Based in Brighton, Sharon Tancredi is an award-winning illustrator and has worked for all sorts of clients including publishing, advertising, editorial, greetings cards and design, and especially children's books.
What are you working on at the moment?
I recently finished the last "Rescue Princesses" book cover (12 of 12!), which should be on sale later in 2014. It's been a brilliant series and so much fun - pretty girls and cute animals which is right up my street!
Can you describe how you make images?
I do lots of research first, to make sure I find just the right reference and inspiration, and then I do a few pencil roughs for the client to approve. At that point I go ahead to final using Adobe Illustrator (and a bit of Photoshop sometimes!). But they are primarily vector images.
Do you keep your style consistent or is it something that is always developing?
I feel strongly that one's style and approach to work is always developing. There is certainly something that I do that I have become known for, and so there is a sort of style as such. However when I look at work that I was doing 5 or 10 years ago it has certainly moved on a bit since then! More attention to my final images, more adept at Adobe Illustrator, and there is always lots of exciting work out there that you can't help but be inspired by that will on occasion influence your own work. As with any creative occupation, whether it be art or music or design of any sort, the moment you stand still and stop developing is the time that you have lost the love, which is so important.
Where do you take inspiration from, beyond the work of other artists and illustrators?
From everywhere and everything! One of the most invaluable bits of advice from another illustrator that I received during my BA degree course, was to look at EVERYTHING, and KEEP LOOKING! You will and should find inspiration from all forms of art, NOT just illustration. Fine art, architecture, sculpture, furniture design, packaging design... I used to wander around the city of London and look UP and see all these little architectural details from pre-20th century architecture, little flourishes. Or I really love Hawaiian shirts! I love the colours, the kitsch mid-century imagery. I love beautiful typography. I love amazing colour palettes that just "work" - you can't say why, they just do, and they are a joy to the eyes.
I could write for hours all the things that I find inspiring, and they needn't even just be visual things. Music can inspire what you're doing visually. As can beautiful literature and poetry. To look at just what other illustrators are doing I think is too easy - and you are cheating yourself, because you are taking a shortcut and looking at how someone else has translated all their inspirations into their work. It's certainly important and even 'normal' to look at what other illustrators are doing, and even be inspired by what they are doing.
But the best thing one can do is start from the beginning, find your own inspiration, and allow that inspiration to translate into what you are doing. Make it personal!
Is where you live an influence on your work?
I think that a place like Brighton (where I live), or London, are going to be obvious places to find artistic inspiration. But that's not to say you can't pursue and immerse yourself in beautiful things and art wherever you live. You just have to search a bit more, rather than it being so easily accessible and on your doorstep. And the internet makes that totally possible! In fact I think it's the best thing about the internet - it makes art and visual inspiration more accessible despite where you are!
What is your ideal working environment?
Order! I know that sounds mad but I think a lot of illustrators can relate to that! It's something of a misnomer that with creativity in any art comes "disorder" and mayhem - lack of organisation. But I find quite the opposite! I have to have complete order, I have to know where everything is, I have to be able to put my finger on whatever it is I might be after, not spend hours searching through piles of paper and mess! I think an artist friend described it quite well in that if there is disorder, there will always be a 'reason' to postpone creating something, just for the sake of it. Even though you love being creative, there is something inside that keeps trying to think of reasons why you just can't spend your time in such a trivial way. You need to seek out and establish a total lack of distraction first! Bizarre train of thought but totally true among many artists I have known! I'm sure I read an interview somewhere with Tracy Emin who has the exact same problem!
What do you think is the future of illustration?
To be honest I don't think the future is as bright as it was when I started out, or indeed in the 1980's when I first became interested in illustration and I was an art buyer for an ad agency. Things are much more competitive. Back then there probably was about a half dozen places in the UK where you could study illustration and get a degree. Now most universities across the country offer an illustration programme. It's popular! Who wouldn't want to draw for a living?
Then with all the wonderful things about the internet you also have the negative things, like the emergence of stock illustration web sites. It's so easy and cheap for anyone to download an existing illustration rather than have to commission it. We've had a recession in the past few years, and many of my regular clients (editorial) went out of business. Those who didn't just didn't have the budget to commission illustration anymore. Who can blame commissioners for using stock whenever possible? There are some types of illustration where it is difficult to imagine the use of stock, i.e. children's books especially. If it weren't for children's books I have no idea how I would've stayed afloat professionally over the past 3 years or so. Plus how easy is it to produce fairly professional-looking images with Adobe Photoshop now? I'm not saying it's impossible. It's just not as easy as it used to be, and you have to do extraordinary work, you have to get noticed, you have to win awards, you have to put much more into self-promotion than you used to. The competition is steeper, but as with most things I still believe the cream rises to the top!
What does 2014 hold for you?
I have no commissions planned or etched in stone yet! Just lots of mutterings and "maybe's". It's always the way. I just hope that I still manage to gain enough commissions so that I can still call myself an illustrator in 2014!
Take a look at Sharon's profile and artwork for sale on illustrato.rs or visit her website.