This is my interview with Nina Cosford.
Are you a Jane Austen fan? Yes, I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s. I think my favourite book of hers is Persuasion. I get the feeling that the story may carry hints of her own personal feelings, and that may be the closest we can get to knowing her.
Do you remember the first time you heard about Jane Austen? I can’t remember exactly. I remember watching the TV series of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth years ago. My sister bought me a box set of Austen novels when I was in my teens and I got into them quite quickly.
What inspired you to start illustrating? Growing up in an artistic family greatly influenced my confidence in drawing. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. My tutors at university challenged and inspired me to get better. I met Quentin Blake as a student and watched him draw – what an incredible talent he has. I love his energetic and playful way of capturing people and scenarios.
Which are your favourite images in this book? I really enjoyed painting the opening illustration of the book which is a snowy scene of the Austen household one night in December. I wanted it to feel quite magical and immediately create a setting for the book.
What were some of the most important moments when illustrating this book? One of my favourite parts of the book is when we have a look at what might have been lying around on Jane’s desk. For all the Life Portraits books, I try to fully immerse myself in their lives and imagine as closely as possible what their daily lives might have been like. Things like what they would have worn, liked to look at, danced to, laughed at, written with, etc. It brings them down to a more human level and reminds us that they were real, living, feeling people, just like us.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when illustrating this book? I found out that each one of Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra was cut up into tiny pieces after being read, in order to maintain secrecy and destroy the evidence of the gossip shared by the sisters! This goes some way in explaining why not much personal information about Jane Austen is documented.
What was one of the best things that happened because of this book? It was a good excuse to brush up on my history and learn more about the Georgian world in which Jane lived. I’ve really enjoyed bringing this into a more modern context. Though not hugely adventurous or eventful, her life seems to have been lived somewhat vicariously through the amazing stories and characters she created.
What would you most like to ask Jane Austen? What do you think you would have done differently if you were a bloke?
Which products do you use to illustrate? It depends on what I’m doing. For the Life Portraits books I paint with watercolours. In my sketchbook I use an assortment of brush pens, felt tips and pencils (more instant and portable), and with my commercial work I often use my Wacom graphics tablet to draw from combined with more handmade marks and textures.
What are you working on next? The latest book in the Life Portraits series (after Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen and Coco Chanel) is Frida Kahlo which is out in March 2016. I’m really excited about this one as it’s very different to the others; more colour and full of wonderful Mexican culture references. I’m also expanding my illustration work into other areas such as animation and merchandise – watch this space!
Read my review of ‘Life Portraits; Jane Austen’ here.