I emailed the lovely Hannah Firmin and asked her a few questions. She emailed back and gave some really good answers:
I understand you have recently moved to Wales, does living there have an impact on your work?
Living in Wales will influence me I'm sure, it's a bit early yet as I haven't had time to produce work for myself, I am selling well in local galleries and have been invited to exhibit during the Hay Festival in a few weeks time. I am always inspired by my surroundings....I lived in a village with a windmill above my house....see how many times you can spot a windmill in my work!
Where does your love of bright colours and patterns stem from?
I have always loved textiles, and sew and knit myself. Patterns and decoration in everyday life are very important to enrich our lives. Travelling the world shows you this too, I loved the fact that in Bali even the road sweepers wear beautiful sarongs and head dresses!
What are your inspirations? Do any artists/illustrators inspire you?
Some of the artists that have inspired me are Picasso, Bonnard, Thomas Bewick the engraver, Edward Bawden, Edward Ardizzone, John Piper, amongst many others!
Are you ever stuck for ideas? If so how do you overcome this?
Usually I have to work to a deadline so I can't ever be stuck. I will look at books and other people's work, go to an exhibition or just go out and do some drawing of I can't proceed.
Would you be able to tell me about your working process? How do you get started on a brief?
If I am doing a book jacket I always read the book until an image stands out. If it's something else I will usually have a size to work to which helps me with the general design. If the subject is new to me I will research and do some drawing before designing a composition. Once the rough has been approved I have to transfer it, in reverse, to my chosen block, lino, wood or vinyl. I cut it with the engraving tools, print and then when dry I cut up and collage and then finally paint. A long and elaborate process, which I love.
When did you get into printmaking, have you always used this process in your work?
I have done linocuts since a small child and etching at college, so almost all my life! It is always my chosen medium and I have become known for this way of working....my identity as an artist.
What did winning the Best Cover of the Year at the British Book Awards for the 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' mean to you? Did it increase your profile?
Winning the award was great as it did increase awareness of my work and a lot of work developed from A.McCall Smith's popularity and his choice to continue using me for his covers. When you work freelance and at home there aren't many chances to gain recognition and acknowledgement for all one's hard work (I have worked as an illustrator since 1981!) so it was lovely to win (I wasn't invited to the award ceremony though!)
Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring illustrator?
My advice is to work in a medium you love and develop continually as, if you are intending on doing this for your life, you need to love and enjoy it! Aim at developing your individuality and skills personal to you.