Julia Woolf is a children’s book illustrator, but she has also lead a colourful career working both in London and Los Angeles as a key animator working for companies such as Dreamworks and PDI (for films such as Shrek & Madagascar.) Here we interview Julia to talk more about her past work in America, life as a mother & her passion for children’s book illustration.
“I think picture books are beautiful things, a real visual treat and a joy to turn the page to see whats next.” – Julia Woolf
I did a graphic design course at art college and then went on to work in the animation industry for 20 years. I started working in the commercial studios that were dotted around Soho in London back then, and also worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which was made in Camden) as a key assistant animator. For the 10 years that I worked in London I worked on features and commercials.
I then relocated to Los Angeles to work at Dreamworks. Working in the layout department, art department and visual development. During the 12 years I was in the US I also moved to San Francisco to work at PDI doing films such as Shrek 1 & 2 and Madagascar.
In 2003 I had my daughter and left Dreamworks and started my career as an illustrator.
I worked for 10 years as a jobbing illustrator, doing a few books, novelty books mainly and a lot of educational work. I felt a bit fed up as I was always busy with work that I didn’t particularly like and knew I had to make a change so decided to do the MA in Children’s book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge. It was the best decision I could have made as it has given me the chance to experiment and do the sort of work that I really want to do.
Do you prefer life and living in the UK or your time in the USA?
I love being home. I always felt like a fish out of water in LA. It was great when I was working, but when I was at home when my daughter was a baby, it was a bit lonely. Even though we lived in a great neighbourhood, hardly anyone walks so you don’t see people walking around. I like being home and living in a town. But living in SF was great. It felt far more like a european city. I have no regrets about leaving America, but I do miss a lot of my friends.
Do you point out the work you created at places like Dreamworks to your daughter, does she understand what you’ve achieved in your career?
Yes, she’s fully aware of the work I’ve done at Dreamworks, and my husband, as he’s a film editor and edited a lot of those films. She makes and edits her own films, and draws and is really good at it.
Was being a children’s book illustrator something you’ve always wanted to be?
Children’s book illustration was always something that I felt passionate about. I think picture books are beautiful things, a real visual treat and a joy to turn the page to see whats next. It has a very strong connection to animation, both appealing to the same audience. Both mediums follow the same story structure, with a character that a child can engage with and a story that sparks their imagination enough to make them want to hear or watch that story again and again.
Which people inspired you growing up?
Mary Blair, who was a visual development artist at Disney in the 1940’s to 50’s and then returning in the 60’s. But I was first aware of her as a picture book artist, having the book that she illustrated called ‘I Can Fly’ as a child, was one of my favourites. Her fantastic use of colour, design and the great compositions and shapes are just lovely.
What advice would you give to students looking to follow a similar career path to yourself?
Go for it and if possible try and get a place on the MA course at Cambridge, it really is brilliant.
Is giving back through university teaching something you’d like to do in the future?
Well, if they asked I definitely think about it.
Do you enjoy any other people’s illustration work today?
Of course. There are so many great illustrators, who are very inspiring. Like Chris Haughton, Oliver Jeffers, Laura Carlin are to name a few of the more obvious ones.
What has been your favourite and most successful work to date?
It would be my first author/illustrator book that I’m working on right now, that will be out in just over a year, I think.
Where do you see yourself and your work in the next 2-3years? Do you hold any underlying goals or ambitions?
As I am currently working on my first author/illustrator picture book, I hope to continue writing and illustrating my own books and also illustrating other text too.
Away from working how do you enjoy to relax?
Watching Coronation Street, football and going for a run or swim.
Do you have any favourite people you follow on twitter?
Danny Baker, very funny and Caitlin Moran also very funny.