Based in the city of Birmingham, illustrator Billie Francis creates playful illustrations with her distinct style of awkward figures, eye-popping colours and hand-made textures. Having just graduated university, Francis already boasts an impressive body of work and also has an illustrated children's book under her sleeve. We spoke to the illustrator about the playfulness of illustration, her children's book she worked on and what she's planning to do next.
"I was born in London and spent my earlier years growing up there. My family then made the move up to the West Midlands, where I am now based in Walsall just north of Birmingham. I have to say it’s not the most inspiring of towns to live in, but this pushes more to travel and go out and see what exciting things can inspire me beyond this town. When I was younger I can’t really say I knew what possibilities lead from illustration or that it was a thing. Growing up I was constantly surrounded by creative individuals. This definitely made an impact on me as a person, even if I didn’t know it. I would always paint with my Grandpa on a rainy afternoon. I would be upset when the rain cleared and I was then told to go play outside. My parents also encouraged me to embrace my creativity. I have never been good with words or worse, numbers. But being creative has allowed me to communicate and express myself in a totally different way. They made me realise that it doesn’t matter in life what you do, just make sure you do something that you and enjoy and that you are good at it."
"You can speak any language and be anywhere in the world, but illustration has the power to communicate to everyone."
"It wasn’t until doing my foundation at Bournville School of Art where I fell in love with illustration and thought yes, this is it. I would say this is really where my illustration journey began which continued onto Leeds Collage of Art where I studied a BA in Illustration. Here I fell even more in love as I fully committed my whole world to it. It was here that I learnt the power of visual communicating through fluid line, bold shape, rough textures and what goes into crafting a beautiful composed illustration. The biggest thing that I enjoy about illustration the most is the communication aspect. You can speak any language and be anywhere in the world, but illustration has this power to communicate to everyone."
Be it graphic design or illustration, both are competitive fields. With a big bubble of creatives out there, standing out is a challenge, which is why having a distinct style comes as a huge advantage. "My style is something that I have struggled with whilst studying Illustration. It has been that learning process and getting things wrong which has definitely pushed my style. I would say that my style is quite clean and simple. The excitement is then injected using rough textures and popping colours. My style has definitely been influenced by traditional print methods such as screen-print. The little mistakes and individuality of each print is what makes printing so special. For me as well the textures created are simply beautiful. If an illustration has textures that make me want to touch, then it’s a winner. Saying that I tend to like to keep my hands and space quite clean, so I have taken what I like about these print methods and incorporated it into my work digitally. Texture is a massive deal to me, so I created a ‘texture bank’ which I am still adding to today. I’ll use paint, ink, oil pastels to make any sort of mark. This has to be the most fun bit about my process, just letting lose with materials and freely making marks. I then have a structure to my process. I plan out an image through roughing and testing. The illustrations are then brought to life in Photoshop where I layer these hand made textures, shapes and pops of colour. A lot of my work is based around awkward out of proportion figures, which are probably some of my favourite things to draw. This sense of playfulness is what draws me to illustration. I have this freedom to push the real world and create something thats funny. Even though I have just graduated and found my ‘style’ as such, I still think it’s important to let my practice grow and push myself."
"Down time is a massive thing for me, so when I’m not making I love to eat. Wether its making a delicious bowl of pasta or going out and eating a big fat burrito, I find myself running to food. For any creative I think it’s important to have this downtime to clear your head. I find I take myself away by watching a good film, going on walks, chill with friends and listen to music. Even when I’m not making art, I am influenced a lot by what I am doing. The creative scene where I live isn’t the best where I live however. Saying that I would say Birmingham has definitely grown and become more and more creative. The Custard Factory is a must place to go as its Birmingham’s creative quarter. It has loads of interesting independent shops and holds various creative events."
"Recently I worked on a piece for my final major project at university where I created a children’s book. There really isn’t a magical story on how I came about making this book. My uncle had previously made a trip to Borneo and visited the Orangutan sanctuaries there. I was then just filled with jealousy and was like that is a place I need to go to. This then made think and inspired me to make a children’s book about this elegant species. Whilst addressing such a difficult subject helping children understand a word outside their town or city, keeping it playful and educational was a challenge. Looking back at my childhood, my favourite children’s book all involved animals. Like many other kids The Hungry Caterpillar was a all time favourite of mine. Eric Carle’s illustrations are just magnificent, definitely something that inspires me still to this day."
"On a regular basis I will read the illustration blog on Its Nice That, scroll through Instagram endlessly looking for inspiration. Being involved in the illustration community I have formed lots of new love affairs with various illustrators, falling in love with new illustrators daily. The list is endless but one big favourite of mine is Jean Jullien. His distinct black line illustration style sits so beautifully against the harsh bursts of flat colour. What I like about him the most is how clever he is, making everything he does look so effortless. The playfulness in his work is what I find most entertaining. Yes I am a recent illustration graduate, now let loose in the big scary illustration bubble. Ideally I would like to be represented by a fab agency, but for the time being I am tackling being a freelance illustrator getting lots of experience first. As I am still saying hello to everyone showing people what I can do, I have a part time job to keep me going whilst starting up the freelance work. I do miss the buzz and chat from working in a studio, which has come as a shock starting as a freelance. So working in a studio later is something I am going to consider."