Jane Foster on the highs and lows of self-employment, Dick Bruna and life by the sea

If you love Instagram as much as we do, then you'll undoubtedly be following Jane Foster – an illustrator, author and textile designer living in Devon, known for her bright, retro and Scandinavian inspired children's books, wall art, mugs and other products.

Full of charm and creativity, Jane's Instagram feed paints an idyllic life by the sea; you often see her dressed in the brightest of colours, enjoying walks on the beach with her family. And her home matches her work, with bold hues dotted throughout, against an appealing white backdrop. She even has her own studio in the garden.

We spoke to Jane about her creative life, inspirations and how she manages to make her Devon-based business a success.

Your style is so nostalgic and comforting. What are your inspirations and influences?

Thank you, that's very kind! My influences come from many sources – I love vintage children's books, the work by Dick Bruna (who created the Miffy books), Scandinavian fabrics and ceramics Mid Century Modern furniture and patterns. My nine-year-old daughter has also been a huge inspiration as she often draws alongside me.

Do you have a process? And what tools can you not live without?

I always start my designs with a faint pencil drawing and then go over the illustration with a fine line black pen by hand. Everything I do is in the old fashioned way, as I do not use a graphics tablet or any software. I don’t even ever use a ruler! I like working this way and it means that nothing is connately perfect or symmetrical – I like slight imperfections to what I do.

My illustrations that are used for my children’s books are scanned in before colouring. If I’m wanting my designs for a screen print then they’re scanned into a computer before being printed onto acetate and then exposed onto silk screens. I cannot live without my fine line black pens – Muji and Uni pens.

Your Instagram account is beautiful. We can't get enough. Is there a method to what you publish?

Not always but I do try to show a mixture of my black and white illustrations and then alternate these with colourful snapshots of my home or my handmade products. I also like to occasionally add a few photos of local areas such as the beaches I visit so people can get a little idea of the person behind the brand.

You're now based in south Devon, but you haven't always been there. What drove you to that area?

It was pretty accidental really – we’d been living in Brighton for around 13 years and were ready for a change. We happened to be visiting my partner’s brother in Totnes around six years ago and fell in love with a contemporary townhouse and took the plunge. We’ve since moved to a '60s house nearer the beach and love the calmer life.

Does it matter where you work in your field?

No, not at all. I was worried it might but as long as I can get to London for the odd meeting with my publishers, I could work pretty much anywhere, assuming I’ve an internet connection! (We’re lucky in that we have superfast broadband here.) I often joke that I’m more productive not being in a city as I have fewer distractions and rarely go shopping!

It's clear you love bright colours – what's your favourite and why?

I love bright yellow – it was always my favourite colour as a child and I guess it makes me feel happy and secure. It’s quite a hard colour to print with, as people don’t necessarily want yellow screen prints but I try to add pops of yellow around our home which helps to create a fun, happy, coastal feel. My daughter’s friends always love coming to our house as I think they find it a happy place to hang out.

If you weren't illustrating and screen-printing, what would you be doing?

I think I would be making silver jewellery – large sculptural rings and geometric pendants, possibly using bright colours of formica instead of stones.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

I spent two years and two months living and working in Cambodia when I was 24. I taught the violin in the Phnom Penh School of Fine Arts and also helped in an orphanage by singing and dancing with the children who were starved of any kind of stimulation.

Your home looks beautiful and you have an external studio. Tell us more!

Thank you so much. Yes, the main reason we moved here was to find a home with a garden-wide enough to build our own studio in which to work in. My partner Jim built it from scratch using insulated panels which he then clad in larch and painted black. I chose to paint the door yellow (of course!).

It’s got a flat roof as it had to meet all the appropriate building regulations. It’s a great space where I can illustrate, screen print and sew under one roof. Our daughter also has a desk inside the studio and a little sewing machine, so she very much feels like it’s a space the whole family can use to be creative.

What challenges do you face personally, and how do you overcome them?

The biggest challenge for me is the uncertainty that comes with being self-employed in a competitive ever-changing world. The uncertainty of not always knowing what’s around the corner work-wise, not knowing where to put one’s energy and not knowing if my designs, books, screen prints or products will be successful.

I’m very self-critical and worry a lot so it’s quite bizarre in some ways that I left the security of a teaching career (in music) to carve out a new career in an area which is so precarious! However, I also think the uncertainty drives me on and makes me determined to make my life work out.

I’m a bit of a workaholic and am incredibly driven, often working very long hours. I love my life and am very glad I changed my career as I definitely feel I’m happier in this field, despite it being a challenging one.

I know it's tough, but which are your top three children's books of all time, and why?

I love The Tiger That Came To Tea by Judith Kerr – I remember it as a child and still love the illustrations. I also love Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats, as again, this was a favourite of mine as a child and having re-discovered it again as an adult, I still love the artwork just as much as I did then.

My third favourite would have to be one of Shirley Hughe’s My Naughty Little Sister books because her illustrations are truly magical and are full of warmth and personalty.

You've published a few books, and have more coming out this year – can you reveal more at this stage?

Yes, I’ve a fun children’s book called Stitching With Jane Foster, coming soon with Quarto in the US – it contains 37 easy cross-stitch sewing cards with punched holes for easy stitching. I’ve also two more children’s city books coming out in September with Templar – Washington and Paris. I’m also working on some others but they’re a secret at the moment.

What's currently bugging you?

The uncertainty of Brexit and the forthcoming general election.

With all your experience, what three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring illustrators out there?

Be brave and show your work as often as you can – Instagram is a great platform for this. Ignore trends and instead, try to get your own ‘look’ – this happens when you keep illustrating every day for years and years, illustrating work you like and not trying to please others.

And don’t be afraid to fail – successful people have failed lots. Talent is only a small part of becoming an illustrator, the rest is sheer dog-eared determination!


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