Fish in Pictures

Both of my parents went to art school and started out their careers in graphic design and motion graphics. My Dad now has his own design studio in London, and my mum lives in upstate New York, renovating barns, growing garlic and making her own artwork.

I had a wonderful illustration teacher on my art foundation course at Brighton University, called Fiona White. She encouraged all my strangest ideas, which resulted in my final piece being a 3D sculpture of a sea-horse giving birth. It was during that year of foundation that my interest in natural curiosities really began.

My work changed a great deal over my time at Brighton University, although when I look back at some of my very first projects, there are definite similarities in theme and subject matter. I used to work on microscopic drawings, and making up my own cell formations and underwater creatures. In my second year I strayed quite far from the biological illustrations, but retuned in full force at the end of my third year. I think when there is a subject you really love you’ll always bring your work back to it time and time again.

I like a lot of traditional science illustrators like Cornelius de Witt, Ernst Haeckel and Albertus Seba. I also own quite a few of the Dover, 17th Century engravings and illustration books which make for great reference. One of my favourites is the title ‘1300 Real and Fanciful Animals’. The best inspiration for me comes from looking at science illustrations from before they really knew anything about it, or at least when science was almost entirely speculative. That is what I try to emulate in most of my biological work, unnless briefed to do otherwise, like the Phaidon fish illustration project for “Fish: Recipes from the Sea”, which needed to be very biologically accurate)

The publishers at Phaidon contacted me over the summer of 2011 after seeing my work online. The designers that worked on the Fish book did a really wonderful job, and it’s such a pleasure to have worked alongside a publisher with such high standards. I haven’t had any other work from publishers, but I would love to work on a book cover one day.

The majority of my referencing for the fish on this project was done online and it was quite hard because some fish look completely different in every photo. I think I remember that being the case with the cod, there is something about the face that is very distinctive but hard to pin down. Now when I walk past a fishmonger’s shop I can identify pretty much every fish by eye, which is a nice and unexpected new skill to have.

My work process is quite long and convoluted, but basically it involves drawing the fish out by hand with a fine pen, scanning and colouring the illustration digitally with multiple layers of water colour swatches, and finally erasing out a lot of the colour with tiny dots to give that slight iridescence of the scales. It was a new way of working that I pretty much made up as I went along.

Phaidon sent a few copies to my London home just after Christmas 2011, while I was in New York, but I was so excited to see what they looked like I made my house mate open the package over video chat. I couldn’t really see them very well, so it was still exciting when I got home to have a real look. I love the cover design as well, it is so friendly and inviting. I didn’t know about it until I received my copy.

I work from home from my flat in Stoke Newington and I share the space with my boyfriend (a graphic designer) who also works freelance. It’s important to have company when you spend all your time at the desk. One day I think we’ll branch out and get a real studio, but for now the situation is working very well. The building is an old warehouse factory and has a very spacious feel to it. I do keep losing more and more of my desk space to new plants and soon there will be no place to work.

I love good food and I have made a few of the recipes from the fish book and they were all delicious. I’m waiting desperately for the local supermarket to put monkfish on offer, I’ve only had it once in my life but I think it was the most delicious thing I’ve tasted. There is an amazing vegetable shop-warehouse just up the road from me called ‘Fresh and Fruity’, there is also Ridley Road market which is open six days a week.

The best meal I’ve had out in a long time came from Rasa, a Southern Indian restaurant on Stoke Newington Church Street. There are a lot of good places to eat where I live, and working from home makes you quite keen to eat out a lot.

My advice to anyone interested in pursuing a career in illustration would be to make sure you have a good website. All the jobs I have been commissioned to do have come from people finding me online. It is also useful finding and contacting the illustration  and design blogs that are viewed by thousands of people. When your work is online, it’s amazing how quickly it can spread.

Further Information

Katie Scott’s website:

Follow Katie on Twitter: @katiescottscott

Follow Phaidon on Twitter: @Phaidon

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