The work of Gillian Tyler
I’ve been very lucky this week in that I have been notified of two great topics to blog about via my friend Philippa Toop who I met at a York University Alumni gathering last year. This first post involves a great little exhibition at Nunnington Hall, a National Trust property.
The exhibition itself is Quentin Blake and Friends: the Great Generation of Children’s Book Illustration which is running from the 2nd of March to the 14th of April. As well as showcasing the popular work of Blake, the exhibition also displays works from a variety of talent, including some fantastic illustrations by Gillian Tyler.
Gillian’s style captures the traditional essence of children’s illustration, and I am particularly drawn to her work, having been interested in magical and whimsical illustrations for some time now (see previous blog posts).
Gillian Tyler has always felt a deep connection to art, having made pictures from an early age. Born in a small mining community, Thurnscoe in the Dearne valley of South Yorkshire, she was renowned for her sunny disposition, earning herself the nickname ‘Smiler Tyler’ on her street. From a very early age she realised that making pictures made people happy and enjoyed being a part of that process.
Brought up in a creative family, her siblings also shared her passion for making things and together they wrote and illustrated their own books. Her grandmother had been a milliner and a seamstress and her mother liked to paint- therefore she was surrounded by talent and inspiration.
Concerning her work she says: “I love the art of picture books and I am fascinated by the way they come together. I constantly draw on my family and friends for inspiration. I’m also lucky to have almost total recall of my childhood. My earliest memory is of sitting in my big green pram looking for birds on the telegraph poles and I still entertain my sister with the story of what happened the day she was born. I was five at the time. I remember in great detail objects, emotions, faces, even complete conversations. I see pictures all the time and the art is just to get them down on the page in an accessible way. When I’m making a picture for a book I am just tapping into that enormous resource that was my own happy childhood.”
I have been given the chance to talk to Gillian directly, which was fantastic, so I hope you all enjoy reading my small interview!
From your biography on your website, you stated that making your pictures made people happy- it is a great quality to create something which is more about giving back to people rather than creating solely for your own means. Has producing work for others influenced the types of illustrations you have produced? Are they personal to others?
I am aware of my audience, definitely. I always consider exactly where the pictures are going and who is going to be viewing them, so I always try and suit the audience I’m producing for. For example, I have recently produced some information panels for Worsbrough Mill in Barnsley so I had to think about who the target audience would be and still put my own personal touch into it. I often produce work for heritage sites such as castles, and so I try to fuse something I actually like doing, with the context. This can be through any type of image, such as maps.
You mention your recollections of your childhood, which has had a great influence on your work- what other influences have inspired you, such as other artists, experiences or people for example?
I have been influenced by plenty of artists and writers- Beatrix Potter has been a huge influence for my work. I remember visiting Hill Top in the Lake District (Beatrix Potter’s 17th century farmhouse) with my parents when I was a child, and listening to the stories being told. Richard Scarry has also been a huge influence. He produced annuals and I loved his quirky line drawings. One of the first books I ever bought was written and illustrated by him! I would spend hours looking at the pictures which I found so charming, particularly the types of characters he invented.
Edward Ardizzone also really appealed to me and the fairy illustrations by Richard Doyle. Wildlife artists also influenced me greatly. As I lived in a rural area and lived in the days of outdoor play, the open countryside allowed me the freedom to chase butterflies and find caterpillars. I loved exploring nature with my sisters- such adventure days in the outdoors!
I was also influenced by the schools I attended. I went to an old fashioned infant school which was led by creativity, and freedom in expression was really promoted. The teachers encouraged freedom in the use of materials such as embroidery. My comprehensive school also encouraged me to develop my work further and this led me in the direction of illustration. I was very lucky to have these influences as they have led me to the work I do now.
Your recent work- your illustrations for Derry Fair, a picture book- are fantastic- how did this recent project come about? Are picture books something in which your main project work lies?
Yes, picture books are definitely my recent project work. Another new book called ‘Colourful Wish’ is a project I have been immersed in. ‘Derry Fair’ was published last May by Walker Books and there was so much from my own childhood which influenced that work. In my hometown there was an agricultural fair which helped me to create some of the illustrations for the book. Even just the landscape of my home helped me to visualise the pictures. I enjoy drawing on my own experiences, so they are not ‘fake’ images. They are from my memories and experiences.
Picture books are my focus at the moment…I feel at home with them and it is a nice ‘place’ to revisit everyday. I become absorbed in these worlds as they are sort of a new view of the world, a magical view.
Where do you see yourself in the future? What new projects lie ahead on the horizon?
For the future..well, I would really love to write and illustrate my very own story. In the meantime I am very happy illustrating lovely text. I have really enjoyed painting and designing the works I have been asked to do, such as a story by Michael Rosen entitled ‘The Bus is Us’ which is very new at the moment.
The exhibition at Nunnington Hall is a great chance to display your work. Have you exhibited previously?
I haven’t been a part of lots of exhibitions but I do really enjoy them. I always produce an annual, local exhibition of my work in my hometown and during November last year I did an exhibition in London in the West End. I think it is something I shall be doing more of in the future as it raises the profile of children’s illustrators and also encourages children’s reading.
A huge thank you to Gillian Tyler for allowing me to ask her all these questions, it has been fantastic discovering these illustrations. Another huge thank you to Philippa Toop for pointing this work out to me. Hugely grateful!