In Conversation With Judi Abbot
last updated 03 January 2024
Interview by Rachel Moffat
We were honored to chat with Judi Abbot, a Bright artist from Milan, Italy.
After art school and her initial editorial work in Italy, Giuditta, Judi Abbot, moved to London. There she began publishing with major publishing houses like Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Little Tiger Press. Her books have circled the globe with co-editions in China, Thailand, Australia, France, Belgium.
For more than 15 years, she has been living in London, balancing her family, her books, and the art and illustration workshops she organises in schools and clubs.
Here’s what Bright Agent Amy Fitzgerald has to say about working so closely with Judi:
“Judi is an absolute delight to work with. She is incredibly experienced, hardworking and passionate about what she does. She also has a brilliant ability in creating characters that are so full of personality that it is impossible to not fall in love with them. I’m excited to see what 2024 will bring for Judi.”
What are your first memories of art?
My Mum loved to paint whenever she had the time. When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I remember watching her painting on these big canvases with oil colours, the smell of the medium, the darkness of the lines. She loved to paint flowers and landscapes.
What brought you to Bright?
A good friend of mine suggested I should take a look at the Bright website so I dived into the Bright world and enjoyed looking through all of the talented artists there. It was also quite frightening thinking of a possible rejection, but I just thought ‘I have nothing to lose, let’s give it a go!’ After a nice chat with Robyn Newton, I felt energised and inspired. It boosted all my hopes and made me excited to start this new adventure.
Where are you from and how does that affect your work?
I’m from a small city close to Milan, Italy. I moved to London in 2008 with the idea of staying for just six months, but this year it has been my 15th anniversary as a Londoner!
Since I moved here and started working with UK books, I remember people telling me how some traits of my drawings were Italian, or European. Especially my noses, Italian noses!
That was a first for me. I was already working for some Italian publishers, but I never had any comments like this! My illustrations were not as cute and clean as the ones I saw in the books in the bookshop at that time: they had bold colours, painted in acrylic, with simple shapes. Over time, my simple, sophisticated illustration got noticed and I started publishing in this country too, bringing something new to the UK market.
How do you translate your ideas to the page?
I usually start drawing on my sketchbook with very small ideas, shapes, lines, splashes of color etc. Next, I start identifying the characters of the story and just have fun imagining them in different positions or with different facial expressions. If you were to look at this stage in my sketchbook, you would not be able to understand a thing, it’s just a mess of lines, shapes, and doodles! The freedom and freshness of this phase is impossible to replicate at all the other stages of the illustration process, I love it!
What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I must admit I love to open the box and hold the printed book in my hands. Feeling the paper, checking the colours, and smelling it. Touching and remembering the past months’ hard work is a great feeling!
How do you develop your art skills?
I am a curious person, I like to discover what’s around me, in bookshops, and museums, I try to replicate what caught my attention. It could be a combination of colors, a density of the color on the paper or a specific format of the illustration. Like all artists, I have to push myself so I don’t get stuck in my comfort zone! I like to do online classes, on a variety of different art styles to explore new creative worlds.
What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?
I am a mum of two boys, so I work my day around their timetable! I go to school with my little one and walk the dog too. When I’m heading back to the studio, I like to walk through the woods, breathe fresh air and get my mind set for the day. I try to work all morning up to the afternoon school run. I like to be alone in my studio, I think it’s my safe space. I felt a bit lost when the boys were little, I couldn’t just concentrate and be alone in my space as there were always unexpected things happening. Now, I can fit in some laundry, a quick lunch and, when I am lucky, some socialising.
What has been your favourite piece of art you’ve ever created, what inspired it and why do you love it so much?
I loved working on the tiger boy piece. It wasn’t an illustration for any book, I just want to fix this memory of my son, who loved to dress up as a tiger, with his bedroom wall as the background. At the time I had just started using ProCreate on iPad, moving from only acrylic creations. I remember telling myself to try to see how this new software works and enjoy the process: I mixed a bit of acrylic background, and some lines and the result was fresh and cheerful. I love this feeling of creating something without knowing where you are going. The end piece always mesmerises me!
Who/What have been your key influences?
I had some great teachers in my student life, and I studied a lot of art history. I love the simplicity of some of Picasso’s works and his history, it’s fascinating. Munari is one of my key influencers too, he could be a storyteller without the need to create perfect illustrations but playing with the media and book as objects.
What was it like seeing your work out in the world for the first time?
My first book was published in Korea, so I never had a real chance to see it in the world! But I remember so clearly when one afternoon I walked into Waterstone Piccadilly just to have a stroll, and I saw my first UK book on the shelves at the entrance. I was so surprised, and so, so proud!
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
I often receive emails and messages from young illustrators asking me for advice. What I like to say is be smart enough to understand it’s a job in a market that has rules, trends, budgets etc. Be prepared to dive into this without losing the love for painting, drawing, and creating.
Do you have any ‘dream projects’ that you’d like to work on someday?
I would love to create a book that stays in children’s hearts for a long, long time. One that stays in your memory forever!
To work with Judi, get in contact here.