In this edition of Spotlight, we’re joined by illustrator and landscape artist, Lisa Berkshire. Inspired by books, ariel views, the stunning landscapes of Cornwall and her young son, Lisa has worked extensively as a children’s literature illustrator and has recently started to pen her own children’s work for publication. Her beautiful and detailed landscapes and fantasy-infused paintings have struck chords with many art buyers with their ability to tap into the sometimes-hidden imaginations that so many of us possess.I spoke to her about her inspirations, motivations, illustrations and publications!
Lisa, many thanks for agreeing to talk to me today. You’re obviously inspired in your artwork by your surroundings, particularly Cornwall. Do you go out specifically looking for inspiration or has your art been produced as the result of a spontaneous reaction to a place or experience?
No, I never go out to specifically look.The surroundings always inspire me and they always have. The paintings spiralled from that inspiration.I first went to St. Ives in Cornwall in the Winter of 2000 and I’ve been every year since, except the last couple of years due to having my young son.I usually try to go to for a week in the New Year and for quick weekends in the Summer.It’s beautiful and scenic and tranquil in the Summer, but in Winter it’s wild and can be quite bleak at times.I love how it’s so unspoilt.The colours, scenery and the wildness of it have all inspired my paintings.Recently I’ve had no time to do the Cornwall paintings because jobs keep coming in so I’m itching to get back to it!I next want to attack Dorset as it’s literally round the corner and also so beautiful.
Many of your paintings feature images of people flying…how did this become a prevalent theme?
I painted my first ‘flying’ picture following the first time I went to St. Ives.I remember finding a place and looking down at the rooftops with the seagulls flying all around and I felt like I could do it myself.I’ve always loved ariel views….I have this thing about taking off!One of my paintings featuring this theme is called ‘The Flight’.A blonde-haired girl came in to my studio and saw it and was immediately struck by it.She left but then kept returning to look at it.It turned out that she’d recently had a dream about flying over the rooftops and couldn’t believe that she was looking straight at her dream with a blonde-haired girl in it!She bought it in the end as she felt such a strong pull to that particular painting and she just had to have it.
Your paintings are rather whimisical and fantasy-like in their style; how much of a role does your imagination play in your paintings? Do you always like to include a fantasy element to them?
I don’t know where that imagination came from! Although I must say I’m obsessed with childrens books. I like to get something visual from a story. Imagination is really important in my illustration work; I’ve illustrated a lot of other authors’ stories and it’s quite hard work because you’re having to portray their words. You have to lose yourself in the story in order to bring it accurately to life visually for the reader and that’s quite a challenge, to get that correct interpretation. But it’s all enjoyable because I love stories really!
What effect do you hope your artwork has on an audience? Do you have a specific emotion or effect you hope to stir up with certain works?
I do try and convey aspects of my vision and how I see the subject to the people who buy it. People who have bought my work tend to really connect with the piece they end up purchasing…like the blonde-haired girl who literally felt she’d just walked in and seen her dream up on the wall! I did an open house studio in 2003 and it was so good getting those reactions and that sort of response from people looking at those
paintings…they just loved them.The most satisfying things was that they purchased them because they felt compelled to – not because a certain piece would go well with their carpet or really fit in with the colour scheme in their living room – they felt personally connected to each painting they bought and liked it for their own and very personal reasons.And as an artist that’s incredibly important…that you’re connecting with your audience.
How long does it take you to create a piece of artwork, from concept through to the finished painting?
I often do a few paintings at the same time and swap between them. I like to have a bit of space and time for ideas to develop in personal work. I suppose a small one of about 30cm x 30cm would take me about a day of constant painting, but I rarely whack them out like that.
With my illustrations it is usually a matter of having to do it NOW or what feels like yesterday! I did a black and white children’s story book with 81 black and white illustrations in the Summer and was only given 4 weeks. That doesn’t sound too bad but when that is broken down into 2 weeks reference collecting and drawing and then 2 weeks to do all the artworks then it was a case of about 7-8 illustrations a day, and that was after Mummy duties – I was a small heap at the end of that!
You mention that you’ve been working as a freelance illustrator since graduating. How easy has it been to get going in your career? Do you have any advice you could offer recent graduates who may now be starting on the same path that you were on?
Get a website! I can’t imagine not having one! People can browse through your work at their leisure and make decisions in their own time; I’ve got illustration jobs from people just looking at the site and deciding that’s what they’d like for their books.
Going into the market now as an artist’s illustrator is so hard. You’ve just got to be seen as much as you can and keep up with what’s going on. A lot of illustration work is now done in-house so promoting yourself is crucial. Get yourself out there in artist’s directories, keep networking to get new clients and raise your profile with artists’ bodies such as the Association of Illustrators. Going personally to see people can also work wonders; I used to go to London a lot to see lots of magazine editors and publishers. As soon as you stop, people won’t know you’re there! A website is an important tool but just part of the work you have to do. Unfortunately, artists are yet to be spoon-fed work! I think a lot of success can be put down to sheer, really hard, work!
Which area of your work brings you the most indulgent pleasure; your illustration work, paintings of Cornwall or running your workshops?
Illustrating children’s stories! If anyone asked me what sole activity I would like to do from now on, it would be writing and illustrating stories. It doesn’t feel like work -I enjoy it so much! I test it on my little boy.I find him really inspiring as well with his imagination and stories and find myself nicking all his ideas!I write stories about him and his friends and he looks at all of my pictures.Again, it’s losing myself in that imagination that appeals and getting to escape into a story…my ‘taking off’ theme again!
Do you have a favourite painter, or a particular work that has stuck in your memory?
I think my favourite painting would have to be a Stanley Spencer, most probably The Resurrection, Cookham as it is so narrative in style and I could get lost for days in all the patterns on the suits.
Finally, Lisa, could you sum up your career to date in just four words?
Satisfying, insecure, interesting, rollercoaster!
We would like to thank Lisa for her wonderful contribution of insightful thoughts, ideas and inspirations that have contributed to her stuggles, determination and her success as an artist and illustrator. We’re sure that many others will feel inspired by her work and her ability to juggle it all with motherhood and the school run! We wish Lisa all the best for 2009 both personally and professionally and look forward to seeing her new artwork and illustrations.
You can take a further look at Lisa’s work on her website: