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Get arty with Cathy Brett’s illustration secrets


We caught up with illustrator Cathy Brett to go behind the scenes and discover how she created the striking artwork for Melvin Burgess’ Persist, which is out this month.

Illustration briefs like this don’t come along very often, if ever. So, when this project landed on my drawing board I was thrilled. Not only is the author, Melvin Burgess, totally amazing (I was lucky enough to meet Melvin a few years ago and he’s witty and charming as well as being my all time YA hero), but the brief from the Barrington Stoke Art Department was amazing too. Each page of the layout document went something like: “This is a sad scene so could you do something a bit abstract and moody, perhaps a view through a window, or whatever you think might fit?” (Not those words exactly, but that was the gist.)

Price: £6.99 Interest Age: Teen

Price: £6.99, Interest Age: Teen

Wow! Most of the briefs I receive are: “You must depict this character and the other character in this complicated space with this facial expression and this hairstyle and red boots and it’s sunny and the characters are all squinting and, oh yes, can you add the kitchen sink too please?”

As you can probably imagine, I couldn’t wait to get started on Melvin’s ”˜moody abstract’ pics.

After reading the manuscript (and loving it) and having a little sob (because it’s such a tear-jerker) and having a chat with Julie-ann, the Art Editor, I knew that I wanted to create layered images that mixed ink line drawings and watercolour with printing techniques. I planned to add digital layers too, but wasn’t sure what they might be and would decide that later. I was eager to get all my printing equipment out straight away and start experimenting! I have often taught ”˜mono-printing’ to art students and it’s a technique that is really easy, but gives great-looking results.

You need some water-based printing ink (the type I used is for block printing) and a hard, flat surface like a piece of glass or acrylic/Perspex. I use the Perspex from an old picture frame. You also need an ink roller to spread a very thin layer of ink over the surface.

inked plate

The ”˜mono’ in mono-printing means that it’s a one-stage process. You lay a piece of paper over the ink layer and then draw directly on the back of the paper. As with other similar print techniques you must remember that whatever you draw will be reversed. When you peel the paper off, a cool-looking image has been transferred.


I did several prints of trees and tall buildings and I also did a few ”˜texture’ prints just from the ink layer. Once they were dry I was able to scan the prints, together with my line drawings, into my computer and begin to combine them in layers. I then added a dot pattern to some of the illustrations to indicate the ordered, more clinical hospital environment and to represent those spotty robes that patients wear.


It’s rare for me to finish artwork and wish there was more to do, but I definitely felt that about Persist. More projects like this one please, Barrington Stoke!

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