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Illustrating magic

There’s something magical about the power of an illustrator as they have a distinctive ability to breathe life into an idea. One such person who embodies this perfectly is illustrator, artist, author, and all-round awesome human, Leila Rudge.

It doesn’t really do justice to introduce Leila by simply saying she draws pictures or illustrates books. You only need to look at an adorable pigeon named Gary, to realise that the whole process is about so much more than just lines and squiggles on a page. So, what was the spark that first inspired Leila to put pen to paper?

“I wanted to illustrate children’s books from the age of eight. My mum’s friend accomplished this and I just thought it was really cool.” Cool indeed. But having the talent and then wholeheartedly pursuing the dream, takes a great leap of faith. Leila attributes growing up in the UK, surrounded by an incredibly supportive creative network, to turning that dream into an eventual reality.

“The biggest thing for me was having the early influence of my mum’s friend and witnessing her success in achieving what she had set out to do. Also, my dad is a photographer, so my desire to become a freelancer or illustrator or taking on some other role in the creative industry wasn’t questioned. No one ever said to me, “Oh that’s a bit tricky. It might not work out as well as you planned”, because that’s what people around me were involved in. It didn’t occur to me that it couldn’t happen.”

I wanted to illustrate children’s books from the age of eight. My mum’s friend accomplished this and I just thought it was really cool.

And happen it did. Leila is now an award-winning illustrator. Her first book Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay, was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Award in 2009. She has since gone on to illustrate countless children’s books, including Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros and The Skunk With No Funk.

Although usually preferring to collaborate with writers, Leila has written two books, Gary and Ted. “For me it was always about illustrating, but my editor advised me that if I wanted to make this work as a career, I needed to be writing books as well.

I simply said: “I don’t write books, I’m not a writer.” Her response was, “Have you ever written one?” Leila laughs while recounting those early conversations. The hard work and persistence have, of course, paid off.

“It pushes you creatively to do that sort of digging. Eventually… you really do find the skills to do it. My editor is the reason that I’ve written anything at all, and I will continue to do so because she is continually encouraging me to do more.”

For Leila though, it’s all about the illustrations and that whole beautiful creative process. “I’ve actually just finished another text, and to be honest it’s such a relief for me that I can start illustrating it now! Writing for me is just so hard; it’s a sort of clunky, slow process. But illustrating… that’s what I yearn to do. It just feels so natural and it flows. It makes me feel like everything else disappears.”

After chatting with Leila, I am certain of two things. One, her son is a future culinary genius if his innovative mudpie recipe is anything to go by; and two, she is a passionate, wholehearted creative, who single-handedly provides a sneak peek into the window of wonder framed by imagination.

Leila is now an awardwinning illustrator. Her first book Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay, was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Award in 2009.

As seen in Swell Issue 3. Grab your copy here

Words: Laura Kebby | Photography: Zoe Lonergan | Illustration: Leila Rudge

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