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Q&A with Jane Foster

Illustrator, designer & author from Kingsbridge

My name is Jane Foster and I’m an illustrator / designer and author. I spend my time illustrating designs for my own screen prints and toys, for my children’s books and also to license to a company called Make International who use my designs on mugs, glasses, kitchen textiles etc…I work from a studio in my garden in Devon that my partner built. It’s timber and very well insulated so I can work in all weathers! I have an office area, a screen printing area, a sewing area and a drawing desk.

How did you get started in screen printing and book writing, what is your background? 

My background is in music – I spent 5 years studying the violin and piano at music college (The Royal Northern College of Music) followed by a music teaching career for 16 years. I came to screen printing later in life although I did do some at school when I was 15.

I was 37 when I did a screen printing course in Brighton. I discovered I was living around the corner from a screen printing studio and signed up for a 6 week course (one evening a week) and was hooked! I then realised I was in the wrong career, or rather, I’d discovered a bigger passion than music! I then had the challenge of trying to work out a long term plan to realise my dream! I booked into many sessions (you could use the facilities on an hourly basis) around my full time teaching career and gradually started selling my work in small shops in and around Brighton. I printed onto fabric and made bags and purses. I was fortunate to have been spotted by The Art Group who I then signed a 5 year contract with  -  my prints were sold in Habitat and other stores around the country.

I opened my first simple website and started selling online. I finally gave up teaching in July 2008 and threw myself into my new career. I also started a blog and started to sell on Etsy and get small bits of coverage on other peoples blogs. In 2012 I got an email from a woman asking me if I’d ever wanted to write a book and my response was ‘Yes, but I’ve never been asked!’. This lovely woman (who is now my literary agent) happened to be working for a company called WME who talent spot actors, musicians and authors. My first 3 book deal followed shortly after. This was a book deal with Collins and Brown (who are now called Pavilion books) to write 3 craft books - the first was called Fun With Fabric, the second Creative Craft With Kids and the third has yet to be written. I was also very fortunate to have been given another book deal with Templar publishers here in the UK to illustrate some pre-school board books - these were published May 2015 and are 123 and ABC. I’ve also been working on several more children’s books to be published January 2016.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path for beginners? 

I’m a completely self taught illustrator – this may have been a huge advantage to me and my work as I’ve never really known harsh criticism. I think I would have struggled at art school - instead, I just draw my naive childlike illustrations in my own little bubble, not looking at anyone else and not comparing. I think if you want something enough and are truly driven to the extent that you will do everything you can to develop your own unique recognisable style, keep up with Facebook, blogging, admin etc… then there’s every chance you can make a success of your work.

What is a turning point in your professional career? 

The turning point has really been my collaboration with the company ‘Make International’ so they can produce products with my designs on. This has enabled me to focus on the illustration side of things (which is what I enjoy most) whilst they put things into production, do the trade shows, marketing  etc.. and get my designs onto a world wide platform to an audience I could only have dreamt of reaching. The products are selling in all the John Lewis stores and many other large stores in Japan, the States etc.. I’ve been able to stop the frantic toy making and stuffing that was my bread and butter for years to concentrate on new designs. I also think the children’s book deals have also coincided with this slight path change, enabling me to focus more time on the actual drawing.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you work in your design studio all day long or mix a few activities? 

I like to work all day in the studio listening to radio 4 (or TED talks on I player) but have time out for lunch, sitting in the garden with my partner (if it’s nice weather).

I always do the school pick up at 3.15 and have several hours off, playing with our 7 year old daughter, taking her to the park etc.. cooking tea, having cuddles on the sofa watching TV with her etc…After our daughter goes to bed, I’m back in the studio working till midnight. I love the quiet, uninterrupted time. One morning a week, my partner and I will treat ourselves to breakfast somewhere and every Wednesday morning, I meet a group of friends for an hour coffee and cake!

Where are your favorite places in Devon or outside?

I live in the country so going to a city would be Exeter or Plymouth, but this only happens a few times a year and when it does, I love shopping and going to lovely cafes! My favourite places near to where I live are the beaches. We go to the beach every Sunday and search for sea glass, striped pebbles or drift wood. We all have wet suits and if it’s not too cold, we’ll venture into the sea, usually only up to our knees! The beaches here are stunningly beautiful and you can often have the whole beach to yourself. I like going where there’s no internet reception so I het away from any emails!!

Who are the designers and illustrators, colleagues in UK or outside you admire most? 

I’m always fascinated with artistic couples who work together. (My partner Jim has always worked alongside me, exposing my designs onto silk screens or scanning in my work to be emailed etc..). My favourite British design couple is Robin and Lucienne Day  - they were amazing furniture and fabric designers of the 50s and 60s and have produced iconic designs that are still collected today. Another favourite is the artist / illustrator Dick Bruna. He works in the same way as I do, does some illustrating before showing them to his partner for approval or comments! I also love the designer Orla Kiely who is the world’s expert on pattern.