Foraged Ideas in Watercolour Inks and Collage

I studied illustration and animation at Kingston University in Surrey, but I first got into drawing when I was a little girl. We used to go to Saturday art classes in my village in West Wales. We were taught by an illustrator called Elizabeth Hale in her cottage kitchen. We used to trace flower shadows in her garden and make paper mache monster masks. These classes gave me a love of the playful possibilities of drawing which I was encouraged to develop in Kingston.

My first commission as student was a company Christmas card for the design company, Allies Design. On graduating, my work was seen at the degree show by a designer at Random House. I was lucky enough to be commissioned by them to do the artwork for a series of Colin Thubron book covers.

I was very fortunate with that first Random House commission and this led onto other work. I have a website which works as my online portfolio. I also send ‘mail outs’ to publishers in the form of Christmas cards or prints that promote my work. I recently illustrated a book cover for an exquisitely written cookery memoir Maman’s Homesick Pie. That commission came from my sending a ‘mail out’ to its publisher in South Carolina.

I was brought up in rural West Wales. My father used to sell driftwood, moss and pine cones to the nurseries in London which I’d help him gather as my first Saturday job. I have always felt a close connection to small-scale industries, found objects, and making things by hand. I think my rural upbringing has also influenced my awareness of the riches that can be found if you take a closer look.

There are many illustrators that have influenced my work. I adore the contemporary illustrator, Laura Carlin’s work. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen and Nicola Bayley’s The Tyger Voyage are two of the books that I’ve treasured since childhood. I am inspired by the beautiful design and humour that has gone into old packaging and signage and love looking at old maps and sea charts. I think that writers’ words are what first inspired me to work as an illustrator because they gave me such vivid pictures.

Illustrating is quite a solitary existence so I like to travel far away from my desk, to draw lively street scenes and busy harbours. This is when illustrating can become a literal trade, sitting with dusty feet and swapping a sketch for a slice of melon, plate of tapas or a tall story. I have a penchant for drawing old men with laughter lines and spirited grins.

I work in a studio at home which occasionally shifts to a rather saw-dusty studio on a boat because my partner and I fix-up and travel on our old sailing boat in America.

When I get a commission I like to go foraging for ideas, I do a lot of drawing and visual research, trying not to pin down an idea too quickly so as not to get stale. I often use watercolour inks and collage for the final artwork.

I never know what kind of commission is coming next – I want to keep an open mind and keep challenging myself with new projects and mediums. I have done a number of private commissions which involved drawing people’s travels and stories in the form of illustrated maps: these kinds of collaborations are really interesting and rewarding and are something I’d like to develop further. I usually do book covers so I would also love to do some more illustrated picture book interiors, working directly with their writers. Maybe an illustrated ship’s log when our boat is afloat …

If I had to advise a young person who wanted to become a professional illustrator

I would advise them to be brave, to love drawing and to go to art school or do a design course of some kind if possible, because it is such a wonderful opportunity to learn with other artists and develop a portfolio of work. I would also advise to be patient and not averse to working part-time when those commissions aren’t pouring in. I worked as a Friday and Saturday girl at Brindisa, the Spanish food shop in Borough Market in London and did a summer working on an organic farm. It was all fine eye food to take home to my drawing board.

Further Information

Dorry Spikes :

Dorry Spikes

Dorry Spikes is an illustrator based in West Wales. Since graduating from Kingston University in Surrey she has been commissioned to create bookcovers, illustrated maps, labels, card designs, and editorial features. You can see her work in her website at

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