Artist interview: Illustrator Willa Gebbie Discusses her Creative Journey, Prolific Career and Go-To Materials

by Cass Art

Scottish born Illustrator and Daler Rowney Ambassador, Willa Gebbie is well renowned for her beautifully crafted illustrations, combining traditional watercolour with contemporary digital elements. Her prolific career includes collaborations with high profile luxury retail brands, mentoring up and coming illustrators and running live events. We caught up with Willa to find out more about her creative practice, her favourite materials and the 'average week' of a professional illustrator. We also get her professional opinion on four world class paper brands: The Langton, Saunders Waterford, Bockingford and Arches. 

Hi Willa. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an illustrator?

My route to illustration was pretty unorthodox. I have always loved art, but my family isn't creative, and I was encouraged to pursue a career in the sciences. To be clear, I loved (and still love) science too, so this wasn't a mistake by my parents. After a degree in Chemistry, and a number of years working as a research scientist, I realised that I wasn't fully satisfied. I taught myself Photoshop in the evenings, with the aim of becoming a graphic designer, and through this, discovered the potential for a career in illustration. I volunteered with some graphic design agencies, and some fashion print houses, while I built a portfolio, and slowly became freelance. 

I've been lucky enough to be working as a full-time illustrator for 9 years now. I love my job, and feel grateful every day that I am able to make a living from my art. 

Looking at your portfolio you have an incredibly prolific and varied career – from creating beautiful illustrations for luxury brands to running events to working as a mentor for younger illustrators. What does an average week look like for you?

Week to week things can change a lot. Before the pandemic, I worked regularly at luxury events for clients like Chanel, Lancôme and Kate Spade. This involved a lot of travel. But more recently I've been at my studio, working for magazines like Porter, Stylist and Kew. When I have client work, I really spend most of my time painting. However, there are also times when I am quiet with client work. That down-time is essential for me to catch up with admin and self-promotion. 

I'm a mum to a young family, so at the moment, I fit my work into four days a week 9-5pm, with the occasional evening or weekend event. 

Good quality art materials are vital to any artist’s toolkit. If we were to wonder into your studio, what materials would we find? Do you have any favourite brands?

Over the years my style has changed a lot, and I've collected a lot of different materials and brands, and to be honest, I dip in and out, and mix things up. I'm not a purist. Sometimes the best texture can be achieved from an old dried up pen nib, or a cheap bingo marker. When I'm sketching, I'll use pretty much anything I can put my hands on.

For my commissioned work, however, I tend to stick to watercolour, and for this, I paint with a mixture of Maimeri Blu and Daler Rowney Aquafine watercolours. They are perfect for my studio work, and give reliable, smooth colour. For live events, I also love using Kuretake ZIG clean color pens. They are less easy to work with for fine projects, but are great when you don't have access to water, or need something more graphic.

One final question for you Willa. What’s next on the horizon for you?

After starting a family, I promised myself that I wouldn't make any big career changes for a couple of years. The pandemic has really helped me to keep that promise to myself! And I'm lucky that I've not been financially affected to the point that I have to make swathing changes. 

But, one thing the pandemic has done, is renew my interest in science, particularly the natural and environmental sciences. I'd really like to explore this more in my work, in particular with some illustrated books. I'll be reaching out to some publishing houses, so watch this space.

I've also started playing about with sewing and ceramics. I'm interested in moving my artwork off the page and onto new surfaces, and I'm excited about the possibilities for this.

Thank you Willa!

Feeling Inspired? Check out Willa Gebbie's guide to paper in the videos below. She discusses world class paper brands The Langton, Saunders Waterford, Bockingford and Arches.


 

The Langton Paper with Willa Gebbie


Saunders Watercolour Paper


Bockingford Hot and Cold Pressed Watercolour Paper


Arches Paper

Also check out Willa Gebbie's website and instragram to find out more about her incredible illustrations and career. 

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