Interview: Julia Allum

By / Feb 9th, 2014 / , / No comments

Netherlands-grown, Norfolk-residing Julia Allum is an illustrator with a passion for design. Having studied illustration at Falmouth College of the Arts, she has worked on everything from packaging design to advertising for a gaggle of exciting clients that includes Natwest, Expedia, Oxford University Press, Harper Collins, and IPC Media.

Julia‘s work uses bold colours, clean lines and has a graphic feel to it. With a taste for pattern work, she’s got a penchant for penning wildlife, and a proclivity for packaging design. From illustrations for sweet pea hand cream containers to orange-slice patterns for oven mitts, her versatile style has a charming simplicity. 

We spoke to Julia about faeries, ballerinas, and how it feels to see your work in print:

Can you tell me about your background as an illustrator?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. My speciality as a five year old was fairies and ballerinas! Art was always my favourite subject at school and I spent most of my free time either drawing, painting or making things. I couldn’t ever imagine doing anything else so I think it was inevitable that I would end up at art college. I started with a foundation course which really opened my eyes to so many more possibilities. Up to that time my artwork had been quite traditional, using pencil and paint. I spent a year experimenting using different materials and techniques to create images. This new found freedom continued throughout my illustration degree. My final show consisted of three dimensional relief art made from wood and found objects – very, very different to what came before and what came after! A few years later, struggling a little with direction, I did a course in graphic design. It was whilst doing this course that I was first introduced to the computer. We hadn’t really used computers during my degree so the concept of using one as a tool to draw was very new to me. I got on really well with Illustrator, I loved the simplicity of it, building up images with vector shapes. My work started to move away from a conceptual fine art style towards the graphical style that I produce today.

Do you prefer illustration or graphic design?

Drawing and creating images has always been my love so the answer to that is easy: illustration, hands down. I have a huge interest in graphics, I think my work echoes this, but I believe graphic design is a different discipline altogether.

What is it that appeals to you about pattern work?

Patterns have always interested me, I quite liked Maths at school, I wasn’t particularly good at it but enjoyed the patterns found in shapes and numbers. Patterns within nature are also a huge inspiration, once you start looking you find pattern everywhere! I love both accurate geometric repeats as well as looser random hand drawn designs. Surface pattern design is fairly new to me and something I am still in the very early stages of developing. Although I have always been drawn towards pattern and it has featured in my work, it is only recently I realised it was separate discipline in itself. I did a module from the e-course ‘The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’ last summer which was fantastic, a great source of information and advice. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities and outlets for my work.

Can you explain the process that you go through when working on a product packaging brief?

Most of my illustration briefs for packaging and advertising have been very strictly art directed, and have not left me much room for adding my own ideas. Sometimes I quite like this though. I am known to be terrible at making decisions, I’m not normally short on ideas it’s just that I can’t always decide which one to go with. For my last packaging project the design agency presented me with very detailed mocked up roughs and reference material. They were very clear on the concept they were after so in this case I started drawing straight on my Mac. I use Illustrator to create most of my work now. I’m sure the program can do thousands of fancy, amazing, techy things that I haven’t got a clue about, but I like to use it in its most basic way, building up images from simple vector shapes using my mouse, I never got on with a Wacom! Editorial jobs are very different though and I have had a few very open-ended briefs. If this is the case I tend to start by brainstorming words before sketching out ideas and then moving over to the Mac.

What’s your greatest achievement so far?

Seeing my work in print; the sense of satisfaction it gives never goes away. Throughout school and college that was always my ambition. I have been very fortunate to work on a couple advertising jobs and seeing my illustrations on billboards on the London Underground has to be a highlight. The feeling of excitement never fades though. Seeing my illustration in a magazine or on jam labels in the supermarket, the buzz it gives me makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile.

Which artists do you admire?

To single out specific artists is really difficult as there is so much fantastic work out there by many, many talented people. I am however particularly drawn to anything vintage; products, graphics, pattern, art and design. Travel posters from the first half of the 20th century are a favourite. I love the simple graphic style and large areas of block colour. To name one artist, I love the work of Orla Kiely whose bold graphic patterns reflect this period.

You can see more work by Julia on her website

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