Johanna Basford is a self-proclaimed ‘inky illustrator and pen geek’ who spends her days creating intricate, hand drawn artworks in black and white. Although Basford uses lots of different materials in the studio, her favourite pens are Staedtler pigment liners and she uses them in almost every single piece of artwork she makes. We asked her a few questions to find out more about how she makes her beautiful drawings, and what inspires her to keep on drawing.
Hi Johanna! Thank you for taking time out to answer our questions. Please tell us a little bit about your artistic background.
I work from my little studio at home is rural Aberdeenshire, where I spend my days crafting delicate black and white illustrations in pen and ink. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator since leaving Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee in 2005, working hard to cover the world with my signature style of inky magic.
Maggie’s print is a piece I created to raise money for Maggie’s cancer caring centres. I created this intricate drawing of a heart motif, comprised of delicate blossoms and intertwining foliage. Lots of my work is inspired by nature and this kind of floral work is a joy to create! The original artwork was penned with 0.2 and 0.3 Staedtler pigment liners, then I silk screen printed it in opaque black ink onto white cartridge paper. You can read more about this project on my blog:
Maggie’s Print is a limited edition of 100 and the silk screen prints are on sale at my online shop (NB: No longer exists). All the proceeds will go to support Maggie’s centres up and down the uk.
What materials and techniques did you use in making the art work you are showing here?
I’m a self confessed pen geek and love nothing more than rummaging around in an art supplies shop like Jackson’s to find pens and pencils I haven’t yet worked with.
For my paper based illustration work I tend to always use the same few tools: A Mars Staedtler rotary pencil (0.5 lead) to sketch out a rough draft onto smooth white layout paper, then I redraw in Staedtler pigment liners. I get through dozens every week, particularly 0.2’s and 0.05s which are just great for the tiny details I like to incorporate into my work.
For other projects I’ll use different pens depending on the surface that I’m drawing on, but for everything paper based I use Staedtler’s lovely fine liners. I find the opaque black ink and the fibre tipped nibs give me a really crisp, clean line on the layout paper which is just perfect for scanning and digitizing my hand drawings.
Once the artwork is compete, I take it to the screen printing studio where I turn the drawing into an edition of prints. You can see a video showing a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at this process here:
What challenges (if any) did you face in making this work and can you give other artists any tips for solving similar problems?
I always struggle with getting as much hidden detail into my drawings as possible. I love the idea that the more you look at a drawing, the more it reveals all of its tiny intricacies. To help with this, I draw much bigger than the final print size, then scale it down digitally, this allows me to tighten up all the hand drawn lines when they are shrunk to print size.
I also find working on a separate sheet of paper when it comes to inking the drawing, i.e placing a fresh sheet over the top of your pencil sketch and redrawing in ink, as opposed to inking straight over the top of the graphite sketch, is much cleaner. This way the drawing is crisp and not smudgy or grey from the pencil lines.
Please tell us something about the idea behind the work you are showing here.
I wanted to create an artwork which was in my signature style of hand drawn botanicals, but which conveyed a notion of the Maggie’s approach. Their cancer caring centres look like homes to me, not medical buildings, so I felt crafting the drawing into the shape of a love heart encapsulated this notion of a cosy place of refuge.
How does this work relate to your artistic practice, how you approach art over-all?
All my work is drawn by hand, with an emphasis on capturing something which is unique and crafted with care and love. I don’t create artwork digitally, but instead delight in the smudgy fingerprints and slightly wonky circles that are inherent to drawing the traditional way, i.e. without a vector in sight. I do use the computer at the end to tweak and get artwork ready for on going processes, but at the centre of it all is a joy of drawing and a passion to create analogue art for a digital world.
What drives you to make work? (what is your inspiration, what interests you, how do you get started?
I love drawing. That’s it, pure and simple, I absolutely love putting pen or pencil to paper and making an image in my imagination come to life.
Do you have any art advice you would like to share?
I think drawing is like any other skill like playing the piano or skiing, practice makes perfect. The more your draw, the better you get. I draw every day in an attempt to hone my craft and in the pursuit of perfection. I’ve got a long way to go!
What is your favourite art material?
Staedtler pigment liners, 0.2’s at the moment.
What is coming up next/your plans?
I’m currently working on my second book with Laurence King. Enchanted Forest is the sequel to Secret Garden and is a colouring book for creative hands young and old. I’m on page 4 of 100, lots of work still to go!
Follow Johanna’s inky adventures…
All images are copyright of the artist.