favourite place (store, library, blog etc) to look at books?

Indie bookstores are lovely as they usually have a cafe attached! I just moved to the Gold Coast and was delighted to find Bookface. I have spent an obscene amount of time in their childrens section over the past few months.
 I love The Little Bookroom in Melbourne too. I got to do an illustration for their children’s literature festival last year!

Most memorable book from childhood?

The Magic Beach by Alison Lester. I used to spend hours as a kid poring over the illustrations, picking out all of the hidden jokes and details. My mum gave a copy to me on my 21st birthday and I still think it’s a feat of genius.