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Friday Interview: Illustrator Katie Chappell on drawing her way through Coronavirus chaos and making art accessible for all

HLN speaks to Berwick-based illustrator Katie Chappell about her work, the importance of being kind to yourself in lockdown and her latest venture, aboard The Good Ship Illustration.

Written by High Life North
Published 24.04.2020

By Jo Dunbar

Berwick native Katie Chappell is an illustrator specialising in projects with sustainability at their heart. Whether creating a mural, running a workshop, working on a book or providing live illustration, Katie has drawn for some big-name clients including Google and the NHS and has even live-illustrated on London’s bustling Regent Street for Nespresso. Closer to home, Katie studied in Newcastle and Sunderland and has lectured illustration and design at Teesside University.

Tell us about your work in connection with MIMA…

It’s super exciting. I have worked with them before but of course, their workshops can’t take place now. So, I am delivering art for families and people stuck at home. It’s inspired by their Middlesbrough collection. MIMA want to make that really accessible, and every week their head of learning gets in touch with me and asks me to think up some activities, maybe on landscapes or portraits, and make a video to deliver the art. It’s so important how people behave right now and MIMA are fab because they have paid their contributors until September.

You do a lot of your work independently. Do you have any tips for those of us who have found ourselves working alone right now?

Being really nice to yourself is important, not beating yourself up. Have realistic goals for each work session. For example, if I pick three things to do and I get them all done, that’s good. But if I start writing a crazy long list, then I get overwhelmed and I don’t do any of it. Online communities can come in useful too, so you have a space online to tell people that something amazing has happened. I have spaces online where people who are also illustrators are more responsive than they are in real life.

You have worked with some big brands like Google, Virgin Money and Dove. Do you see a switch for more sustainable and eco-friendly ways of promotion?

Brands are trying to be more sustainable with how they approach things. Sometimes it can feel like a token gesture, but when giant companies make sustainable moves everybody has to go with them. If a big company is doing it then everybody should be thinking about what products they are using and what they are putting out into landfill. I’m an optimist and if larger companies are putting a sustainable message out then I am pleased.

Through The Good Ship Illustration, you offer a network for image-makers. Do you think this is something that was lacking?

The Good Ship Illustration was formed by three of us: Tania Willis, Helen Stephens and me. Between us we have over 60 years of experience, so we have put all our expertise together and created a course (more information below). I’m the most recent graduate and we all agree that as soon as you finish university, you’re flung into nothing. You have had a studio around you, tutors and lecturers giving feedback and then it’s radio silence. We had been meeting up for coffee all the time and we had questions for each other that we couldn’t ask anyone else about developing our practice or pricing, so we had our own little network which we have expanded. and we’d all received questions on social media from other illustrators. We had all been thinking about doing something online individually, but it came together at the same time.

And you run an art club too…

We have started doing a live art club on Friday evenings on Instagram Stories which are so much fun. No matter who you are, or where you are, you can rock up and draw. There’s an instant community which is so nice when everyone is drawing together and sharing their work. Since lockdown, when we come to talk about materials, we now say ‘whatever you’ve got – it’s fine!’ A piece of paper and a highlighter, a napkin and a lipstick – whatever it is, just draw! A lot of our audience seem to have children so we had to think about that and have included printables that they can colour in while you’re drawing.

You run bullet journaling workshops as well. Why do you think people gravitate towards it?

I used to teach workshops at Paper Tiger in Edinburgh and when COVID-19 hit, I still wanted to offer the course. So I have put my in-person workshop online and it’s been so well-received. People are responding to bullet journaling right now and I think it’s a natural response. It doesn’t take up lots of time and with all the time people are spending on screens right now, it feels good to take out a journal and write down what you are going to do the next day or track your habits. I’m a live illustrator, I go to events filled with people and the week before lockdown, my inbox was filled with cancellations, which did make me panicky, but drawing it out did help me process it.

Would you ever be tempted to leave the North East?

I lived in Berlin for a few years, so I feel like I have had the big city experience. I am in London (in normal times) once a month for work so I feel like I get the best of both worlds. For me, the North East is perfect: I can live my dream life up here, walk on the beach, see my friends, go to quiet cafes and then pop to London, visit the big shops and come away from the chaos again.

North East favourites

Bridge Street in Berwick is the place to go. It’s a whole line of independents; antique shops; an organic supermarket called The Green Shop; independent book shops and my favourite café is there too, The Mule On Rouge.

MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) – is so responsive to the community they are serving. They do a weekly community lunch which is free, and people are then accessing art at the same time. 

I love The Gardener’s Cottage. You should definitely hit that up next time you’re in Edinburgh.

I can’t resist a craft market for jewellery and ceramics. There are some great craft markets held at the Baltic and I also love the Baltic Shop for arty gifts. 

The Good Ship Illustration’s Find Your Creative Voice: Fly Your Freak Flag opens for enrolment on 1 May until 8 May and will run for six weeks.

The Good Ship Illustration’s free art club runs on Fridays at 8.00pm, live on Instagram Stories @thegoodshipillustration

To discover more about Katie, visit or follow her on Instagram at @katiedraws

All images used in this article are by Katie.

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