Illustrating London – an interview with Julia Allum
Julia Allum is an award-winning Norfolk-based illustrator with a love of everything vintage.
Influenced by poster art from the first half of the 20th century, she uses simple bold shapes to create her colourful, eye catching illustrations.
Julia’s worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including Natwest, Expedia, the University of Birmingham, the NHS and many more, as well as producing work the London Transport Museum.
She’s been commissioned this year by the London Transport Museum to produce the marketing imagery for the 2019 Poster Prize for Illustration, a competition co-ordinated in partnership with the Association of Illustrators.
We caught up with Julia to talk about her work for the London Transport Museum, amongst others, and to find out what makes her tick!
Tell us a little about your commission for London Stories. What’s the story behind your work?
After winning the Silver award in last year’s Prize for Illustration I was delighted when the London Transport Museum approached me to produce the marketing image for this years’ competition. The brief required a multilayered image encompassing many narratives and stories. This was quite a challenge for me as my illustrations are usually simple, big & bold. I spent a long time researching possible stories and wanted to try and include a few quirky elements too. In the end I think I managed to make reference to 30 different narratives, fables & places (also managing to squeeze in my award winning parakeet!).
This piece is quite different to my other work, but shapes still play a big part. Using overlapping circles and triangles to create a background within which all the elements fit, I think I have managed to create an image that is recognisable as mine.
What’s the story behind your work? How would you describe your approach to design?
My approach to work has changed significantly over the years and it’s only now, 20 years after graduating, that I finally feel I have developed a style that’s me. It’s taken a while but, after years of trying to produce work that I thought I should be producing and being pushed into a style I wasn’t comfortable with, I have come to the conclusion that it is best to create work that makes you happy. The world is a big place and there is bound to be someone out there that likes what you do too!
I love shapes and patterns and use these as building blocks to create my illustrations. Over the past few years my work has slowly become more abstract & graphic. I enjoy the challenge of trying to convey things, whatever it may be; ideas, animals, places… in a very simplistic way. My designs start as pencil on paper, but usually only as thumbnail scribbles that only I could decipher. I move pretty quickly onto the computer and ideas and composition can change quite radically at this stage. As I play around with different shapes & patterns; happy accidents often occur. I use Illustrator to create my illustrations but in a really archaic way, just using a mouse to make shapes and bend curves. I have recently started experimenting with my iPad Pro & Apple Pencil. This is great fun, but I always seem to gravitate back to my laptop & clicky mouse!
Can you tell us a little about Surprise City Sounds?
The brief for last years Prize for Illustration was ‘Sounds of the City’. I wanted to focus on something a little different rather than the usual sounds that you would expect from city living. Ring-necked parakeets can now be seen (& heard) in many of London’s parks and gardens, and being very vocal, they seemed like the perfect choice.
TfLs iconic roundel represents transport within the image. The roundel intertwined with parakeets shows the juxtaposition of very urban traffic noise and the somewhat unexpected tropical sounds of a parakeet’s squawk. The four roundels also create the illusion of a tunnel, the dark green being ‘the underground’ with the blue sky above. The green stripe, by happy accident matches the green of district line which ends at Richmond, where parakeets were originally most prevalent. Although the finished design is very simplistic, it went through many variations and took hours for it to come together.
Who inspires you? Is there any work you ever took one look at and thought, ‘I wish I’d done that’?
I have always had a love for mid-century graphic design and I think you can see this influence in my work. There are so many poster designers from this period that I admire and be honest I am ashamed to say I don’t know the names of them all. It is a real shame that many of these designers aren’t really recognised for their work. A couple of the big names I love are Abram Games, Harry Stevens and American artist Charley Harper. I also follow a lot of contemporary illustrators on social media which is always very inspiring. There are so many talented people out there but a few of my favourites are Malika Favre, Owen Davy and Ben the Illustrator.
What are you passionate about besides your work?
If I’m not illustrating you will usually find me creating or making something. It could be trying a new technique eg, screen printing, a new craft like pottery, making cakes or sewing my own clothes.
Over the past couple of years I have also caught the running bug, so most mornings I am up and out early enjoying the local countryside.
Finally, what’s the next exciting thing on your horizon (that you’re able to tell us about)?
That’s top secret!!
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