Spotlight: Interview with Rowena Aitken

Rowena is a brilliant illustrator based in Scotland – we just had to know more about her charmingly mad characters!

From starting out in RPG and fantasy illustration to your recent quirky and fun characters, you’ve maintained a healthy population of adventurous pirates, warriors and dinosaurs in space in your portfolio – could you tell me more about your own artistic adventure?

I suppose I have always been on an artistic adventure – always drawing! I started finding my voice at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design where I started off on the foundation course and moved onto Animation & Electronic Media. The drawing side of animation was what I loved and I dug my heels in to stay away from learning 3D software! I love the freedom of drawing and it was clear after graduating that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else for a living so I boldly went into doing freelance illustration for RPG books and games. This taught me a lot and mainly that clients are (amazingly) people and while you have to maintain a level of professionalism you can have a lot of good banter! Over the years I have had many fun projects but I suppose my heart lay in “The Silly”. I love silly expressions, fun colours, exaggerated poses – extremes, really! I made a deliberate move to go into children’s illustration and I utterly adore it.

You’ve recently finished working on a book called ‘Ruan The Little Red Squirrel’ – how did you build a working relationship with writer Rachel McGraw to bring the characters to life?

Well thanks to the power of the internet this was made relatively easy! Forth Books, publishers of “Ruan The Little Red Squirrel” and Rachel are based near Edinburgh so in a combination of a few meetings and lots of emails we crafted the story of Ruan. Forth and Rachel are lovely to work with and I think it shows in the final product.

Could you tell us a little more about the picture book you’re working on at the moment?

I can! The story is called The Kilted Coo – Rachel McGaw’s second venture into children’s books with Forth Books. Here’s a poem by Rachel from her Facebook Page to tell you a little about The Kilted Coo:

Facebook friends, if I could have a moment or two…
I have some exciting news for you –
I’m thrilled to announce that book number two 
Is on the way about a coo called Drew.

Most of the details are still under wraps 
But for now I’ll give you some of the facts:
Illustrated by Rowena, published by Forth,
I hope it’ll be a hit here, up North.

In case you haven’t worked it out by now
It’s a rhyming story about a highland cow,
Set on a farm on the West Highland Way 
About a cow and a kilt… and that’s all I’ll say!

So please feel free to like and share
(To spread the news everywhere)
And look out for ‘The Kilted Coo’
In a bookshop soon somewhere near you!

It’s incredibly fun to work on as animals are my favourite thing to draw. There may be cameos from Pixel (The Studio Cat), some y-fronts and a certain Little Red Squirrel!

What’s your working process from inkling of an idea to fully-fledged Photoshop painting?

Ooh it’s a long one! If it’s a book I start off by going through the story and reading any notes the author and/or publisher have added; If it’s a painting I look at the brief or go with my own ideas if they’re personal pieces then spend time looking for reference images of animals, environments, people, clothing etc to get the ideas going. Then I start VERY rough by scribbling out thumbnails – combo of digital and paper – to work out compositions. Then I mock up the pages, working out text placement (if this hasn’t already been defined by the client), plan out characters, work out a rough colour scheme (this is all very messy!) and somewhere in between there and the finished piece the art happens! Lots of coffee helps too 🙂

I loved the ‘Haggis: a Simple Guide’ – does the Haggis have a way to defend itself against the predatory Nessie and midgies?

Thank you! For the Haggis avoidance is the best strategy but unfortunately they aren’t very bright and can sometimes end up too close to the water’s edge!Regarding midgies – no one can escape them!

Revise your Haggis knowledge and see Rowena’s brilliant work here

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