Georgina Reynolds on illustrating her first children's picture book with Oliver Sykes

Illustrator and Manchester School of Art graduate Georgina Reynolds has already completed her first children's picture book with the award-winning author Oliver Sykes. She explains her creative process and what to expect from the story about a young girl's fight for equality.

It's been a busy couple of years for 22-year-old illustrator Georgina Reynolds. As well as finishing her studies at Manchester School of Art, she's also spent the last six months creating illustrations for Oliver Sykes's latest book, Fishing for Rainbows.

Telling the story of a little girl called Kezia who stands up for herself and proves what she's worth in defiance of all the odds and expectations stacked against her, Fishing for Rainbows is pitched at children between 7 and 12. And upon its release, five hundred copies will be gifted to children from low-income, single-parent and care-experienced backgrounds.

Georgina became involved with the book after pitching her ideas against 12 other students from her Illustration and Animation degree course. Her unique mixed media style impressed the judges, who included the book's award-winning author Oliver Sykes.

"My style of illustration is characterised primarily by its materiality – in short, the materials I used when creating the illustrations are the things that mostly define my work," she explains. "I try to draw on a variety of influences, but the impressionist art movement is one that I would say has had the most impact on my work.

"I keep visible expressive strokes and intended pencil scribbles at the surface of my work to create something that resembles the subjects I draw from, but still show my own point of view and energy."

Having been picked to illustrate the book in January 2022, work began in earnest in July of that year. Sign-off on the project took place in 2023, meaning nearly half a year's work went into Fishing for Rainbows. Part of this time frame is due to the nature of the story itself.

"Due to the nature of Fishing for Rainbows having more of a long-form text, there was no set number of illustrations I was asked to create," Georgina reveals. "Instead, myself, Oliver, and Becca, the designer, followed a process that was driven by the text – I highlighted key moments that would work illustratively, and then from there, we looked at how these would fit in with the text.

"Overall though, I produced over 40 final illustrations that were incorporated into the book in some way, with probably an additional 20 or so that were either scrapped or developed on from."

These illustrations, brought to life using gouache paint, coloured pencils and watercolour marker pens, were more than just an artistic challenge for Georgina. They represent something of a personal connection. "I identify with Kezia in so many ways, which drew me to the project," she explains.

"When I was younger, I often felt stuck and unsure of myself, but unlike Kezia, I didn't really speak up. Like Kezia, my mother also passed away, albeit when I was a few years older than Kezia is in the story, so I resonated with Kezia's loneliness and grief.

"Grief, and the constant wishing for someone you loved to be around, is so difficult to deal with at any age, and so being able to spend hours with Kezia made me feel as if I was spending it with someone who also understood that."

The project sounds like it's been a huge learning experience for Georgina, both professionally and emotionally. But what has been her biggest takeaway? "The main thing would definitely be that I've learnt so much about my creative practice and developed my artwork throughout the process," she says.

"As I undertook this project straight after finishing university, I still felt very uncertain of who I was creatively, so throughout this process, I have been able to develop a better sense of my creative self.

"Moreover, having worked closely with Oliver, I have learnt so much about what makes a meaningful and impactful story and how I can hopefully apply this to my own work in the future, which is one of the things I value most, having come from this project."

Since finishing her work on Fishing for Rainbows, Georgina has been busy working as a freelance illustrator for corporate clients and magazines. However, developing her own stories seems to be where her intentions lie.

"Whilst these are still in the development stage at the moment, it's really exciting and something I am highly passionate about," she concludes. "I've been trying writing for the first time to accompany my illustrations, and I am looking forward to seeing where this avenue takes me."

Fishing for Rainbows is available to buy now from Oliver Sykes's website.


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