Today on Tuesday Tours we’re joined by author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster who creates magical worlds by photographing her illustrated characters within doll-size sets that she forms out of mount board and paper. From her studio set on a hill in Bedfordshire, England, Harriet has created the books I Am a Witch’s Cat, Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat!, and illustrated the Glitterbelle series—which might explain why she has shelves of fabulously-filled jars of glitter.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am an author and illustrator of children’s books. Up until now I have worked mainly in 3D – building dollshouse-size sets out of card and fabric and then photographing them.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process? I haven’t had my studio for very long. My husband and I just moved into our first house in January. Before that we were actually living with my parents and my studio was just in my bedroom! It’s so nice to be able to have my sleeping space and working space in different rooms now. It’s also a lot less messy. I find that the configuration of my studio can affect my creative process. When we first moved in I arranged everything in a different way to how it is now. It just didn’t work as well – especially my desk being pushed up into the corner of the room. It felt constricting and I didn’t feel compelled to want to go and sit in there and work. I rearranged it all a couple of months ago and it feels so much better now!
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
There isn’t really a typical workday for me. It’s always different, depending on what I need to get done and the workload. There are periods of time that can become more typical though. For example if I’m sketching out roughs for a 120 page book, that might take me about 3 weeks. So each day will become very similar for around 3 weeks. But then I’ll move on to something different and things will change.
When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
The time when I had the most fun working in my studio has been these last few weeks actually. I am working on a project – which I can’t really say much more about right now, that I am so so so excited about. I am really passionate about it and I wake up every day at the moment just so excited to work on it like there’s a fire under my feet! I can’t wait until it’s published (autumn 2016 I hope) and I can talk about it more!
You’ve done a fabulous job of mixing three dimensional sculptures with two dimensional illustrations. Do you think illustrating in a nontraditional way is more challenging? What are some of the bigger challenges?
Thank you! In a way I don’t think illustrating in a non-traditional way is more challenging. Making models to photograph means you don’t have to worry about depth in the image because it’s already there. Or getting things looking like they are the right perspective. Because it’s just there automatically! That’s not the reason why I do it though. It’s not just laziness. It’s because I have such a passion for tiny things. I have always been fascinated by miniatures and spent my childhood making tiny things. It felt very natural to me to create my work that way. I think I find it easier than drawing flat pictures in fact! There are challenges though, like if you want to create a scene that isn’t a room, a scene with a big landscape, you need a lot of space. Also it can get quite expensive with all the materials and lighting that are necessary to buy. The photography can be a challenge sometimes too. I am not always sure exactly how the scene will turn out once it’s photographed.
What do you do with all of your characters and props when you’re finished photographing them?
To be honest they end up dismantled most of the time. I just don’t have the space to keep them all. Also, because they are only made of mountboard and card and paper, they start to warp and fall apart and look shabby after not too long anyway.
If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
I’m not sure I could share a studio with anyone. I would get too distracted. I work much better on my own. I watch stuff and listen to audiobooks while I work. I remember at university working in the big studio with everyone else and I definitely didn’t get as much work done there. I just ended up chatting too much! Saying that, I guess I can share a studio with my little mascot Celestine. She’s very quiet and no trouble. Sometimes she sits and works with me in my studio at her own tiny desk. She’s a jewellery designer.
Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I am always inspired by the Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs. They are my favourite books of all time! I got a big Dorrie poster printed for my studio so I can see her all the time in there. I also get very inspired by Pinterest. I love love love looking at images on there and I love making mood boards for characters and books.
If you could add a new tool or piece of furniture to your studio, what would it be?
I’m not sure there’s anything I would add but I wouldn’t mind it being a bit bigger. At the moment my mac sits in front of my window so I have to close the blind whenever I’m on the computer in the daytime which is not ideal.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Well everyone’s different but I would say surround yourself with pictures you love or that inspire you. I hate blank walls so I have just covered my walls in other artist’s work and also my own work. I like to see other peoples work because it is inspiring but I also like to see my own published work because it boosts me up if I am feeling under confident. I also find it useful to stick up pictures of characters and things that I am currently working on.
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My next book—Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat! is out around July/August. I also illustrated a version of The Night Before Christmas in 3D, which should be out sometime this year too. You can find out more on my blog.
Thank you, Harriet! I’m eager to hear about your new project and also to check out Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat!
Join us next week when author/illustrator and my good friend and conference buddy Amy Ward will be sharing her studio in Peoria, IL.
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