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Introducing Liz Monahan - Illustrator!

I'd like to welcome Liz Monahan to the blog today - Liz is a wonderful illustrator of Jane Austen's books/characters and she has a new kindle book out which I highly recommend! I asked Liz to tell us a little about herself-

Liz Monahan
 I love your illustrations in your illustrated Pride and Prejudice. Could you tell us about your interest in Jane Austen and why you decided to start illustrating her books.

 I first read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was sixteen, and was instantly smitten. I fell in love with Jane Austen’s writing, and my passion for her works endures; I never seem to tire of them. I studied English Literature at Southampton University, and wrote my final year thesis on Austen’s work, for which I received a First Class Honours degree.
Pride and Prejudice-illustrated by Liz Monahan
I decided to illustrate ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in December 2012. Prior to that, I’d produced a set of paintings, which I called ‘The Cast Of’ series, featuring all the main characters from each of Austen’s six novels, prints of which I’ve been selling through my Etsy shop: ‘BlueSkyInking’. I’ve also sold them at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Inspired by the feedback that I received there, I presented my portfolio to ‘The Jane Austen House Museum’ in Chawton, Hampshire. They agreed to sell prints and greeting cards through their shop. Like many artists, I tend to inhabit of a world of self-doubt, wondering whether my interpretation of Austen’s works will find favour with more ‘traditional’ readers. I’ve been heartened by the positive reaction from the global community of Jane Austen fans. It would appear that Austen’s popularity shows no sign of waning, especially in her bicentenary year. I’ve always loved Hugh Thomson’s original illustrations, but sensed that there was scope to develop and explore the satirical themes of the book for a more contemporary audience. Many of the recently illustrated adaptations of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ had left me disappointed; they tend to trivialize the characters and overlook the subtle nuances that make the book such a pleasure to read, and re-read. Like everybody else, I adored Andrew Davis’ seminal 1995 BBC production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but thought that the time was right to offer an alternative to those adaptations that had used cut-and-paste, photo-shopped images of Colin Firth (gorgeous though he is!) emerging half-dressed from a lake. I decided to take the plunge when I read a timely observation from Chris Riddell, a British illustrator whose work (‘The Edge Chronicles’, ‘Ottoline’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’) I really admire. “If nobody will commission you to illustrate a book, you must commission yourself.”

 Could you tell us something about yourself and your work. When did you decide that illustration was something you’d like to do for a career?

Lizzy Bennet and Miss Bingley - copyright Liz Monahan
 I trained as an illustrator at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design – illustrating stories was something I’d always wanted to do from a very early age. I’ve illustrated a number of children’s books, and also undertake private commissions. I recently moved to the beautiful city of Norwich, with my own Mr. Darcy – my librarian husband Kevin, and our beloved, retired greyhound (that we’ve re-christened Mister Bingley!). I love doodling (on any available scrap of paper), music (I play the trumpet), reading, and the theatre. What’s your favourite medium? My preferred medium is watercolour. I find it very versatile, and chose it for this particular project because of its lightness and clarity.

 What is next for you?

 I’d like to illustrate all of Austen’s novels, so I’m steeling myself for my next big project, which will be ‘Mansfield Park’, for its bicentenary in 2014. I’ve done a few preparatory sketches, which I hope to post on Twitter, to gauge the reaction. I plan to follow it with ‘Emma’ in 2015 and ‘Persuasion’ in 2017. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ will hopefully appear in 2016, but by then I might need to have a lie down in a darkened room! I’ve learnt so much from the experience of self-publishing Pride and Prejudice, and it’s been incredibly hard work but hugely satisfying. I’d also like to illustrate Jane’s lesser known work ‘The History of England’, written in 1791, when she was just sixteen, and illustrated by her sister Cassandra. I am also working on a children’s story with my husband, who has a way with words, featuring our beloved greyhound Mister Bingley, as detective Shylock Bones, assisted by his dim-witted sidekick Doctor Flotsam.

Lady Catherine de Burgh and Lizzy - copyright Liz Monahan
If you had to choose, which illustration would you pick of your own as a favourite?
Oh, that is such a difficult question to answer. It’s so hard to pick a favourite! I like drawing those characters that offer a supporting role in the story. They are easier to draw because they carry less ‘baggage’. I spent a lot of time researching the book, trying to decide how the characters could and should look. Jane Austen gives very little away in terms of her characters’ physical appearance, which offers plenty of scope to freely interpret them. I was acutely aware that everyone has their own ‘take’ on Elizabeth and Darcy – it was important that I got them right! My husband is forever reminding me of the old saying (that we keep stuck on the fridge). It reads: ‘I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure - which is: try to please everybody’. After a lot of worrying (and a lot of preparatory sketching), I decided ‘to please myself’ with my own personal vision of the characters, the one I had formed on first reading the book when I was sixteen. I hope others will enjoy my interpretation, and understand that it was a labour of unconditional love.

Liz Monahan and Mr Bingley
I'm sure they will, Liz! Thank you so much for visiting me on the blog today - I wish you huge success with your work - what a talented lady, I'm sure you'll all agree!!!