Berkshire-based artist and illustrator Hannah Gillingham pairs her creative skills with a love of stories to make her amazing work. We caught up with her to learn how she uses narratives to represent characters.
Everything seems to be moving so fast for Hannah Gillingham. It feels like only yesterday that she was listening to a talk by illustration agency Jelly at the D&AD New Blood Awards 2019, and now she’s joined their roster and landed work for big clients, including Spotify.
Her dizzying career fulfilled a life-long love of art, which saw her study illustration and visual communication at the University of Westminster. And it’s a passion which has only grown with time. “I honestly could not imagine myself doing anything else,” she tells Creative Boom. “If I wasn’t going to be doing something creative, I had nothing to fall back on, so I had to make it happen.”
But like many creatives embarking on their path, Hannah wasn’t sure where to start. Even at the age of 7, when her hobbies included “art and work”, she knew she wanted to pursue a creative career, but it took her a while to figure out what that would look like and how she could begin acting on it. “It wasn’t until applying for university that I discovered illustration,” she reveals.
“At school, I constantly drew from photographs, focusing on people and portraits. I spent as much time drawing and practising as I possibly could. My favourite medium for the longest time was a pencil, the only thing I used to use, which frustrated my teachers.
“However, I slowly started playing around with different materials, and I experimented with making more creative portraits and began studying artists who inspired me. While at school, I did begin to learn the basics of Photoshop, but It wasn’t until after I graduated university in 2019 that I started digitally painting more and working it into my own practice.”
It’s not just her skills with a pencil or a stylus that make Hannah’s art stand out. Her portfolio is packed with pieces infused with a secret ingredient: a love of stories. Hannah explains why stories are so important to her: “We are constantly surrounded by different types of stories and forms of storytelling in everyday life. I find myself getting heavily inspired by different stories from books, films, or video games. I also find myself drawn to dreams and memories.”
Stories also come with a sense of reasoning, and for Hannah, this allows her to bring her visions to life in a way that cannot be told with words alone. “When illustrating a portrait, I love to explore narrative to create an accurate representation of that character, capturing their essence and individual distinctive personality, allowing the viewer to get to know the character beyond their appearance,” she adds.
As for which stories inspire her, a quick look at Hannah’s work reveals a deep love of sci-fi. This is perhaps unsurprising, as the genre offers the broadest canvas for stories to play out on, whether on board the Enterprise or in the sleepy, creepy town of Twin Peaks.
“Science fiction has got to be one of my favourite genres, specifically the film genre, as I am just so fascinated and intrigued by all of the imaginative and creative ideas within it,” says Hannah. “I believe that science fiction is one of the most creative genres and allows for some compelling storytelling.
“My all-time favourite TV show, Twin Peaks, is a mix of sci-fi and supernatural, which contains the most eccentric characters. I just can’t get enough of it, which you might probably be able to tell from my Twin Peaks personal work.”
Hannah relies on a strong eye for colour and composition to bring her images and the stories behind them to life. Her creative process usually begins in her sketchbook, where she draws rough thumbnails to work through ideas.
“My thought process is to get out any ideas onto paper so that I can see which compositions are working and which aren’t and take it from there,” she says. “Sometimes, an idea or composition will come to me quite easily, so I tend to stick with the first sketch I draw. However, this isn’t always the case.
“I then take my chosen sketch and refine it with either pencil and paper or digitally on my iPad, depending on time, and create a colour mock-up before beginning the final artwork.”
Out of all the work she’s created this way, Hannah’s favourite piece is a personal project inspired by the Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “When I created this piece, I was in a bit of a funk and felt I needed to step back and think about where I wanted my work to go,” she admits. “I ended up revisiting my old sketchbooks and exploring my past ideas to remind myself what sparked my interest.
“I have always been captivated by the dream-like and surreal elements of the story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I decided to step outside my comfort zone to create my own representation of the story, playing with surreal elements to portray the absurd world that is Wonderland. This may be one of my favourite pieces due to how much fun I had creating it and the freedom I allowed myself to have when working on it.”
Thanks to the amazing quality of her art, Hannah’s career has hit the ground running. Each year, she feels fortunate to be able to create her work, and she claims to be progressing further and achieving more than she ever thought she would at this stage.
“My major highlight has to be creating artwork for Spotify, which was used on billboards in New York Times Square and L.A.!” she concludes. “That was the first time I saw my artwork this big, and it felt amazing. It was an incredible opportunity and a fun project to participate in.”