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Bethan Woollvin Creating Mischief

Sheffield-based author and illustrator brings critters, creatures and characters to life in reimagined fables.

When the world outside gets a bit too much - something we can all relate to at the moment - diving into the colourful realms of pictures and stories can be a welcome tonic. Bethan Woollvin’s wonderful band of critters, creatures and characters invite you to stop a while in their fantasy worlds, and enjoy the view.

First things first, tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey up until now.

My name is Bethan Woollvin and I'm a children’s book author and illustrator currently living in Sheffield. I’m originally from Essex, but relocated to the north four years ago after falling in love with The Peaks.

Growing up I was always very creative, but I struggled with the academic structure of school. Giving all of my attention to the more practical and creative subjects, I departed with a few qualifications mainly within the arts, so it seemed a natural path to take. I studied fine art and art history at sixth form, and went on to study illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.

I went to university not knowing what job I wanted within the arts, but found that the course nurtured my creativity and helped me define the type of artist I wanted to be. I discovered that I enjoyed telling stories with my illustrations and experimenting with character design. In 2014, midway through my degree, I entered the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition with my very first children’s book. Being my first ever attempt at writing and illustrating for children, I didn’t expect to receive anything more than some decent feedback, but incredibly I ended up winning the competition.

Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum

The story I had submitted was an alternative re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, which I retold to feature a feisty feminist Little Red, who requires no assistance from that good-for-nothing woodcutter to deal with her big bad wolf problem. The tale I submitted to the competition later became my debut picture book Little Red, published in 2016 by Two Hoots.

After receiving such positive praise for my first book, writing feminist children’s books has become a real passion of mine. Following the publication of Little Red, I’ve written two more alternative fairy tales including Rapunzel and Hansel & Gretel, and more recently I have worked on my own original tale, I Can Catch a Monster.

It is such a joy and privilege to work as an author and illustrator. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing! Every day brings a set of different creative challenges for me to overcome. It’s incredibly rewarding to work for children, especially when it allows me to create books for all children, not just girls, that include great female role models.

Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum

How do you approach the creation of illustrations for children's books? Do you work collaboratively with the author or is your creativity given license to fly solo?

I work as an author and illustrator on my own titles, and also independently as an illustrator for other authors. Both ways of working can be quite different.When working on my own titles, I would usually create my main character(s) and write a basic plot, adding more and more detail to both over the course of the project. When I illustrate for other authors, it’s likely that the words for the book are complete before I begin working on it. My job is to bring the words to life, building an exciting world for the characters and story.

Working as an author and Illustrator isn’t the solitary job many think it is. Creating books is a collaborative effort, or at least it has been in my experience. Publishers assign teams of people to work alongside authors and illustrators who help with editing, designing and the marketing of books. Sharing our thoughts, ideas and inspiration, we work together to create new and exciting books. Luckily, I work with a lot of really cool people within my publishers who share my creative vision and have always given me a lot of freedom on my book projects.

Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum

Your artwork invokes a lovely sense of nostalgia, particularly for Tove Jansson's 'Moomins'. Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new prints and characters?

I find myself inspired by traditional tales and folklore, classical art, printmaking, vintage illustrators and of course children’s books.I’m also fascinated by ancient history and love visiting museums, so I always find myself in one when I’m struggling to come up with any new ideas. Part of being a creative is having zero clue of what, when, if and who might inspire your next project, and making peace with that.

Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum
Photo by Danielle Maibaum

And finally, what's in the pipeline for 2021?

I’m working on my next original tale, which has certainly kept me busy over the last few months. I’m painting the final artwork as we speak which I plan to finish in early 2021.In March, I have a book being released titled Meet the Oceans, which I Illustrated for Sheffield-based author Caryl Hart. It’s the follow-up to our first book together, Meet the Planets. Instead of exploring space, this book features an exploration of all the earth’s oceans and seas.

We had a lot of fun making it and you can pre-order it here.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
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