“Be whisked into a world of storytelling and forest wonders together with our furry friends;
The comforting aroma of freshly baked goods wraps you up in sugary decadence. The simplest memories always taste the sweetest.”
Are you ready to dip into the wondrous world of nostalgic whimsy with Vanessa Gillings and her furry friends?
Welcoming a brand new face to our Mossery family of creatives: Vanessa Gillings! No stranger to the land of imagination, her illustrations tug at the heartstrings for its uncanny likeness to that of our favorite childhood storybooks, now featured in her covers Nursery and Bakery!
Read on to hear how these covers were brought to life, her penchant for childhood nostalgia, narrative illustrations and more—
Hi Vanessa! We’re so excited to be working with you. Before we get into it, do you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m excited to be working with you, too! I’m a children’s illustrator who works entirely in gouache. My work’s been featured in coloring apps and on children’s clothing, as well as in galleries across the US. This year I’m embarking on moving into children’s publishing full-time, as hopefully both an illustrator and an author.
What was the creative process behind the creation of these covers? Take us through it!
I always follow the same process for all of my projects. I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to keep designs small for as long as possible because it forces me to focus on the overall composition before I get bogged down in the details.
First, I thumbnail in my sketchbook, focusing on gesture and shape. Then I blow the best thumbnails up to polish my designs on tracing paper. This allows me to place all the major elements while still keeping the pieces relatively small.
Next, I do one last pass on the computer where I clean everything up and finally put in those precious details; this is also when I choose my colors. Lastly, I transfer my digital drawing to watercolor paper using carbon transfer paper and paint my finals in gouache.
What was a pleasantly surprising part of working on this project?
I had a lot of fun envisioning the world all these animals lived in. Although they weren’t intended to all be part of the same story, that ended up happening anyway, and in the end I felt like I’d illustrated a book about these animal families!
What was the most challenging part of working on this project?
Painting all those little breads! But seriously, I think the hardest part was making sure my art style would work well on a notebook.
I consider myself a narrative illustrator and I focus a lot on story. I struggled to strike a balance between staying true to my nature and keeping the illustration something that would look nice on a cover. Hopefully I succeeded!
For these cover designs, you used gouache as your medium of choice. Is this your favorite medium to use and are there any other mediums you hope to explore in the future?
Gouache is definitely my favorite medium! It’s basically the only one I use, although I do a large part of my preliminary work digitally. Lately I’ve been getting into experimenting more with real watercolor, too.
Mixing the two together — using watercolor for soft things like clouds and gouache for the solid shapes in the foreground, for instance — is something I’m really looking forward to trying out more.
What’s been one piece of advice you’ve received that shifted the way you view art?
To lean into what makes your art unique. A lot of artists worry about whether their work is marketable because it’s not identical to everything else, or worry that there aren’t enough jobs that accept traditional media. Neither is true.
Just make the kind of art you enjoy and put it out there. The people who like that kind of thing will gravitate towards it.
Your artwork has distinctly vintage and nostalgic qualities. Is there a particular era you draw inspiration from?
For me, it’s all about the clothes! If I’m not painting or writing, I’m making clothes, and I always have swatches of fabric and knitwear designs on hand.
I like natural materials like cotton, linen and wool and am drawn to fashions where natural fibers were the norm, specifically the late 1800’s through the mid-twentieth century.
I’m not a huge fan of fussy, rich people’s clothes though; my characters are always dressed in things my own family would have worn, or I myself wear now, although I take a lot of liberties.
If you could write the ideal fairytale for your younger self, what would it be about?
I’m currently writing a few! Not to give anything away, but some are retellings of classic fairytales, others are about foxes (of course) and my largest project is about ghosts and fairies.
Although my art is pretty cutesy, I enjoy blending warmth and darkness at the same time, and my writing is often about good people in bad situations.
Many of your illustrations feature adorable anthropomorphic characters! Is there any particular reasoning behind this?
On one level, I just love animals! I love pets and watching nature programs. I’m also inspired by the books I read when I was a kid — classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows.
So many wonderful children’s books had talking animals in dapper attire. I guess I associate that with my own childhood and a lot of my work is recreating feelings I had as a kid.
Your illustrations feel reminiscent of our favorite childhood storybooks. As an author yourself, do you have a narrative or storyline in your head as you draw particular scenes?
Absolutely! My favorite part of illustration versus fine art is that illustration is about communicating an idea, quite often a story.
I always think through what’s happening in a scene and why each character is there and what they want. I think it adds life to a painting to have it contain a story, and my favorite pieces are ones that feel like snapshots of daily life.
Based in Washington, DC, Vanessa Gillings is a children’s author, illustrator and self-proclaimed fox enthusiast! Find her on Instagram here.
Reminder: Magic can be found in even the most mundane of routines! You just have to know where to look.
Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram at @mosseryco in your pictures or unboxing clips when you receive yours, we’d love to see them!