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Book Illustration: Q&A With Kate Heiss

Book illustration: Q&A with Kate Heiss

British printmaker and illustrator Kate Heiss talks about her creative process and reveals how she approaches book illustration

Kate Heiss (Printmaking and book illustration)

What inspires you?

Nature: the flowers and birds in my garden and walks in the countryside. If I’m on a walk and I see a little bird or a beautiful flower, I observe the landscape and forage for flowers and leaves around it. I go back to my studio — which overlooks my rather messy allotment — and create a composition using all the different elements.

How does this become a print?

I translate my design into a linocut by hand-carving the plate. Then I ink it up and print it. There is always an element of surprise when you print the image. The lines you make are not always what you see once it is inked. Suddenly your cutting marks come to life, especially when you are overlaying colour and texture. When you cut on lino, you also see everything in reverse and have to think in positive and negative images. So the image always prints differently to the way it looks when you cut it.

You illustrated Limehaven: Poems for my grandparents. How do you approach illustrating a poetry book?

I read the book and sketch down any images that the words may evoke in my head. I look for colourful descriptions that ignite the imagination. I sketch down the different elements and then try to collage and intertwine them together. Vicky’s poems were wonderfully descriptive, so it was lovely to visualise.

What is your favourite poem in the book?

My favourite poem in Limehaven is Eating her up. It reminds me so much of my own Nana and my memories of her cooking in her kitchen. I especially like the bit about slicing raspberry ripple ice cream. I have to admit I had to go out and buy a block to slice after reading the poem. How Vicky uses food to describe her Nan reminds me of how I always describe my ink colours. I often giggle to myself when I’m making a beautiful custardy yellow or raspberry ripple pink or chocolatey brown. Yummy!

Which illustration did you most enjoy making?

I enjoyed creating the title piece for ‘After’, the final section in the book. [See main image above.] Most of the inspiration for it came from two poems: She crochets the stars and Leaving Limehaven. I felt it had to be delicate, dreamy and peaceful to evoke the feeling of calm in the evening when the sun has set and the stars begin to shine. This, for me, represents the end of the day and symbolises the end of life hinted at in both poems.

What excites you about book illustration?

I enjoy seeing the words come to life as pictures. I think a good illustration can sum up the emotion of a piece of writing. The challenge is to interpret the words in a way that the author is happy with.

Who are your favourite illustrators?

I love Clare Curtis, Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton. My hero is Edward Bawden. He’s predominantly known for the commercial illustrations, book jackets, murals and posters he produced between 1930 and 1960. I particularly love his use of line to create depth and scale. His prints use pattern and shape in a stylised way to illustrate a story — an approach that still feels modern and contemporary today.

About Kate Heiss

Kate Heiss graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1997, then worked as a textile designer for several major fashion brands. In 2011, she set up her own printmaking studio after studying at the Curwen Print Study Centre. Her illustrations have appeared in several books including Limehaven: Poems for my grandparents, When Doves Fly, The Illustrated Garden, The Cambridge Art Book and Norfolk Gems.

Main image: © Kate Heiss: Title piece for ‘After’ from Limehaven: Poems for my grandparents

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