My name is Minnie Small and I am an illustrator from South-East London. I know it’s a cliché but I spent most of my childhood dreaming of growing up to be an artist one day. I specifically wanted to write and illustrate stories as I’d been so mesmerised by the art in my favourite Winnie the Pooh and Roald Dahl books. After reading the stories, usually several times over, I used to flip through the pages, trying to recreate the illustrations myself, sometimes using greaseproof paper from the kitchen to trace them directly.
I carried on drawing and painting throughout my childhood and adolescence and discovered a love of watercolours during art classes in my final years of secondary school. I loved how– paired with a fineliner pen– a few strokes of watercolour paint let me quickly study and jot down all sorts of things I’d seen on school trips to places like Kew Gardens and galleries around London.
And even as I left my dreams of being an artist behind to start pursuing a more ‘grown up’ profession of language interpreting, I would bring my sketchbook to uni with me and skip my Spanish and English lectures to draw St. Paul’s Cathedral and pop over the Millennium Bridge to visit the Tate.
Around this time, I had started following lots of different artists around the world on social media, and my eyes were opened to the number of different styles and the various ways artists were using their talents to build careers and share their work with the world. Just for fun, I started to share my work online too on Tumblr and Instagram, and I was surprised to start building a following.
I had always been so shy about showing my art to friends and family, but to reach a community of thousands of strangers was so incredibly encouraging and enlightening. I started to learn more about my own style and process through trial and error and feedback, and I continued to hone my craft through studying YouTube tutorials, forums and books.
By this point, I had dropped out of uni and was working at a supermarket, marking down prices on perishables that were near their sell-by date. I actually loved the monotony of my job, because it allowed me the mental space to cultivate heaps of creativity in my spare time. I started a YouTube channel after lots of requests to see my process in action, and before long, the money I was earning from my channel and from selling prints of my work allowed me to quit my supermarket job and take on art full-time!
Over the years, the style of my art and my process has gone through many changes. I love learning techniques and setting myself new challenges, and I have embraced the art of making mistakes as a vital part of my process. Trying and failing is a fantastic way to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and while a blank page will always be a little bit daunting for me, I know that each painting I start will be a fun experience and fantastic learning opportunity, no matter how it turns out.
I think I’m quite methodical in my approach to art. I love being able to document things I’ve seen and learned, my travels, and memories I’ve made, and am infinitely inspired by old botanical illustrations and journals kept by travellers exploring historical sites, new worlds and exotic creatures.
Nowadays, the tools I use are Faber-Castell Fineliners, Daniel Smith Watercolours (the Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Quinacridone Magenta are by-far my favourites!), and Holbein and Royal Talens Gouache. The brushes I use vary but a standard set from Jackson’s will usually do me fine and for more creative applications, I love the quality of Princeton brushes.
And of course, my sketchbook remains my constant companion, as it has been through every stage of my journey so far. The brands I go for are Stillman & Birn and the lovely handmade sketchbooks from SketchbookCo. But really any sketchbook page is the perfect canvas for the art that I make. The pages are where I capture all my trials and experiments, where I keep notes and memories like old travel tickets or lists of films I’ve watched recently, and where I can draw and paint with no pressure or expectation, just the goal to give it a try and see what I end up with.
I wrote my book The 30 Day Sketchbook Project, to share the magic of sketchbooks with other artists looking for the freedom to create and learn in the comfort of a failure-free zone. And I hope that continuing to share my work, warts and all, will encourage future creatives to go with the flow and discover what they’re capable of.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in