Interview: Annie Dornan-Smith on Female Illustrators and Luscious Leaves

3:44 pm

Today's interview is with the lovely Annie Dornan-Smith of Annie Dornan-Smith Design! I've been following Annie on Twitter for a while now and absolutely adore her illustrations and design style. She's recently fully-funded her Kickstarter for her book House Jungle, a gorgeous illustrated guide on how to care for your house plans. We spoke about artistic inspirations, greenery, and favourite films! I hope you enjoy it, and check out Annie's wonderful art at the links below.


Magic & Musings: Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Annie! First of all, for any readers who don't know your background, tell me a little bit about yourself. When did you first get into illustration? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?
Annie Dornan-Smith: You're welcome! I got into illustration at uni - I was studying Graphic Design at Uni (Nottingham Trent), and I pretty much discovered that illustration 'existed' at the end of my first year. Before that, I vaguely knew that book illustrators existed, but I thought that to take illustration courses you had to be able to draw like Disney animators. I didn't realise that illustration was so wide and could be applied to so much. I graduated in BA Graphic Design this year, but luckily I had some very supportive illustrator tutors, which allowed me to explore illustration under the 'banner' of graphic design. Now I mostly focus on my shop, where I design illustrated stationery and homeware to make your life extra fancy!


M&M: When did you first start selling your illustrations and did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place?
ADS: Luckily I've always felt pretty confident that I can make stuff that is *nice* (naturally, I still compare my work to EVERYONE else's and feel bad about it, but I never really worried that 'nobody will want to buy this') so that wasn't a huge problem. I started putting a few illustrations on Etsy initially, in my second year of uni, as I thought it would be a good way to continue to keep practicing, and hopefully make a little extra money as a poor student! Now I have my own website - - where I sell my designs primarily.

M&M: When did you first get the idea to publish a book and use Kickstarter as a way of funding it?
ADS: I actually made the book in its entirely for one of my final projects at uni. It's 94-pages long and took me about three months to finish, and I had to get it made into a 'real thing' in order to hand it in for my course. When it was completed I was just really proud of it, and I wanted to make it real and I thought the best way to be able to afford enough copies would be to get some help via crowdfunding. I am the kind of person that has never felt like I needed anyone's help in order to do something, so instead of waiting around hoping something good would happen with it, I just decided to get on with making the book 'real', and start selling it myself. Funnily enough, throughout the course of the Kickstarter, I was actually approached by multiple publishers, and now I'm kind of getting that help. I've been really lucky.


M&M: On Magic & Musings I love talking about female artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?
ADS: There are so many female illustrators who've been really influential - hether it's their use of colour of their style. I really love Laura Callaghan even though our work is nothing alike! I also love Dinara Mirtalipova, Laura Redburn and always, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co.


M&M: A lot of your work is inspired by nature. Would you say you turn to the natural world often for inspiration? I know walks outside have been the pursuit of artists for centuries and are certainly good for calming the busy mind.
ADS: Definitely - I love florals and 'girly stuff' - which I think is why, but I actually love leaves the most. I'm not sure why really, but when I'm trying to paint leaves and florals I often feel like I need to go and look at some real life plants for inspiration. I've always lived in cities, so I don't really go on lots of walks, but my mum grows an absolutely stunning, wild and abundant garden, which has probably been an influence on me.

M&M: Do you draw from reference items or do you draw from your imagination?
ADS: I like to draw from reference, but I usually make it my own by interpreting it in weird and wonderful ways. For House Jungle, I used actual photos of plants with a little artistic license, because they needed to look like the correct plant, but I like to use reference just as 'inspiration' and then think about how those things will translate through my 'style'.


M&M: This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I'm really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to?
ADS: I'm actually not very exciting in that respect. I usually work best from my desk (currently in my bedroom!) but that's mostly because I'm super forgetful, and if I went to share workspaces/coffee shops, I would probably sit down and realise I didn't have something. Or suddenly decide I needed a certain kind of pen, or something. Other than that, the only thing I like to have around it to-do lists - I design my own and I can get quite obsessive about knowing what I'm doing that day, but that's mostly because I'm so forgetful that I have to stay organised.

Note: Here is a link to Annie's blog post on her studio tour!

M&M: What are your favourite tools you use to create your illustrations?
ADS: I am always armed with gouache - which I do all my paintings in - and my beloved beloved brush pens. I am really into brush lettering, and being left-handed I find I can only do it properly with brush pens.


M&M: Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?
ADS: Hmm, I've been really bad about remembering to read recently - I used to be such a bookworm but now it's so easy to just sit there and look at your phone like an idiot instead of snuggling up with a book! However, I did read Garden of the Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng recently which was interesting! I need to get better about reading. As for a film, it'd have to be my favourite Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It's so stupid and silly and is probably my number one favourite film ever. It makes a lot more sense if you've read the graphic novels first, though. As for an album, I'm recommending Plans by Death Cab for Cutie. It's hardly a recent album, but it's probably my all-time favourite album ever ever ever. I think people hear their name and don't give them a chance but their music is really special and catchy and just excellent.

Note: Scott Pilgrim has got to be one of my favourites, too!


M&M: Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?
ADS: Well, I'm active on Twitter and Instagram at the moment if you wanna hang out with me a bit. I'm always looking for new friends. My website is where I sell all my lovely stationery and homeware designs, and my newsletter is where I share whatever cool new things I've designed to make sure you don't forget about me!

M x


Zine Review: Gut Flora: A Chapess Zine Collection edited by Cherry Styles*

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Gut Flora, Chapess Zine Collection, Cherry Styles review

* I would love to thank Cherry Styles for sending me a copy of Gut Flora for review; all opinions of this wonderful collection are my own. *

As a child, I would always carry books around with my that were my favourites as a sort of comfort blanket. I would take them in the car, on holiday, to family parties. They would sit in my bag despite whether I planned on reading them or not. I felt comfortable with them around, as if they were there for me to escape to if I felt uncomfortable being away from home. Gut Flora almost became that for me as an adult for this past week. In time when I needed comfort, it was there for me to read. There were stories inside that I could relate to, and reading the voices of other young women and their experiences kept me grounded. I wasn't alone in my uncertainty and anxiety.

This is the first proper zine I've read from cover to cover, and it's more a collection of zines than anything else. Gut Flora is a round-up of editor Cherry Styles' favourite pieces from the first nine issues of The Chapess, a quarterly zine that accepts submissions from women of all backgrounds. All pieces are black and white, including photography, which gives the world a wonderful, homemade and comfortable feel. The collection includes photography (as previously mentioned), poetry, prose, and one hilarious IM conversation about poop. Never before have I wanted to read so much about poop. Other topics covered in this collection include sex, belonging, youth, body image, self-care, making art, and literature.

I gobbled up this collection from cover to cover and it made me excited for the work of women I have never heard from before. There is a river of talent running underneath our world that we rarely hear about unless we're looking in the right places. The voices of these women have inspired me to create, but not create in a way that I see around me. Their stories are so regular and so full of life that the don't need to conform to any pattern, or tell the stories people 'want to' hear. These are real people and I can't wait to hear more from them. 

You can find more about The Chapess on their Tumblr here, their Twitter here, or from their editor Cherry here. Gut Flora is published by the Synchronise Witches Press which is based in Manchester, UK, and has just gone into a second print run. I have also purchased some publications from the Synchronise Witches Press which I will be reviewing very soon.

M x


Quick Book Reviews: Lindy West, E. Lockhart, and The Coquette*

7:13 pm

Quick book reviews: Shrill by Lindy West, The Best of Dear Coquette by The Coquette, and We Were Liars by E Lockhart

* I was fortunate to be sent review copies of both Shrill and Dear Coquette from Quercus and Icon Books. My reviews will be my honest opinions, as usual. *

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman* (2016, Quercus) - Lindy West (4 stars)

Shrill is an incredibly compelling read; that's not something I'm going to deny. Lindy West details her experiences as a fat woman (she doesn't want us to beat around the bush, she's fat) both on the comedy circuit and as a writer. Through chapters of varying length, she tells stories from her dating life, her career, her experiences online. I first heard one of Lindy's stories on Woman's Hour when she talked about her chapter when she confronted one of her online 'trolls'. He had set up a fake Twitter account, posing as her dead father (yes, it's as bad as it sounds), talking about how much of a disappointment she was as a daughter. Absolutely horrible. She speaks about this issue and many more with clarity and confidence throughout the entire book. Unfortunately there are some things she says that I don't agree with, but honestly that could happen in any piece of non-fiction. A really quick and interesting read overall.

The Best of Dear Coquette* (2016, Icon Books) - The Coquette (3 stars)

If you like foul language, questionable advice, sass, and the hard truth, this book is for you. Putting some of her most popular and informative blog posts into print, The Best of Dear Coquette reads like an abrasive advice column, because that's basically what it is. Our mysterious agony aunt regales us with tales of cocaine, one-night-stands, sex work, and dealing with a job you hate with brutal honesty and a level of wit I am incredibly jealous of. Page after page I flipped between laughing and nearly crying, with half of the stories printed being extremely relatable and half of them being so far from my life I would doubt they were even true if they were told by anyone other than coketweet. The only thing letting this book down is its length, as by the end I felt like I'd heard most of it already. A really fun gift idea for the sassy bitch in your life.

We Were Liars (2014, Hot Key Books) - E. Lockhart (5 stars)

Don't mind me, I'm just still crying about this book. I heard so much about We Were Liars in 2015, but sort of passed it off as your usual overly-dramatic young adult contemporary. I would like to formally apologise to this book for ever thinking that. It's near-impossible to write a review for as it's best to go into it knowing as little as possible. We have our narrator, Cadence, her two cousins (Johnny and Mirren), and her childhood friend, Gat. These are The Liars and they've been coming to the family island every summer since they can remember. We seem them form their personalities through their studies and their relationships. We learn their lies and their passions. This is all I can say really. This is a book of secrets, and it will kick you in the gut. It's a quick read so, please, just give it a try.

M x


More New Releases for Review: Bryony Gordon, Peggy Orenstein, and Elizabeth J. Church

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New releases for review: Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon, Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein, and The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

* I was fortunate to receive these three books for review from Headline, Oneworld, and 4th Estate. All comments now and future reviews are and will be my honest opinions. *

Mad Girl*- Bryony Gordon
Published on 7th June by Headline

Very important note: underneath the dust jacket, this hardcover is bright yellow. I'm very interested in reading Mad Girl after reviewing Rose Bret├ęcher's Pure last year so I can see a variety of perspectives on living with different iterations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Bryony Gordon has OCD. It's the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn't repeat a phrase five times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It's caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependence. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty. [...] Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

Published in 6th October 2016 by Oneworld Publications

I heard an interview with Peggy Orenstein on the podcast (I swear half of my posts mention me finding out about a book from a podcast) Note to Self on their episode about sexiness, social media, and teenage girls. How young people are growing up on the internet today is something I find myself thinking about a lot, having a younger sister especially, so I'd like to see what research Peggy has come across on the subject. Things I read and see online can affect me greatly at the age of twenty-three, so I can only imagine what it would be like for a youngster (yes, I just said 'youngster') with a still-squishy brain.

New York Times bestseller offers a ground-breaking picture of the sexual landscape facing young women in the 21st century - and reveals how they are negotiating it. [...] Drawing on in-depth interviews with young women and a wide range of psychologists and experts, renowned journalist and bestselling author Peggy Orenstein goes where most others fear to tread, pulling back the curtain on the hidden truths and hard lessons of girls' sex lives in  the modern world.

The Atomic Weight of Love* - Elizabeth J. Church
Published on 20th October by 4th Estate

Now, this is a novel I had never heard of until I saw a post on Twitter from the publisher giving away copies for review. The premise really interested me (fiction that talks about scientific history is my bag) and the cover is gorgeous. I'll be sure to keep you all updated on how this one fares! It's very high up on my to-read list, so watch this space.

Spanning the years from the Second World War through to the Vietnam War and on to the present day, this luminous, stirring novel is a story of birds and physics, ambition and sacrifice, revolutions - both big and small - and the late-blooming of an unforgettable woman.

M x