Illustrating The Secret Garden

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by Kim Tillyer

I’m an artist living in the Lake District where I make “cyanotype” prints as well as cards and printed gifts from my designs. I also work in a lovely bookshop which is how this story began.

I’ve illustrated two books for Purple Pomegranate, a collaboration that came about after Elspeth saw my cards in the bookshop in Grasmere – proof that “Just a Card” really is important for artists and small businesses. The first, a retelling of The Ugly Duckling was my first ever commissioned illustration project and was very much a steep learning curve. In that book I made use of some of the techniques I use in my own work – cyanotype printing and drawing- which I then combined in Photoshop. The limited, blue toned colour palette reflected the starting point of using cyanotype which is a Victorian process resulting in ethereal blue and white images. Henry Swan, a famously grumpy swan in Grasmere also provided inspiration.

In The Secret Garden, I chose to work differently, using inks and watercolour and looking at the overgrown garden belonging to our landlord’s cottage; all yew hedges, tangled clematis and rusty planters. I had forgotten, until I re-read the story, that The Secret Garden is set in Yorkshire and I used to live on the North York Moors (and work as a gardener) so I had plenty of imagery to inspire me. I tried using the traditional methods of transferring roughs using a lightbox but in the end I found it easier to add separately drawn characters to my painted “sets” using Photoshop to make a kind of digital collage. I didn’t study illustration formally (my degree was textiles and surface design) so I do feel as though I learned on the job and probably the hardest part was overcoming my own insecurities about that (and also not having any handy children to draw from! )

I’ve loved having the opportunity to work on these projects and learned so much in the process. Elspeth’s idea of sending small story books as cards is particularly lovely at the moment when people are looking at ways to keep in touch with family and friends.

BCTF online exhibition June 14 – 15