We Chat To Artist Faye Finney About Her Artistic Process And Her Beautiful Dog Sylvia

Interview: Amelia Brookes
Monday 21 August 2023
reading time: min, words

On a bright Tuesday morning, we spoke to illustrator and visual artist Faye Finney about her artistic process, her ambition to write and illustrate a children’s book, and the inspiration she gets from her beautiful dog, Sylvia. Here’s what she had to say…

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Hi, how are you doing today?
Hey! I’ve got to get my illustrator hat on… I also teach, as well, I’m a university lecturer. I’ve kind of spread my time between two things, but I’ve got to get my illustrator hat on today.

I wanted to ask you first of all about your motivations as an artist. What first got you into art? Do you know?
I think it’s one of those cliches, honestly. When I was a kid, I loved drawing and I was lucky that my teachers and my parents encouraged me. I don’t think I’d probably have done it without the support of everyone.

And you specialised in illustration?
So, I was from Norfolk… I was going to go to Norwich College of the Arts, and I just thought, you know what, I just need to step away. I went to Leicester and specialised in Graphic Design and Illustration, and then as I worked through to my third year, I realised it was illustration, where my love lay.

I’d like to talk a bit more about your work itself, if that’s okay. I’ve noticed that a lot of your illustrations are based around dogs. Do you have dogs at home?
I have one dog, a border terrier. She’s teeny-tiny. She is a huge influence and a huge inspiration, and I also have quite a few friends that have a lot of dogs, particularly sausage dogs. They’re just ridiculous! Actually, I think the inspiration to draw dogs started with them, because of their shape… they’re really daft as well, so instantly you’ve got a story there - you’ve got a character. And then I think my border terrier felt a little bit left-out (I’m really sorry, Sylvia, I should probably include you!) Now I do a lot of her, as well. 

Would you say you really love to have fun with your art?
Absolutely. I love to draw things that make me laugh and then it’s always a bit hit-or-miss about whether they’ll make other people laugh. But it’s nice, when I do markets, to see people walking past my stall and smirking. Even if they don’t say hello or anything, it’s nice to know I’ve made someone else smile and that’s kind of the goal, I think. 

It seems like you’ve done a bit of children’s illustration?
Yep. I was surrounded by children’s books growing up, it was an inspiration, but ever since I’ve left uni, I’ve always wanted to publish and release my own children’s book. It’s a huge goal of mine. But, in this last year or so I was fortunate enough to be given a grant by the Arts Council to work solely on that practice for a year. I went to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March, which is the biggest book fair in the world for children’s books, and just surrounded myself by all the books. 

And you had a great time?
It was incredible. If anyone loves character illustration or has a huge love for children’s books, I would recommend it. It’s so nice because the city just fills up with illustrators - it’s really bizarre, so many illustrators all in one spot. I got to meet publishers; it was great.

I think the inspiration to draw dogs started with them, because of their shape… they’re really daft as well, so instantly you’ve got a story there - you’ve got a character

I remember you drew a picture of a kid reading a book with Waterstones above it.
That’s an old illustration. I was kind of putting into the world what I wanted to happen one day, and I’m still working towards that goal now.

So you’re exhibiting what you want for your future?
That’s a good way to describe it, I would say.

You also do lettering. Quite a distinctive writing style - very loopy! How do you manage to get all the lines so neat?
That took a lot of practice!

I also wanted to comment on your art itself. You have quite an interesting illustration style, with the bright pastel colours, and hand-drawn little details. There’s a little bit of hand drawn detail that you seem to add on after you’ve finished the base?
For a while, I used to do quite flat digital work - and we were always encouraged at university to add texture in our work, but then I stopped. I look back on my Instagram at my work and it just looked so flat, and because I do a lot of my work digitally, if you don’t add texture, things can just naturally look quite flat. You kind of lose the character within the illustration, and the whole point of what I love doing is adding that character. 

My sketchbook is so important to me, even though my work looks more digital. I just like mark making and do all sorts of things using different materials, watercolours… all sorts of textures in my sketchbook. And then I scan them in and layer them in over my work. That just adds a bit of personality. 

You seem to like puns in your work! You seem to draw a little punny version of whatever it is you’re writing the pun for!
I did have a range with Oh Deer… that kind of kickstarted my illustration career, when I got a licensing contract with Oh Deer. Then, I got card designs in Paperchase, John Lewis… and as far as Canada - they were licensing my designs everywhere, it was weird seeing my designs pop up in different countries. That started with a pun range, I just like a little bit of naff, silly humour to be fair. My friends used to go into the shops and take photos and put all of my cards in front, it was very nice to have that support and have your friends cheer you on as well. It’s a moment.

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When was that, that you had the contract with Oh Deer?
Something like 2016? It was a while ago. I’ve moved away from that kind of flat digital work. 

You seem to mention that your art style has evolved a lot over the years.
Yeah, absolutely, and I feel grateful that I’ve had the time to develop my artistic practice over the last year, and I think it’s really changed and kind of turned into something a bit different, because I’m solely using my sketchbook as my starting point. Digital feels almost secondary in comparison. 

Tell me about your development year.
I mentioned earlier that my main focus was children’s books, I mentioned Bologna, but it’s a year of going back to basics, stripping my creative practice down, and being a student again. I graduated ten years ago, so it feels nice to have that time. It’s been nice to draw from life, do café drawings, life drawing, I’ve been doing courses. As a result of this, I would like to hopefully have an exhibition of the work I have produced, over this last year - and hopefully have a workshop that I can deliver, as well.

What is your favourite thing to illustrate?
Well, I think it might be a little bit obvious! Hands down, dogs! If I don’t know what to illustrate, to start me off, dogs are perfect. Because I’ve drawn so many dogs over the years, I know their forms, I know a lot of the different breed characteristics, I know all sorts. I like drawing them when they’re making silly faces. 

I’m guessing you’re a dog person?
Yes, I am. I’m also a cat person, may I add, though it isn’t evident in my work. I grew up with cats. Ever since I’ve had Sylvia, and Sylvia’s now seven, she’s been everything. 

I see that you don’t just do prints. You do cards, you do cups, you do other things like stickers. How do you make them?
So, printing wise I use the Carousel, and I’ve started using Print on Demand. Cards, I source those online. Badges, I make and sell a lot of badges, randomly - I have my little badge machine over there. I print those myself and make them myself. Mugs as well, I used to outsource, but now I don’t generally do any big projects anymore - I’ve stuck with greeting cards and art prints, because I’ve been doing other work and it takes time to print all of these things and get that stock. I used to cut the stickers by hand.

This is the final question; how do you feel about Nottingham’s artistic scene?
I love it here. I’ve lived in other cities, I’ve lived in small cities, I’ve lived in Leicester as well - I think that’s more up-and-coming. With Nottingham it feels like it’s the centre of the country, and just being a part of the Carousel, having studios and a social environment here… I feel very privileged to be a part of the Nottingham scene, and it’s so nice to be close to the Avenues and Sneinton Market, there are so many small businesses there.


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