1. Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating? 
I originally hail from England, specifically Walsall in the Wild West...erm, Midlands. I spend a quarter of my time explaining how I'm not from Birmingham, thanks to my apparently not-unlike-a-Brummie accent. I use another quarter describing where Walsall is in relation to Birmingham and a further quarter is spent wishing 'Walsall' didn't sound so much like 'Warsaw'. It is quite disappointing for all involved when my inability to speak Polish is uncovered. The remaining quarter of my time is spent illustrating. I have been illustrating since I can remember, though properly and professionally since graduating in 2008.

2. From an outsiders point of view there seems to be a healthy arts scene in Bristol and the Here Gallery is really great but what is the city like to live and work in?
Bristol is great place, full of contrasts and contradictions. You could probably walk in any direction for 20 minutes and find yourself in completely different surroundings. There are a lot of wonderful people living and working here, I'm lucky to know a few of them - being able to meet up with like-minded souls is invaluable to coping with what can otherwise be quite a solitary lifestyle. It's also helpful that Bristol is a friendly city, it doesn't feel as big and anonymous as a lot of other cities. I live right in the centre so it's easy to go elsewhere when I feel like a change of scene from a screen.

3. I think the conceptual side of your work is outstanding, can you give us an insight into your ideas generation process?
My ideas mostly emerge from my ability to talk a lot of rubbish! My husband Alex and anyone else who happens to be within a mile radius suffers as my soundboard - I read briefs aloud, ramble down various dead ends and labyrinths, make lists, bang my head against wooden furniture and consume a wide range of beverages.

I like to think I'm a visual person but I tend to generate a lot of links between words. I approach each brief as if it was a problem solving activity, looking for an eloquent answer to a question. Connections will lead me to start considering visual solutions, from the obvious to the tenuous and everything in between. I like to feel like I'm halfway there by the time I start sketching.

4. You also realise these ideas very well in the medium you use, how much experimenting did it take before you found this way of working?
It took me quite a while to find a method I could be happy working with. I actually worked in a linear style using fine line pens and pencils for a long time, even though I love colour. It was quite frustrating not being able to make my work look the way I imagined. Aside from a brief love affair with gouache, I never found a great affinity with paint. Even though I felt I could get sort-of-satisfactory results from using it, the process of creating the work brought me no great pleasure.

I then moved into experimenting with collage using blocks of colour and latched onto a more graphic approach. I tried all sorts of print making as well, finding the look of screen prints especially appealing. So referencing the basic principles of these processes combined with digital techniques, I found that using my line drawings as a framework for building up layers of colours and texture was the way forward.

5. Apart from trends in fashion what do you think it is that separates work that sells from work that doesn’t?
From an editorial perspective, I think content is key. I've always thought of illustration in terms of illumination - not lighting up something in a decorative way but rather as a means of shedding light onto the subject. A strong style is essential, of course - I don't believe people who dismiss style as unimportant or a secondary consideration. Individual style does exist and it's an essential part of voice. It is what we use to convey ideas, after all. For me, however, there has to be a good balance of the aesthetic and the conceptual. Illustration should communicate. A voice has to speak.

6. In the first few years out of university what can new illustrators expect and what do you think is expected of them?
New illustrators can expect to expect the unexpected! I don't think university fully prepares anyone for the reality of it all. It probably helps if you can let go of any preconceived romanticised notions of what it is to work as an illustrator. Initially, the chances are that you will have very little money, which is less than glamourous. Unless you consider shoes with holes in to be in vogue, of course. It's probably best not to focus too much on that aspect! You are expected to create the best work you can, enjoy it and be professional about it - ask questions, make sure you understand what is required of you and your work, meet the deadlines and work with the art director. It's not easy starting out but if it was easy then it wouldn't be worth doing.

On a positive note, I just bought a new pair of shoes.

7. What do you do outside of illustrating that inspires you and your work?
Observation is a favourite pastime -  I like to stand back and watch people interacting. I love to wander around aimlessly, walk through cities or jump on a bus or train when I can, just to see what's out there. On my random travels I will occasionally purchase some old object which I will deem to be "the best thing in the world ever made" for at least a few days - collections are a passion of mine, faded objects from the 1950s always seems to capture my imagination. I also read a lot of books and seem to be working through everything Haruki Murakami has ever written at the moment! I like the surrealism of his work.

Music inspires me a lot, I have been known to create illustrations based on songs before. I'm currently a fan of Spotify and like putting together playlists to work to. I own a lot of musical instruments which don't get played as often as they would like. I'm also a bit of a technology geek - I'm usually figuring out some gadget or other. I fancy maybe making an online project this year. Of course, it has only just turned 2010 so it is possible that this ambition will fade along with my resolutions to learn Japanese, ride a unicycle and write an award-winning sitcom.

8. Who are your favourite illustrators/artists at the moment?
So many! I started a blog called Hovering Cat (http://www.hoveringcat.com) in 2008 to keep a running record of all the amazing things I see. There are more than 400 posts to date so I suppose there really are a lot of talented people around.

9. Dream client?
I've worked with some great people so far. I always love working with people and companies who are creative and open minded. I have a strong interest in ideas surrounding communication and technology, as well as relishing the challenge of more conceptual or scientific themes, so anyone who commissions something like this would be a dream client for me.

10. Any particular goals for 2010?
I try not to have anything too specific in mind - one of the things I enjoy most about doing this is not knowing what will come next. It would be exciting to have an advertising or publishing project come my way. I have also recently been working with clients outside of the UK, which brings interesting new opportunities.

Everything I did in 2009 was a pleasure, so I hope 2010 is just as good. Challenging editorial jobs are always welcome and it would be fun to complete a few personal projects along the way. I've been doing a fair amount of hand lettering work recently, I'd like to continue forward in that area. 

11. Any advice for new illustrators?
Just do it (apologies to Nike).

12. Anything to say to the old one’s?
Keep doing it (no apologies to Nike).

To see more of Zara's fantastic work visit her site at http://www.zaraillustrates.com
Thanks loads Zara.

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