Reimagining the Possible
with Illustrator Jackie Morris
Interview by L.M. Browning • Illustrations by Jackie Morris

Appears in The Wayfarer, Spring 2017 Issue (Vol 6. Issue 6) | Visit the Store»

Leslie

You grew up in Birmingham, England and lived there until at the age of four when your parents moved away to Evesham. After attending Prince Henry’s High School, you attended college in Exeter where they told you that you would never make it as an illustrator and from there you moved to the Bath Academy. Did that initial rejection affect your confidence? Did you feel the need to prove yourself as an artist or were you certain in your path from the beginning?

Jackie

The rejection from Exeter came as quite a shock. Even then I have a real passion for what I do, but confidence? No. And to be told that I wouldn’t make it as an illustrator, by people in positions of authority, well, it doesn’t help. But I have always had determination. As for proving myself as an artist, I still feel that. When people ask me what I do for a living these days I just say “coloring in.” Sometimes I admit to being a writer.

Leslie

The Ice Bear, The Cat and the Fiddle, Tell Me A Dragon, The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, How the Whale Became . . . I count over 30 illustrated books in your body of work. Many of your offerings have a spiritual slant to them, harkening to Abrahamic traditions as well as Celtic Mythology and Pagan and Shamanic traditions. Is this confluence of philosophies a reflection of your own spiritual journey?

Jackie

No. It’s to do with being an illustrator and being paid to do a job when you have a mortgage and two children. My own spiritual path twines around watching the wild world and finding first nation mythology when I was a child. I could never understand the “stewardship” of Christianity, nor the hierarchy of species and it was only when I learned that there was a people who believed in the equality of all life that the world made some sense. The arrogance of humanity continues to astonish me.
Leslie

Your usage of gold-leaf echoes the style of illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and the Book of Hours. Do you take inspiration from such works or is your style your own?

Jackie

More from Japanese screens I think than Celtic art. I love the use of squares of gold in some Japanese art. I love the way the light reflects off the gold and I love making icons of wildlife.

Leslie

What are your preferred mediums? Do you do digital work or all by hand or is there a mix of the two?

Jackie

I work in watercolor, pencil, gouache, on paper, usually, Arches hot pressed which gives a smoother surface for detail. I use mostly a series 7 no 4 Winsor and newton sable brush which gives a beautiful wash but also comes to an exquisite point. I love the way colored water stroked on paper can build paintings. I never use digital enhancement. But I do also love to draw, with a pencil, on paper.

Leslie

The French artist, Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” The body of your work brings your readers, both adult and children alike, on an adventure of the soul and imagination. When you compose your works, do you wish to transport your reader to a different world or transcend the present world in which they live?

Jackie

When I make books I try to catch stories that play through my head. I want to make books that help people escape from the every day, but also, as with books like East of the Sun, West of the Moon, I want to try to understand something of a story. For me books are a harbor, at least the ones I read are. The ones I make are hard work, deceptively hard. The book I am working on at the moment is utterly consuming in a way no other book has been. It’s a challenge, with words so divine to work with.

Leslie

What do you hope to achieve through your work? If you could have your young readers walk away with one thing after reading you books, what would it be?

Jackie

Something of what I hope to achieve is to bring to children an awareness and a love of the wild world, the world outside the human, the world that for me is so important. I would like to help to foster a respect for the natural world in which we live that has been lacking in Western culture for far too long.

Leslie

What would you say to all those struggling artists trying to make a living with their art?

Jackie

So many things. Don’t expect to make a living. The world owes you nothing, but if you work hard you may find that you speak to some or many who love what you do. Be prepared to do other jobs to supplement your income, but also be aware that it is more than possible to make a decent living as an artist. Most of all, say what your soul sings, for then what you say is true and you can never lose.

Leslie

What are you working on now?

Jackie

At present I have 6 books out this year: The Seal Children, One Cheetah, One Cherry: A Book of Beautiful Numbers, The Newborn Child, The White Fox, Tell Me a Dragon with Added Dragons and The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow.

And I am also working on an exquisite book called the Lost Words, written by Robert MacFarlane, illustrated by me. The catalyst for the book lay in a letter. Laurence Rose asked me to sign a letter to the Oxford University Press. You see in 2007 they had dropped certain words from their junior dictionary. Words like Acorn, adder, wren, heron, otter, conker, all words to do with nature. The dropping of these words was highlighted in Mr. MacFarlane’s wonderful book Landmarks. I wrote to Robert and asked if I were to do a book of dictionary definitions of these words and images on gold leaf might he write a forward. The result is so much more and he is writing exquisite words that celebrate these wild words and spell them back into being. And I have used the exquisite word twice, but it’s hard to know what other word to use. Wild words, spells, gold leaf and wild places . . . bramble, raven, wren, adder, kingfisher. It’s a joy to work on with a punishing deadline and it’s stretching my work and I can feel myself growing as an artist and learning about words from a master wordsmith.
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Follow Jackie on Twitter at @JackieMorrisArt or on Facebook under ‘The House of Golden Dreams” visit jackiemorris.co.uk to see her full library and tour schedule.

 

L.M. Browning is an award-winning author of nine books. Balancing her passion for writing with her love of learning, Browning sits on the Board of Directors for the Independent Book Publishers’ Association, she is a graduate of the University of London, and a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Writers. She divides her time between her home along Connecticut’s shore and Boston.

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