FOR almost 20 years Sarah Latham has been working towards her goal of becoming an illustrator of children’s books.
She has just finished painting three bold and colourful designs which will adorn the covers of a series of books soon to be published by an international media company which specialises in English learning.
The books, called Reading Wise and published by Compass Media, will be aimed at children aged 10 to 12 and each of Sarah’s designs was carefully crafted and individualised to draw children into learning and help them to immediately distinguish the different educational level of each book.
Sarah said: “I want to be a children’s book illustrator because I have always been interested in stories and fantasies.
“I think it is so important that children have their little dreams of what could be out there because once you grow up, we all know that life isn’t necessarily what we thought it was at that age!
“The nice thing for me is that when I am painting I can step back into that world because I have to imagine and think about how a child might see things.
“I don’t have to be too realistic and I am not a realistic painter so I can go off in my own little world and come up with the images.”
The 36-year-old, who loved Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree as a child, was often read to when she was small and remembers a large book of fairytales at her grandmother’s house which she and her siblings would always be drawn to.
Her father Steve created his own character, Sammy the Snail, and made up all sorts of adventures to tell his children. His daughter, who is one of seven, believes her father’s stories influenced her desire to be a children’s book illustrator and inspired her own imaginative painting.
“Sammy would go off to New York and all sorts of places. I remember he had a top hat with a feather in it and a pipe.
“My dad still signs our birthday cards with a picture of him!”
Inspiration also comes from her artistic job as a visual merchandiser for Marks & Spencer. Her role includes designing window displays, changing the mannequins’ outfits and other decoration within the store and she recalled a recent encounter with a little girl who was visiting the store with her mum.
She said: “I took the arm off a mannequin the other day and a little girl who was in the store said to her mum, ‘Oh no, she needs to go to hospital now’ and I said ‘no, no don’t worry she will be fine, I will look after her’.
“As soon as I could I wrote that little story down to remind me because I thought to myself, that would make a cracking picture.”
Sarah, who works for Marks & Spencer in the Eagles Meadow shopping centre in Wrexham, finds the use of so many different colours in her job also helps with her artwork.
She said: “I have been working with a lot of purple at the moment and my wizard for one of the front covers is inspired by the purple range in the Per Una section.
“When I saw that purple I thought that could definitely work for my wizard.”
She said colleagues will often remark on her faraway stare as she ponders a combination of colours or spots a possible picture.
Her manager at Marks & Spencer, Ceri Roberts, said Sarah’s artistic flair is highly evident in the way she approaches her work and it was one of the reasons they believed she would be so well suited to her role.
She said: “Sarah definitely has an eye for detail and it’s almost like she is bringing the mannequin to life sometimes.
“It is not something which comes naturally to everyone because you have to think about how the clothing all creases and all the colour co-ordination of the accessories is very important.
“Some people will dress a mannequin and it can be very plain but Sarah’s attention to detail will make all the difference. It’s all the little things she puts into it.”
Sarah works full time at Marks & Spencer, but as soon as she gets back to the home she shares with her partner Ian Wojdyta in Wrexham the paints will come out.
She names Beryl Cook, Mackenzie Thorpe and Ana Maria Pacheco as her favourite artists and said she prefers to paint in acrylics because it gives what she describes as a ‘looser’ and ‘dry-brush’ style.
She said: “I hardly use water at all. A lot of people say it looks like a pastel type effect but it is just a really dry acrylic but it does take a long time to build the picture up.
“If I want something faster, then I use a watercolour because it is a lot quicker to lay down.”
Although she is already a successful artist as a greetings card and print designer, Sarah’s latest achievements have made her even more determined to make it as a children’s illustrator, despite the fact she has to sacrifice herself financially to carry on with her work.
She said: “From the age of 14 I have had my own job so I could buy my own paints.
“ I often think to myself I am always broke, I still rent a house .
“But I love my painting and my dad always says to me that is all I need.”
But she is hopeful that the magical world she has created for Compass Media may lead to other illustrating jobs.
“I don’t think I would ever stop painting.
“I have worked so hard to get here, to this point, and that is really only the bottom so it will be interesting to see what comes along next!” she added.
- If you would like to contact Sarah Latham email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see more of her work go to www.wendylynn.com