By Eleanor Bowskill, Katie Farr, Zarah Yesufu, Nalisha Vansia and Hannah McWhinnie
It is clear that artistic flair runs in Aspinall’s family, with both parents having studied visual arts, textiles and photography throughout their academic careers. Being brought up in a creative environment was one of the factors that encouraged her to pursue a similar career, and, as both of her parents attended UCLan, she had visited the campus before and “always loved it”, so she knew she wanted to go there. Genevieve always showed a passion for drawing, becoming interested in illustration during her undergraduate degree as a commercial outlet for her existing skill set. After receiving her first commission to illustrate Cheesed Off! by Jake Hope, she decided to study for an MA in children’s book illustration, where she worked on four books – one of which was Percy the Post Penguin.
Aspinall thoroughly enjoyed her experience “working with such friendly people” on Cheesed Off!, but it might be surprising to discover that “the author and illustrator don’t usually meet until the work is complete.” She worked with the art director to develop the characters, then went on to “storyboard the whole picture book,” making small alterations until the author and art director were satisfied. Throughout this time, Aspinall felt she got to “understand the process of commissions” and develop her illustration style. With Cheesed Off!, the text was “fairly minimal,” which allowed for “quite a bit of freedom” but also presented its own challenges, because “the pictures needed to tell a story” if the majority of the spread was illustrated. When illustrating her own book, she could take out parts of the text that had been made redundant through illustration or move things around so both elements were developed at the same time.
Aspinall’s first children’s book as both illustrator and author, Percy the Post Penguin, was inspired by her love of post office-themed books and stationery, and, of course, her love of penguins. Combining these ideas with the theme of confidence, which Aspinall “felt was important to convey to children, as confidence is about how you feel, not just how you appear to others,” gave her the basis for Percy the Post Penguin. In developing Percy’s character, Aspinall found that the initial cylindrical shape with just feet at the bottom limited his movement, but adding legs and a more defined head shape changed Percy into the character we see in the book. Aspinall “got to know Percy by drawing him in all sorts of situations and environments, until [she] felt [she] really knew his character”. Once Percy had been brought to life and Aspinall had written the story, she created a dummy book of full-sized illustrations to play around with the compositions before adding colour, “hand-painted in gouache, with details added in with pencil crayon.” For Aspinall, the illustrations lead the text, as the pictures do the talking. She says, “It’s important not to have text that explains something that can already be seen in the illustrations.”
Aside from her parents' artistic influence, Aspinall also credits Oliver Jeffers, Tove Jansson and Kate Pankhurst as “huge inspirations” for her illustration style. Having “always loved paint texture and pencil crayon,” she especially admires Oliver Jeffers’ work and, much like him, hopes to one day have her work animated. Aspinall’s illustrations feel nostalgic and perfect for the upcoming Christmas period. Her favourite festive illustrated books include The Snowflake by Benji Davies and So Much Snow by Kristen Schroeder and Sarah Jacoby. She explained, “I think snow is fascinating to children and was excited to create my book involving snow.”
Drawing has always been a part of Aspinall’s life. When starting her undergraduate degree, Aspinall was excited to develop her skills into “something that could be used commercially and something that could be made into a career.” Her artistry has developed from once mostly “drawing from observation” using tone and pencil, to now “using gouache a lot, with pencil crayon and more texture.” A similarly big development in her artistry is her focus on character design, an integral part of what makes her book so vibrant, and which she had never really “explored six or seven years ago.” It has been an “interesting and enjoyable” progression in Aspinall’s art to have her drawings be used in a new way.
As well as being commissioned by UCLan Publishing, Aspinall has been nominated and longlisted for three prestigious prizes, including the Carnegie Medal for Illustration 2023. Speaking of advice she would give prospective illustrators, first and foremost she would tell them to “enjoy the process!” One of her favourite parts of her process is developing characters and world-building as it’s “exciting to see how a character changes as you draw them, and how their personality starts to come out once they become more fully realised.” Another tip for budding illustrators is to “keep making lots of new characters and stories” and show “a diverse range of work, in colour, black and white, book covers and interior illustrations.” By doing this, “your work will develop” and grow in new ways.