Nina Cosford on being an illustrator and modern feminist

If you have read my review of the latest addition to Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford’s Life Portraits series, then you will no doubt to be eager to learn more about the series and how it was created. Last year, after the first two books in the series were released, I was lucky enough to get to interview Nina about the project and her other work as an illustrator for the Inkygoodness blog.

Here are my favourite questions from the interview…

What role do sketchbooks play in your process and how important are they to you as a creative?

I’ve always always used sketchbooks as a way of documenting everything from ideas to buildings to faces to wish lists. It helps to keep my illustration fun and immediate and not too self-conscious. I think my style would be very different if it wasn’t for maintaining my manic habit of scribbling things down. My sketchbooks also help me to translate things I come across and explore my own angle on things. I like blurring the boundaries of preparatory / explorative work with finished pieces as much as I can because the pressure of separating the two has always been something I have struggled with.

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How did you get involved with the Life Portraits books project?

I first met Zena after she showed an interest in my Girls Illustrated project. We discussed the idea of female role models and how important they are in the modern day for women and people everywhere. After a visit to Charleston Farmhouse, I became intrigued by the idea of visually exploring the world of Virginia Woolf and the nebulous Bloomsbury group. Zena happened to have extensive knowledge on this subject and specified that we should focus a book purely on Virginia Woolf, as a universal, female icon. This then lead to the idea of a whole series commissioned by Frances Lincoln publishers, covering the lives of various influential women in art and literature.

Another project of yours which I love is Read Bottom Up. Can you tell us more about this book and your involvement?

This book is a very fun and amusing look at the world of modern dating and communication. It’s a story about falling in “like” in this day and age, and the entire book is told through emails between the various characters; the lovers and their best friends, who – for better or worse – offer their own interpretation of what is going on in the relationship through deciphering the messages that are being sent. I think the Girls Illustrated project highlighted a certain modern demographic that my work could appeal to, and the writers saw a potential in this tone of humour and quirk as being complimentary to the story they were telling.

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Tell me about the last documentary that you watched – is there a subject matter interests you most?

I’ve recently been watching the documentary series How To Be Bohemian with Victoria Coren Mitchell, which I’ve found both fascinating and hilarious. I love watching historical documentaries and imagining how people would have lived on a normal day; what they would have laughed at, worn, what soap they would have used (if any), what they would have danced to etc. I’m also fascinated by the term ‘bohemian’ and how its definition is constantly changing over time. As a creative, it’s always interesting to see what perspectives and preconceptions there are on what it means to be an “artist”. It isn’t a term I would use to describe myself as it’s too vague and romantic for me. I draw and usually create work to a fairly strict brief or set of rules which I guess isn’t very bohemian!

Who inspires you? And what do you like most about their work?

That’s a really tricky question to answer as there are tons of creatives and non- creatives who inspire me every day! Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Lena Dunham’s work and have been very fortunate to work alongside her and HBO over the past couple of years. I’m also really excited about what future work she and other modern feminists, creatives and thinkers are going to inspire and am really chuffed to be a part of this stream of people, responding in my own way.

You can read the full Inkygoodness interview here | ninacosford.com

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