Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Bethan Woollvin

h1 September 20th, 2016 by jules

Earlier this Spring, Peachtree brought readers the debut picture book from Bethan Woollvin, pictured here, who is a recent graduate of the Cambridge School of Art in England. I wrote about this book, Little Red, here over at Kirkus, because it’s a well-crafted debut. (Back in 2014, it up and won the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition over in the UK.)

And then I was curious to see more art from Bethan and learn more, so I invited her over for a 7-Imp cyber-breakfast. “If I could have any breakfast,” she tells me, “I’d go all American on you guys and have the full waffle-bacon-syrup deal, but since I’m not in New York, I’ll stick to porridge with strawberries.”

YUM. This is good with me. I’ll throw in some coffee. Also good with me is seeing more art from Bethan and getting a peek into her Little Red sketchbook. So, let’s get right to it.

And I thank her for visiting.


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Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Bethan: Author/Illustrator.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Bethan: Just one, my debut — Little Red. More to come, I promise!



Jules: What is your usual medium?

Bethan: I mainly use gouache paint for my artwork — often Caran D’ache for the amazing pigments.


Bethan’s gouache palette
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Bethan: I currently live in Brighton, UK. Supposedly a lot of children’s book illustrators live here, too — like Emily Gravett!



Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Bethan: My road to publication, briefly, was through winning the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition. I was in the second year of my Illustration (BA) degree, and I submitted Little Red to Macmillan and won first prize! Little Red was published on 24th March 2016.


(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?



“And he made a plan.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“Which was unlucky for Grandma.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“‘Hello, Grandma,’ Little Red said, though she wasn’t fooled for a minute. …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got our coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with six questions over breakfast. I thank Bethan again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Bethan: When I start working on a new project or book, I always start with ideas. I think this is the most important part, and it’s where you can have the most fun. A nifty little trick to help with idea-creation is to write as many topics/themes you’re interested in down in under three minutes. I have some strange ideas come out of processes like this; plus, it’s a lot of fun too.


Little Red sketchbook
(Click each to enlarge)


Once I have my idea, I spend time in a sketchbook, playing with it. This is often the stage where my story and its characters are quite crude. Soon after, I then start to develop recognisable characters, and I work them into compositions for the story. This is by far my favourite part, seeing what is possible with a spread of artwork. By this point, I might move out of my sketchbook onto large paper where I can experiment with colours and materials. This is often the messiest stage! After that, I have to start refining all my experimental artwork and compositions into final artwork, although I admit that I actually generate the final artwork quite quickly, as the looseness and bold line are key in my illustrations. I just add the final touches in Photoshop, where I clean up a few little mistakes here and there.


Little Red sketchbook
(Click to enlarge)


Little Red before and after
(Click to enlarge)


2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Bethan: My usual work space starts off fairly clean, but I’m really clumsy and messy, so that doesn’t last long. I have a long white desk that is often covered in paint, paper, and sketchbooks. Aside from my desk, I have a lot of books (mainly picture books) and also a lot of ‘crap,’ as my parents call it, that I’ve collected over the years.


(Click each to enlarge)


3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Bethan: Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka really inspired me with The Stinky Cheese Man, which is still so hilarious to me. I thought the way they adapted the fairy tales was brilliant — and was a strong influence for Little Red.



As for books I enjoyed when I was little, here’s a list of my favourites:

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Bethan: I think I’d prefer a nice glass of Prosecco in sunny Italy, and who better to share it with other than Rod Campbell, Dahlov Ipcar, and Gaëtan Dorémus. Paradise!



5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Bethan: I listen to music quite a lot when I’m illustrating. I’m listening to an old Kooks album at the moment, because it reminds me of summer.


What My Dog Ate


(Click to enlarge)


6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Bethan: I’m one of ten siblings!


Coming soon …


* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Bethan: “Petite.” It’s a nice way of saying I’m only 5’2″.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Bethan: “Exercise.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Bethan: I like going to museums or new exhibitions. It’s always inspiring to go and learn about something new.

Jules: What turns you off?

Bethan: Being stuck inside. It really puts a stop to my creativity. I like to be able to work wherever I like, so most of my work is usually in a bag, ready to go at any point.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Bethan: A chicken’s cluck. It’s so adorable!



Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Bethan: Chalk. Chalk on any surface is honestly the worst thing ever. That horrible scratching sound!

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Bethan: I’d love to work in a zoo and be able to feed elephants for a living.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Bethan: Being a banker would be the worst job. I’m really rubbish at maths.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Bethan: “‘Unlimited pizza. For eternity.”



* * * * * * *

All art is used by permission of Bethan Woollvin.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

One comment to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Bethan Woollvin”

  1. Congrats, Bethan! Little Red looks very cool.

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