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Interview with an Illustrator – Patricia MacCarthy

28 June 2018

About Illustrator, Author and Artist Patricia MacCarthy

Patricia is a much-loved UK-based illustrator, author and exhibiting artist that Hinkler Books is proud to have worked with for many years and many simply stunning books and other art and craft products. She has been widely celebrated for her gloriously detailed and whimsical art since 1983. In Patricia’s own words, upon examining her artwork, one can expect to “lay witness to nature’s fairy tale unfurling!” Patricia kindly took some time away from creating her amazing and intricate art, to answer some questions about her work process and what inspires her.

Hinkler Colouring Books, Picture Story Books and Colouring Canvases by Illustrator Patricia MacCarthy

What made you decide to become an illustrator and artist?

Right from the beginning, drawing and art was my favourite thing, along with crafts like collage, papier-mâché, sewing, knitting, macramé, plasticine and play-dough modelling. By the time I was at primary school, everyone knew I would be an artist when I grew up, because I told them so! Art was the subject I was always best at, and best known for! All mythical things, like mermaids, fairies, witches, dragons and unicorns, fascinated me as a child, as I was a bit of a dreamer. A story that certainly stuck with me from childhood (and is relevant to MerMay just past) was the famous fairy tale The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley. I loved this story, with its water-dwelling babies, supervised by the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and the fierce Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid.

What is an average work-day like for you?

As a freelance illustrator, I have a varied work day. It’s either 9am to 6pm, or much, much longer! Occasionally, I will do all-nighters to complete a deadline, but not very often! My husband, John Avon, who is also a freelance illustrator (and internationally well-known fantasy artist), works with me at home. This means we have each other’s company all day long, which is wonderful, but we do have separate studios.

Illustrator Patricia MacCarthy's Desk and Studio

My studio is a garden studio, so I can see the birds fluttering around the bird table, as well as our cat Rimini sneaking up on them, which can be very distracting at times!

Illustrator Patricia MacCarthy's Studio

Rimini the Cat

What inspires you most?

Nature and wildlife, and traditional fairy tales inspire me the most for my work.

You’ve done amazing work on a range of different Hinkler Books’ projects now, which one is your favourite and why?

I love working with the friendly, efficient Hinkler Team, and the projects are always fun and varied so I do not really have a favourite project! However, the huge, year-long Forget-me-not Fairies Treasury project does stand out as a major experience, with the wonderful author Marianne Musgrove, who is now a great friend, though sadly on the other side of the world!

What are your other hobbies and passions?

There was one time when I actually considered becoming a professional classical cellist, but as I explained earlier, becoming an artist prevailed! Over the years I have been a member of various orchestras and chamber music ensembles (trios and quartets), so it has been a main hobby. This is rather dormant now as I simply do not have enough spare time with all my illustration work.

Other passions are the ballet (as an audience member), gardens and gardening, collecting Old Chelsea and Blue Willow (blue and white crockery) and of course spending lots of quality time with my wonderful family, who are my joy. 

If you weren’t an illustrator and artist, what else would you like to do?

Something horticultural, I think, especially if it was to do with maintaining grand gardens for the National Trust, a conservation organisation in the United Kingdom.

Do you have any artists that inspire you?

Inspirational artists include Shaun Tan, Tony DiTerlizzi, Patrick Benson, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Jan Pienkowski, Maurice Sendak, Harold Jones, Alfred Bestall, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Cicely Mary Barker, to name but a few! 

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators out there?

Just follow your heart. If you are passionate and your inspiration is strong enough, success will follow. Practise makes perfect. Just draw and draw and draw, and your style will find you! 

Some more about Patricia MacCarthy…

Artist and Illustrator Patricia MacCarthy

Patricia lives and works by the sea near Brighton, England, with her husband John Avon and her two now-grown sons, Laurie and James, both of whom are completing study in art-related fields to join the family calling! Among Patricia’s many accomplishments, she has collaborated extensively with the highly acclaimed New Zealand author, the late Margaret Mahy, and was awarded the New York Times ‘Best Illustrated Book of the Year’.

As a hobby, Patricia and her husband John enjoy collecting beautiful and large natural crystals. Patricia hopes to someday include these glittering treasures in her artwork.