Gradwatch 2016: Katie Hickey

Illustration graduate Katie Hickey produced some beautiful work during her time at Falmouth University. She talks to CR about drawing inspiration from mid-20th-century artists and her idea for a children’s book

Falmouth remains one of the strongest colleges around for illustration and there was a wealth of talent on show at its stand at New Designers in London this year. Katie Hickey’s work stood out for its brilliant use of colour and detail and some great ideas – one of which Hickey hopes to turn into a book.

A panoramic scene of Yellowstone Park made for a speculative concertina book

CR: What lead you to choose to study illustration? Which other artists have proved to be inspirational to you?

I actually chose illustration on a bit of a whim. During college I was really into oil painting and my original plan was to do fine art and spend three years of my life painting. However my Dad pointed out that I may get a bit bored of this and so I started to look at illustration courses when I went to open days.

“A study of my Nanny in all her glory”

I liked that Illustration allowed me to apply my work in lots of different ways. I changed my mind right at the last minute and, although I didn’t really know what I was getting into, I haven’t looked back since.

I mostly draw inspiration from 20th-century artists and illustrators such as Miroslav Sasek, Alice and Martin Provensen and Charley Harper. I find a lot of contemporary illustration to be a bit soulless from being overly digitalised and so I look to these guys with their quirky perspectives and rich colour palettes.

CR: What was the best thing you learned from your time at university?

Work really hard and do everything (to an extent).

A series of images that tell the story of the buried church of Skagen, Denmark

CR: What materials do you tend to favour working in – and why?

I don’t really have set working process, every project seems to come about in a different way. However, I really love the rich printed textures of 20th-century books and prints and so I experiment a lot with different monoprinting processes to try and achieve a similar quality. Pretty much all of this experimenting is done in monochrome so I would love to push it further with colour.

I find printing so satisfying because of how unpredictable and immediate it is. You think you know exactly what you want an image to look like and then printing comes along with its happy accidents and unpredictability and the whole project takes a new turn.

Image for a speculative children’s book celebrating multicultural London

CR: At your New Designers show, we really liked the work you’d created for a potential children’s book (above). What’s the story behind that project?

When I was growing up I was lucky enough to spend some time living abroad, which was a really great and eye-opening experience. However, I often find myself getting frustrated with people who are ignorant of other cultures and nationalities.

So the project aims to be a non-preachy or confrontational book, that playfully educates children about other cultures and what makes them beautiful.

The book gives a little snapshot of each culture and each snapshot focuses less on the people and more on the culture through the environments. It’s in its early stages still but I’d love see if it can go further.

Personal work based on a song on Paul Simon’s new album – the song is about a time he got locked out of his own concert

CR: What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m enjoying being free to come up with my own projects alongside doing some commission work that is starting to come to light. I’ve had quite varied opportunities come out of the graduate shows which has really made me think about the different directions my work could go in, including film production and animation. So I’m really looking forward to exploring these new possibilities.

Personal work created for Hickey’s website

CR: What would be your dream project?

That’s a hard question there are so many projects I would love to do! One of my favourite things about illustration is the research for the projects. You get to learn about and observe subject matters you would never usually approach. Most of the time this is internet research, so I suppose my current dream project would be something that would involve some travelling for the research.

It would be great to be able to do a project that lets me fully immerse myself in whatever the subject matter is. I’ve also always had a thing for lighthouses.

To see more of Katie’s work, visit her site at

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