A world of ideas

Illustrator Carol Kearns working in her Wymondham studio. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norfolk

Illustrator Carol Kearns working in her Wymondham studio. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norfolk - Credit: Archant

When Carol Kearns decided to swap full-time work for a long held desire to go to art school, she admits her ambition to become an illustrator seemed a pipe-dream.

But now, three years on and with a first class degree in illustration, she has a growing reputation illustrating products, packaging, magazines and books.

Her inspiration comes from the unlikeliest places, from classic literature and natural history collections to peering into someone’s garden from the top deck of the bus!

“I had worked in various roles in voluntary organisations and community development, but as a child I always loved drawing. I never got the opportunity to go to art school or develop it further, but as you get old you start thinking you only get one shot at life, so I decided to go for it,” says Carol, who lives in Wymondham.

After graduating from the Norwich University of the Arts, she began specialising in food and plant illustration, as, she laughs: “I just love cooking and gardening, it seemed obvious to focus on what I know.

“What I love about being an illustrator is that as well as being very creative, it is a very practical process. You have to consider so much – how big is the space I am illustrating, do I need to incorporate text, or if it is for a book or magazine – is it a left hand or right hand page. I always work on rough drafts first because I find if you present to a group of people your ideas in what looks like a finished version, they are reluctant to point out anything negative,” she says. “But if you hand them rough sketches they are more honest, it creates a discussion which is really helpful to the whole creative process.”

Her most recent work for Norfolk company Hodmedod’s, which sells British grown pulses, has seen her draw influence from some unusual sources. “I really think doing good research is key to creating a clever illustration for packaging. There are some amazing resources here in Norfolk. At Norwich Castle there are thousands of exhibits in its natural history collection, many of which have never even been displayed. They have endless trays of these magnificent butterflies, with all these different colours and patterns, so vivid and inspiring,” she says.

Most Read

“But while I do a lot of research, sometimes a great idea comes from a simple thought or chance moment. I was walking through a shop and spotted a duck egg blue cushion with the pattern of the union jack on it. Hodmedod’s wanted me to include that sense of Britishness and I realised I could use the same idea, but putting the flag design all in green in the shape of a leaf.”

She has just finished designing the packaging for a new range of Hodmedod’s dahl, and the way Carol came up with the concept is fascinating – drawing together her determined research, creativity and skills as an artist.

“I wanted a classic, almost vintage style, so it might seem strange, but the design started out originally being inspired by Jane Austen, who I love. I was reading a book about how they had adapted Jane Austen’s original text for the television series, and there was a section about the costumes from that period and how they used a lot of sprigged muslin which came from India,” she say.

“I researched which region of India the dahl recipe came from then looked at the Indian art of that area and how they stylised flowers, and it all started to came together to create a design.”