UK-based illustrator Lisa Evans lives between two worlds. With one foot in reality and the other in a universe of her own creation, she’s an artist of dualities: most recently, both a book illustrator and a game designer.
Between her work in picture books (The Flower, by John Light and The Man Made of Stars by M.H. Clark) and her newest project, a PC game called Growbot, Lisa keeps plenty busy dreaming up stunning otherworldly images. We’re thrilled at her willingness to step back into our reality for a brief time to work with us for the month of July and answer a few questions about her art, her working soundtrack, and the artistic perks of keeping your head in the clouds.
Your illustrations seem to live in their own world, separate from our own mundane plane and in a sort of in-between dream-place. How would you describe your process of creating these imagined spaces? Do you see them as all being within the same world, or many?
That’s a tricky one! In general, I don’t think I’m a very present person, if that makes sense. I’m rubbish at meditating! I think my process is to partly zone out and just let whatever nonsense float through my head, whilst my less conscious brain does the work. I make sure I’ve grasped the essence of the brief and then I pass the reins over to what feels like my lazy brain. I think the imagined spaces I create belong to the same world.
How did you begin illustrating for children?
I drew a lot as a child. I wasn’t particularly good at it, I just enjoyed it. I studied illustration at university, and after graduating I decided to further pursue a part-time MA in children’s book illustration. Throughout those years I was exposed to so much of the breadth of what was possible with illustration and children’s literature. The students and tutors I worked with at university inspired me and showed me it was possible to pursue children’s books as a career. I was super lucky after graduating from the MA that one of my first projects was to illustrate a book called The Flower, written by John Light, that then opened the door to further work in the field.
Whoa, right out of the program and into the industry when you illustrated The Flower! Going right from theory in school to practice in the publishing world, was there anything about the experience that surprised you?
I was super nervous at the time, and there were definitely challenges. I was working part-time in the visual aids department of a science lab during the creation of the book and so my illustration work had to fit in around that, which made it a challenge to keep up with the deadlines. I was also just beginning the process of transitioning from pencil to digital creation, which, although bumpy at first massively helped speed things up, and make workloads more manageable. I’m not sure that this was a surprise exactly, as the MA had prepared us to some extent for the realities of working in publishing, but it was definitely nerve-wracking!
Your upcoming digital adventure game, Growbot, is so beautiful and unique, and as such is gaining lots of attention and acclaim from supporters of independent media! How did you get involved in game design?
Thank you so much! I’ve always created artwork in order to craft my own imaginary worlds. I didn’t play games as a young girl, so similar to my path in illustration it was through friends of mine who loved games that I saw what was possible. The tools to make games with limited coding knowledge had also become available, making it a possibility for people like me. I wanted to take the worlds I was already building and turn them into spaces people could interact with. It’s been tremendously gratifying to create artwork you can walk around and explore, along with characters you can actually talk to, and I’ve learned so much about how to make those worlds engaging through puzzles and other light-hearted challenges.
Have you started playing more games since getting began creating Growbot?
A little, but I’ve realized that making and playing games use the same kind of mental energy. Both involve learning systems, solving problems, and a lot of focus. So I find that when I’m playing a game, I often have this nagging feeling that I’d rather be making my own. And when I’ve spent a long while making one in a day, I don’t have the mental energy left to go play one. I’d rather do something completely different!
What has your experience been like moving from still images in your graphic design and illustration into a much more interactive medium?
Interactivity introduces challenges to every part of the process and it has been an exciting learning experience. The most important thing is clarity: anything that a player of a game doesn’t understand has the potential to frustrate them. I’m still thinking about color, lighting, composition, and how the elements of a scene tell the story, but now also whether the player can tell the difference between interactive and non-interactive elements, whether elements that are integral to progress are sign-posted, and so on. It was hard at first but tackling these new challenges has been engaging and a lot of fun, and in a way feels like a natural extension of what I already do with my illustration work.
What can you tell us about the creative influences in your life?
It’s hard to narrow down! When I was at university I would research other artists and seek out creative inspiration all the time, not just in art, but in music, theatre, and culture. I think as you are developing your own creative voice you have a hunger to hear and understand other voices. Now I’m an oldie!… teehee, I do less research and more just grinding away. I still research other artists but I spend more of my time focused on my own projects. I find myself falling back on old favorites. I put on my Pink Floyd and just rock out with my pencil and computer.
One artist’s work that I do keep coming back to is Tove Jansson’s. She created the Moomins, a series of comics and books about a family of creatures who live in a place called Moominvalley. I love the books because of their honesty and simplicity. They read on so many levels and offer such a rich, beautiful world filled with all sorts of neurotic, melancholic characters. She shows the messiness of human nature in a way that is accessible to children. I think creating children’s literature which offers a child a safe place to make sense of the quirks and ups and downs of the real world is awesome.
What advice do you have for young people who want to create?
There’s no rulebook, no measuring stick. Create for fun and because you want to. Follow your own lead and see what happens.
While your work on Growbot is ongoing, do you also have other projects in the pipeline you could tell us about?
At some point, I’d love to bring my character Starbelly to life. She’s been with me for a long time now and I’d like to create a project around her as a way of getting to know her better.
For the foreseeable future, I’m committed to making and releasing Growbot. Games can take years to make, particularly for small teams. When I’m not doing art and animation for Growbot, I’m doing the writing, puzzle design, game scripting, promotion, business development, pitching… It’s fun to try on lots of hats and step outside of my comfort zone.
What’s your dream project?
In all honesty, I think I’m making it. Growbot is a labor of love, and because I’ve self-funded it thus far I’ve been able to indulge all my creative interests, whims and passions from the start. It’s hard work but I’m committed to making it what I want it to be, no matter how long it takes, and that freedom and focus is all I’ve ever wanted from my creative projects.