Hawthorne is the award-winning illustrator of several children’s books. Her work is simultaneously enchanting and haunting, perfect for children and nostalgic adults alike. The motifs are recurring — 2-dimensional worlds filled with mystical plants and goofy animals — and the result is reliably moving, funny and beautiful. Below she shares her portfolio, discusses her process, inspirations, as well as her love for “the unloved animals.”
My father’s a botanist, so I grew up a house that was like a mini-jungle. This contributed to my interest in plants and the natural world. I think I like drawing animals because they are somehow funnier than humans. Maybe it’s just easier to make them look a bit silly. They can have very little detail and still be so funny.
I use a lot of reference books. Even for my made-up stuff, I need a starting point. I use the Dorling Kindersley picturepedia for pictures of animals and plants. I prefer it to the internet because that’s too distracting. I also paint the plants all around me.
I start with rough sketches, then I draw them out much neater on a light box with a pencil. Then I scan and enlarge it. I make it A2 size, because I prefer to paint on a much larger scale, so that when I reduce it again it looks a lot cleaner. I sometimes photoshop it, if I want to change any colors, cut something, add layers, correct mistakes. Sometimes I make a lot of changes; others are quite analogue. But I still want it to keep that handmade look. I don’t want to make it too perfect. Sometimes I look back at work and feel I might have overdone something. That’s why it’s good to have a deadline and maybe feel a bit rushed.
Forest Fruit [the header image of this story] is an example of one I didn’t edit on a computer. That’s basically the original drawing. I went to Lisbon last year and there were a few buildings and potted plants that I really liked. I kept drawing them over and over again until I liked the composition. I just painted all the plants, and went over it with the black paint, and that was good because I think the black paint made it neater. I don’t think I could have achieved that effect with photoshop. I quite like it because you can tell I did it by hand. It took me 7 days because I use a really tiny paintbrush.
I think my main inspiration is probably Tove Jansson’s Moomintrolls. They are so funny but also serious. They are a real comfort to me even as an adult. I also love Maurice Sendak. I read a lot of vintage children books. My mother’s Slovenian, and I’ve also been influenced by a lot of Slovenian illustrators – like Marlenka Stupica. Then there’s the decorative, pattern-based part of my practice, which I think I get from medieval art or even hieroglyphics.
My favorite animal to draw is a rat. I put a rat in almost everything. I quite like the unloved animals. People have quite strong feelings about them. I don’t paint a lot of cute animals. Herberto [the hero of one of Hawthorne’s children’s books] is a slug. My publisher said maybe I should try doing a more loved animal, but I kept suggesting more unloved ones.