Interview with illustrator Helen Cochrane

Helen CochraneFor this week’s blog post we interviewed freelance illustrator Helen Cochrane who recently illustrated a children’s book called What’s a Foster Family? 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself…

I’m 48 years old – married for 22 years to Kenny and we have two children, Amy 20 and Adam 17. 3 years ago I started full time study – 2 years of which I specialised in illustration. My final year of the degree will be studying contemporary art. I’m a late developer – I dated Kenny for ten years before we got hitched, so waiting till I was 45 to start a degree wasn’t that strange.

When did you first realise you wanted to become an illustrator?

I think I’ve always had an inkling to become an illustrator from as far back as I can remember, although at that time I didn’t realise what an illustrator was. My teacher in Primary school even noted on my report card when I was 8 years old that I had a talent for writing stories and drawing pictures. My first serious adult intention to become an illustrator was about 15 years ago when I started working in a high school supporting pupils with special needs. That’s where my creativity came to the fore and I saw how much my drawings could help students – in storytelling, group work or 1:1 emotional and behavioural support in particular with building confidence. This impacted on my own confidence artistically and so I decided to take that step into higher education.

How long does it take you to illustrate a book?

“What’s A Foster Family?” took around 5 months – from receiving the author Anne Garboczi Evan’s manuscript until publication. The second book in the series has been quicker as all the main characters were already developed in the first book. Having said that the second book has more detailed/dynamic illustrations to reflect the age of the main character (he is now around 18 months older than in the first book) and the storyline. We are hoping to have it available around November to coincide with National Adoption Awareness month in the USA.

Arthur RackhamAre there any illustrators that have inspired you?

A few illustrators I admire are historical and contemporary – Arthur Rackham from the ‘Golden Age’ of illustration, Roger Dean ‘Yes’ album cover artist and Debi Gliori. Debi Gliori’s
book ‘No Matter What’ is a family favourite. In fact we gave away all the books we used to read to our children apart from that one – it’s a keeper. she manages to convey in both her words and illustrations what we all need to hear or want to say without it being too syrupy sweet.

You recently illustrated a children’s book about adoption – how did that differ from working on less serious subjects?

How? The author made it very easy! The main characters are very similar in appearance to her own family 🙂 – The author is married with a toddler son and they also open up their home to foster children so she knows the formalities of fostering and adoption, particularly in the US. She also holds a Masters in counselling and has worked extensively with children who have gone through the fostering system. The book however is definitely not a reference or how to book – it’s a children’s book about a young boy whose mum and dad decide to foster and how it affects him and we wanted to convey that with bright illustrations and easy to read/understand script. There are a lot of books about going into foster care but not so many, if any about being a young child in a family which fosters. We hope these books can help the child comprehend what foster care is about and perhaps allay a few fears too.

What advice would you give to any illustrators working on children’s books that cover such tricky topics?

Definitely remember the intended age group. We have over 400 four star reviews on our book on Amazon and in Goodreads. But I still think the image of Alex pushing the young boy during a tantrum is a tad scary and I lapsed in the style of that illustration – forgetting the young readership/viewer.

What was you favourite book as a child?

My favourite book was Milly Molly Mandy – the original series. Perhaps this is why I had never heard of an ‘illustrator’ when I was wee. On the front covers there is no mention of ‘illustrator’ it simply says “Told and Drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley”.

What future projects from you can we look forward to?

Well, the second book of the foster care series is out in November (the title hasn’t been formally confirmed)– it carries on 18 months from the first story, with an addition of cheeky twins who get caught up in a little adventure with Alex, the main character. The Butterflies charity based in West Lothian are holding a Christmas card competition for school age children throughout Scotland and I will be designing one of the cards along with choosing the winners from the various age groups. I’m also working on a long term illustration project (a graphic novel) with Meyrelles&Martin the design duo from Uchnops™ .

Helen has kindly shared the following video with us where she tells of her personal journey regarding the death of her mum at an early age and her work supporting pupils to becoming illustrators.  

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Helen Cochrane

Winner of the 2015 Advanced Illustration award at Craftex. Illustrator of the fostercare series by Anne Garboczi Evans.
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