In these weird and wacky times, creatives across the world are having to adapt to this new way of life. I’ve been trying to see the positives and one of those is all this extra time to discover new artists. I recently came across Olivia Woolhouse Illustration on Instagram and fell in love with her vibrant, playful style.
Born and raised in Sheffield, Olivia’s love of art started two decades ago at the tender age of 3. Having studied art at GCSE and A – Level she went on to study Illustration and Visual Communication at Westminster University where she graduated in 2019 with a first. Her use of mixed media is expressive and fun, it tells stories of her travels, her other loves (pasta, nature, narwals) and leaves you scrolling and scrolling.
I was particularly sucked in by a series of alternative book covers Olivia produced, some of them in my opinion were better than the real thing and wanted to find out more about the project and how she’s been coping in lockdown.
I love your series of book covers, what sparked that project? (Some of them are better than the real thing!)
Thank you so much! That particular project was my third year final project at Uni. To be honest, I was really struggling to find a project in which to create a sustained body of work from, as our brief was so broad and open which in one sense was fantastic in allowing myself and my peers to really pull together all that we had learned and developed in the three years at University, but on the other hand it was also EXTREMELY daunting! Choosing a project that will represent your time at university, but also you as a practitioner to potential clients is a scary thing!
I was sat in bed one night, frantically searching the deepest areas of my brain for inspiration when a friend sent me a message about a particular book she had just finished, and how much she enjoyed it and was thinking about it even after she had turned the last page. My initial thought was, what a gift to be an author of something that truly affects the emotions and even the mindset of the consumer, and in a similar sense, how wonderful would it be to be the visual communicator of said novel?!
So I decided to reimagine some of my favourite books as a child and in my adult life so far, I chose books that had significant moral messages or themes which I could utilise in the imagery of the book jacket design.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style largely mixed media, using a range of tools in one image in order to generate diverse textures. I love exploring the natural world through my illustrations and the divinity of landscape and earthly elements with bold colours contrasted with a softer and more delicate line.
Who and what inspires and influences your work?
Since early childhood, I have always been inspired by the natural world. I was very lucky to have a childhood based around the outdoors, and engaging with nature from such an early age allowed it to naturally progress into my creative endeavours.
My main influences are David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, the environmentalist Jack Harries and beautifully executed films such as Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ‘The Revenant’. Basically people and imagery that celebrate the fragility and divinity of our natural world and the complexity of humankind.
We live in such a beautifully diverse planet, and I feel it is part of my responsibility as a creative to represent it to others through my work. Celebrating both nature and civilisation in my work is something which I believe is of the most importance now more than ever, and rekindling
the relationship we once had with Mother Earth through
imagery is something I would like to take further during my career.
What’s your earliest memory of creating art?
Oooh let me think… I must have been 3-4 years old, my Mum was helping do a painting of our dog Oscar, I remember thinking that he would be sad if I painted over the lines!
Describe your process from idea to final piece and does it change depending on what you’re designing.
Generally, my initial ideas get frantically scribbled down on my iPad, however if I am suddenly struck with a ‘light bulb moment’ an old sticky note will do! My next step is to think about my colour palette. What emotional theme am I bringing to the piece, and how can the colours and the tones of the colours help communicate this?
If I am completing a finished piece of work rather than a sketchbook spread, I will then refer to a plethora of reference image for composition ideas. I always find scrolling through photography extremely useful in understanding what works together, how light navigates a space and in turn, what shadows appear as a result of this.
I then head to my gouache paints, I’ll set down block colours in paint, then refine the details with my coloured pencils (which are admittedly in need of an update) and if the piece needs refining further, I will transfer it to my iPad where I can make any final adjustments using the app Procreate.
As a rule, my process always begins the same regardless of what I am working on, I think it’s helpful to have a consistent conceptualising process that can act as a foundation to aid the genesis of ideas or themes. It provides the support needed in order to branch out and individualise each piece depending on your own ideas or the client specifications.
Have you managed to stay creative during quarantine?
It’s a funny thing, it seems like there’s a lot of productivity/creativity- guilt tripping across the swathes of social media at the moment. I do feel as though it is very important to remember, you are not valued based on your creative output during these times. If you are one of these people that has harnessed their quarantine power and made a zine, updated their shop and made an Instagram perfect açai bowl every morning, then that’s super amazing!! But if you only managed to do a couple of concept sketches whilst consuming several cookies and 15 episodes of ‘Friends’ then that’s super amazing too!!
Health, love, family and compassion are what really should be the measure of success at the moment, in my opinion anyway!
And I’m definitely both of those people. Some days I’ll wake up and get 3 finished website ready pieces finished, other days I don’t manage to do anything! The hardest part is learning not to beat yourself up over it, which is something that so many people struggle with, myself included!
What are your top tips for when you want to be productive?
What has helped me creatively, is religiously going for a walk every morning for an hour – I am lucky enough to own a very high energy dog, so she always gets me up in the morning to spend some time in the fresh air. I always leave my phone at home, which allows me to feel more grounded and present first thing in the morning, whilst clearing my mind ready for the day. When I’m back at home, usually a cup of coffee later, I like to sit down for the afternoon and either plan future projects or work on commissions.
So my top tips are…
1. Always have your daily dose of the outdoors, even if its meditating with the window open.
2. Listen to podcasts while you work
3. Drink that coffee, baby!!
4. Hydration is key, always have a bottle of water by your side
5. Don’t force yourself to work, if you’re not feeling it, don’t worry about it, try again tomorrow!
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moment to date was my graduation ceremony in our beautiful capital city London, along side my family and wonderful partner Conor. It felt surreal to finally wear the gown and cap! Knowing that not only all of my hard work, but the hard work of all my peers had paid off and we were about to embark on a crazy, unpredictable and soul nourishing career in the arts was a definite life-highlight moment!
Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?
I would love to be an established freelance illustrator and be involved with both environmental and humanitarian projects.
Maybe working alongside organisations and charities on various projects.
Did you study art all throughout school/college?
Yes I studied art from Junior school, to GCSE, and then onto A level and finally degree level. But I do feel as though it is important to stress that it is not essential to have a formal education in art or a creative practice. There are so many resources available to learn from home, or classes to take part in that encourage people of all ages to get involved. Don’t let anyone put you off due to your age or the educational certificates you do or do not possess.
What do you love doing when you’re not drawing?
I’m a person of simple pleasures. I love walking our delightful border collie Bailey (who has been patiently sat waiting at my feet for the past hour now), sitting open mouthed at many David Attenborough documentaries (especially Planet Earth 2), and spending quality time with my partner. I am also partial to a box set, and the offer of a ‘Game of Thrones’ evening would never be turned down!!
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself…
Whilst at an Art Direction seminar at Pinewood Studios, I met Woody Harrelson whilst he was on his break during the filming of ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’!
What’s your go to album or artist when you need to get in the zone?
It has to be the composer Hans Zimmer. The way in which he can tell a story through music is utterly mind blowing.
I find instrumental music a key part of my workflow, it allows me to drop into a space of deep relaxation and concentration. I don’t have to follow any lyricism or wordplay, I can simply tune in and out as needed.