I am so excited today to share with you an interview with Alice Stevenson. Alice is one of the most talented, dedicated, curious illustrators I know. I first met Alice several years ago when she came to stay in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Hailing from London in the UK (where she has lived most of her life), she has just published a new book all about her home country called Ways to See Great Britain. The book is part visual adventure through her gorgeous country, and part Alice’s own personal exploration of parts unknown. That’s right, Alice traversed her country over the course of two years, and most of it for the first time, on public transportation and by foot, with the goal of getting to know the less common, less touristy parts of her country in more depth. And simultaneously she wrote and illustrated a book about it! Stunningly illustrated in Alice’s energetic, colorful style and written in Alice’s soothing voice, the book is both eye candy and inspiration for slowing down, looking at your surroundings and appreciating the unexpected. All the illustrations below are from this gorgeous new book.
And so without further ado, I present to you my latest Interview with Someone I Admire — Alice Stevenson!
Lisa: Alice, tell us a little bit about your background, your story as an illustrator, and the kinds of things you work on as an illustrator.
Alice: I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and surface pattern for a varied range of clients since 2005 when I graduated from the University of Brighton. I’ve illustrated many books and book covers including Maya Angelou’s autobiographies for Random House US and Carol Ann Duffy’s Collected Poems for Children for Faber & Faber. I’ve also been commissioned by a host of different editorial, advertising and packaging clients including Kellogg’s, Waitrose and Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve always had a lively personal drawing and painting practice alongside my commissioned work.
Lisa: This is your second book? Before we launch into Ways to See Great Britain, tell us briefly about your first book.
Alice: Ways to Walk in London is collection of reflective writings about my wanders around my home city, combined with illustrations inspired by my journeys. It’s a celebration of surprising corners of London and those fleeting moments of beauty you find when exploring a city on foot. I was initially approached by my publisher to create this book as so much of my personal output as an illustrator and artist is about drawing in response to my surroundings.
Lisa: How did Ways to See Great Britain come to be as the follow up to Ways to Walk London?
Alice: I grew up in London, and there is always a sense here of being quite cut off from the rest of the country. I’d always been aware that there was so much of the UK I’d never seen even though I’ve travelled widely overseas. I was interested in writing a travel book, which investigated the process of travel and my own reaction to different journeys and locations, so travelling around Britain seemed like a logical progression.
Alice: Yes, I look back at the book now and wonder how I managed it all! I spent just under two years doing trips for the book, and it was incredible. I’ve been much more sedentary this year and I really miss all the travelling, in particular the long train journeys. When I started the book, I wanted to restrict my travels to “in between places”: outskirts of towns, places that were a mixture of industrial and rural for example. But this felt a bit restrictive as I started making plans so I kept this in mind but gave myself permission to go wherever took my fancy, even if they didn’t fit into this sort of category. Really it was a mixture of places I’d always wanted to visit and places recommended to me. It ended up being quite an organic process. I’d often let whatever journey I’d just been on inform my future travel plans. For example, I fell in love with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which inspired me to visit the town of Harlow which had been designed by the same architect Frederick Gibberd, hundreds of miles away in Essex.
Lisa: The art in the book, which is gorgeous, is obviously driven by your experience in each place, and yet, the illustrations are not literal. They are more figurative, patterned illustrations on each place. Talk about your process for creating the illustrations in the book.
Alice: Thank you :). What I seek to capture in my illustrations is a sense of what I found visually interesting and engaging about a place. To me, the visual memory of a place more closely resembles an abstract pattern than a straightforward “scene” because its a combination of details and atmosphere. I take photos and create sketches (if possible) on my travels for reference, I then use these as the basis for creating some initial drawings which eventually develop into final pieces. The process is very intuitive, I try not to overthink what I create. I found with some chapters that I’d see the artwork quite clearly in my mind’s eye, and in others, I would have to draw and experiment for a while until it became clear what the final outcome would be.
Lisa: The book is explicitly not a travel guide. So talk about how you envision or hope people to use the book to explore Great Britain?