Eleanor Shakespeare graduated from the University of West England in 2013. She has since created editorial illustrations for the Guardian, The Globe & Mail and Politico magazine as well as two collage activity books for adults. Her first children’s book is published this month and tells the true stories of five child refugees.
Shakespeare specialises in photomontage – a medium that allows her to combine her love of photography and mark-making. “I’ve always loved ephemera. Library and museum archives provide a constant source of inspiration for me, but I often use my own photographic elements too,” she explains.
Her projects usually begin with “a mad hunt” for copyright free images related to her chosen topic. Illustrations are constructed digitally but mark-making and handwriting is done on paper. “Half the fun is in the collecting,” she says. “I sometimes have a very clear vision in my head of what I want to create, but more often than not, I am pulled into an idea because of a specific image I’ve found.”
“The greatest joy for me [in working with photomontage] is that this medium guides me as much, if not more, than I guide it,” she adds. “I’m dictated to by the material I have available and whilst I can usually find what I need for any given image, I sometimes come unstuck and have to visually problem solve.”
Shakespeare’s first book Collage and Keep was published by Frances Lincoln in 2015. The book introduces the basic principles of collage and includes 52 creative exercises. Readers are invited to tell the story of their favourite record or build a perfect view using found images.
Shakespeare describes the book as “a visual diary” – one that encourages readers to reflect on their lives and what makes them happy through collage.
“It came to my attention that there was a gap in the market for an adult activity book that concentrated specifically on collage,” she explains. “There’s an abundance of colouring and craft books, but I wanted to focus on this medium because of its accessibility (and because it’s what I do and love). People are more and more encouraged to explore their creative side – which is fantastic – but they often aren’t equipped or feel intimidated by an empty page of a sketchbook.”
Shakespeare was offered a two-book deal from Frances Lincoln after pitching her idea for Collage and Keep. Her follow-up title Cut, Paste, Create was released in September last year. The book is more design-focused: readers are invited to create a wallpaper, a pair of bookends and a set of stamps.
“I really want to facilitate creativity in others, especially adults where often that creativity has maybe been lost or left unexplored,” says Shakespeare. “Collage is such an available medium and whilst people have mental roadblocks about their drawing ability, collage bypasses those anxieties.”
Canadian publisher Annick Press recently commissioned Shakespeare to illustrate her first children’s book. Stormy Seas was published on April 11 and tells the stories of five young refugees who fled their homes to escape conflict and terrorism. Stories date from 1939 to the present: an 18-year-old Ruth escapes Nazi Germany, Phu sets off alone from a war-torn Vietnam and Najeeba flees the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The book is aimed at middle school-aged children and is written by Marybeth Leatherdale. It aims to put the current refugee crisis in context and explore what it feels like to be a refugee.
Shakespeare’s illustrations offer a sensitive portrayal of some challenging topics and appear alongside first-hand accounts. “Stormy Seas was an unbelievable opportunity to work on a topic I care deeply about on a personal level,” she says. On her website, she says she hopes the book will provide “a voice for the voiceless” and celebrate people who have overcome immense challenges to achieve incredible things.
“It is my hope – along with Marybeth and everyone involved in the project – that it shows a generation of children (and adults!) what history can teach us about the current challenges we face globally and our response and treatment of our fellow human beings,” she adds.
Alongside her freelance work and editorial commissions, Shakespeare is an artist-in-residence at Greenshaw High School in Sutton. She works with 11 to 18-year-old pupils, running workshops on book binding, collage and Photoshop. She also works on a one-to-one basis with students who are interested in doing creative degrees and foundation courses, helping them curate portfolios and prepare for interviews.
“Working with 11 to 18-year-olds every week is extremely rewarding and a great balance to my freelance practice,” she says. “The underlying aim to for pupils to see from the moment they walk into high school that the creative industry is a valid, exciting and engaging world to be part of, and attainable for people from all walks of life,” she adds.
New Talent is part of Inspire, a year-long partnership between Creative Review, Facebook and Instagram showcasing outstanding creative work and emerging talent across both platforms. More advice and inspiration for creatives using Facebook and Instagram is available at www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub. You can see more of Eleanor Shakespeare’s work on Instagram at @eshakespeare.