Collage artist Jo-Anne Burgess has had her work commissioned from around the world, but it was being in the background of a Dr Who episode that made her children most proud

‘If I’m not making, I’m thinking about making,’ says artist Jo-Anne Burgess. The illustrator captures the magic of home, family and moments in time with her intricately cut paper collages.

After moving from Belfast to study textile design at Winchester School of Art and working around the southeast, it was a competition at London store Liberty, that highlighted the 39-year-old's unique work. The brief was to interpret the store in a medium of choice. Jo-Anne chose collage, put the finished work on Instagram, and requests for commissions came in.

Great British Life: Jo-Anne in her studio.Jo-Anne in her studio. (Image: Rebecca Gaunt)

‘I studied textiles so everything that I do is very tactile. I've always been obsessed with architecture and collected things like old magazines and paper ephemera like vintage postage stamps, wrapping paper and anything that's patterned and interesting.’

She opened her business Green Magpie in 2016. The colour is a nod to her Irish roots with Magpie the name gifted to her by her siblings, owing to her penchant for shiny things.

‘As the seventh of nine children, I always loved making stuff. When I found things, I'd squirrel them away. Anything from Cornetto wrappers to bits of tin foil or beads from a broken bracelet. We didn't have a big elaborate art cupboard, so it was very much make do with what you've got; you become more resourceful and inventive.

Great British Life: A London home created by Jo-Anne Burgess. A London home created by Jo-Anne Burgess. (Image: Jo-Anne Burgess)Great British Life: A London home created by Jo-Anne Burgess. A London home created by Jo-Anne Burgess. (Image: Jo-Anne Burgess)

‘Green represents the sustainable aspect to everything I do.’ she says. ‘The materials I use in my collages are all salvaged or repurposed, from old books to discarded magazines.’

Working from her studio at home in Winchester, her work involves layering the textures including painstakingly piecing together individual paper bricks which she describes as a mindful process. ‘I love the minutiae of detail, it makes the finished piece more interesting. It's like a tapestry, you've got these tiny details and textures within the overall image. It's a really slow process, almost like doing a jigsaw.’

Creating windows is a particular favourite and she feels that they let in snippets of people’s lives. ‘In autumn and winter when people have their curtains open you can see a bit of their life reflected, tiny bookshelves, album covers or a wedding photograph.’

Adding people brings another layer of playfulness to the finished work - from including a baby holding a favourite cuddly or highlighting cherished pets. ‘I love people and finding out about their lives, I think that comes from being part of a big family,’ smiles Jo-Anne.

Great British Life: Working on a commission.Working on a commission. (Image: Rebecca Gaunt)

Her unique style has seen her work appear on magazine covers, cards and it’s even been given a starring role on television.

In 2022, she was messaged by a set director asking if she'd make a prop for a BBC drama. It turned out to be the 60th anniversary special of Doctor Who. ‘I was commissioned to create a collage of the home of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and Shaun Temple (Karl Collins). The prop appeared as a backdrop in the living room of their home.

‘It was an amazing thing to do but I had to keep it quiet for so long. The children were beside themselves when it was screened. My eldest two are Doctor Who fans and my youngest Margot who is five now thinks that in each Doctor Who episode one of my pictures is going to be shown.’

Great British Life: The artist personalises her work by adding in pets and personal items. The artist personalises her work by adding in pets and personal items. (Image: Jo-Anne Burgess)

The talented artist has also designed cards for The Winchester Beacon, a charity providing night shelter, which she describes as a place of ‘hope and sanctuary’. Her ‘new home’ cards were given to residents finding more permanent accommodation.

Last year, Jo-Anne took part in the Projecting Grief project, relating her experiences of losing her sister and how she found comfort in art.

‘Projecting Grief is all about using your creativity to help on your grieving journey,’ she explains. ‘I had just graduated when I lost my sister who was living in Bristol studying fine art. She was six weeks away from her 21st birthday and was hit by a car’ – Jo-Anne was 23. ‘She was the youngest of the nine of us and she was my absolute best friend,’ she adds.

Immersing herself in her art gave Jo-Anne an outlet from the grief. ‘I certainly feel that losing my sister was a massive catalyst for me. Everything stops and you take a while to recalibrate. But you must find some sense and meaning in life because otherwise you would disappear with grief. You can’t shrink away and be scared though, nothing comes of that; it’s almost an insult to the person you’ve lost.

Great British Life: Jo-Anne was commissioned to do Canadian boathouse. It was the first time she had created water. Jo-Anne was commissioned to do Canadian boathouse. It was the first time she had created water. (Image: Jo-Anne Burgess)

‘I feel like doing something that's purposeful and beautiful is a credit to my sister. I don’t want to waste time on trivialities. I feel her in lots of what I do as she was creative too; it keeps that legacy alive because I'm doing all the things she wanted to; there's a piece of her in everything I do.’

Clients come from around the world and as well as English homes, she has created a Canadian boathouse, a chalet in Switzerland and properties in France. ‘One of my earliest commissions was for the author Clover Stroud who I really love and have followed for long time. She lost her sister and wrote about her the loss. When she contacted me to ask me to make her home, I was over the moon.’

‘Whenever I do these colleges, they're so deeply personal, making something for a family or person and capturing a moment that is happy and joyful, to me it is so meaningful. I can create something for a family that will be there for all the ups and downs, whatever family life brings.’