We chat with Pilgrim Lee about her gorgeous new picture book
Pilgrim Lee is a super-talented designer and illustrator, and she just happens to work at our Readings Kids shop. We chat to her about her debut picture book, The 12 Days of Christmas.
How did you approach presenting a traditional Christmas carol in a modern picture book?
Initially the illustrations were just a fun self-initiated project. I’ve always loved the imagery of the song and it seemed like an irresistible project for a set of postcards. I’m bored by the traditional Christmas red/green/white colour palette though, so my version of 12 Days ended up a little more kaleidoscopic.
You have such a distinctive visual style that seems to carry into all areas of your work and life. Have you always gravitated towards intricate patterns and bright colours?
I have! I was really lucky to have my creativity fostered from an early age – my mum had me in extra curricular art classes from when I was seven years old. I still have a little box I painted for her at one of those classes and stylistically it looks like I haven’t moved on at all in 25 years! There isn’t really one thing that formed my aesthetic, it’s a bit from here and there: my grandma’s Arabia enamel soup pot with an intricate fish design around it, my early exposure to my parent’s late 60s Graphis magazines, and lots of cancelled library books with psychedelic illustrations I got given.
We sell your amazing gift cards in our Readings Kids shop. Could you tell us a little about how an idea for a card forms and comes to fruition?
My inspiration comes from all sorts of places and experiences, and so the designs come together from fragments in my sketchbook or old advertising materials, textiles and ephemera I’ve collected. I work hard to filter existing material through my brain and into my sketchbook, to make sure it has my own spin on it though. The same goes for how colour palettes come together. I feel a definite emotional connection to colours and so they’re integral to expressing whatever I am trying to communicate with a design.
Do you think you sought out your stylistic niche, or did you fall into it or evolve into it? What advice would you give to young illustrators and designers for finding their own style instead of chasing what’s popular?
There’s no shame in going for what’s popular, but it’s hard to find your own space in a crowded, talented market. I would say I fell into my stylistic niche but that it has continued to evolve. My style is my own perfect version of reality, and I see things in a very floral, retro-flavoured way. Thankfully there are other people out there who recognise elements of my version of reality! I would define success as an illustrator as having a uniquely recognisable style, that brings you joy to express – and attracts like-minded clients to collaborate with.
What would you like to see more of, or less of, in children’s book illustration and design?
It may not surprise you to hear I’m not such a fan of the trend for more subtle or monochromatic colour palettes in kids books. There’s so much beige and grey in adulthood. Can’t kids be spared for a few years? But that’s my pro-colour agenda! We are so fortunate in this era to have access to such a range of publishers putting out all kinds of work for kids to see, and be informed by.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I’m still giggling at Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake – a little boy gets stuck in his clothes while getting undressed for the bath and panics about being trapped in his clothes forever. We’ve all been there!
Will we see more children’s books from you?
Definitely. It would bring me so much joy to keep making picture books.