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

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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

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