Suumin Birks: Simply Adorable Characters

Suumin Birks adores vintage cartoons and animations and loves to tell stories with pictures. She recently (very kindly) sent me an email to let me know that she had listed #IllustrationMatters in an article which she wrote for the Daily Design Break about useful and inspiring on-line illustration resources... Obviously I was thrilled to discover that she also illustrates cute characters for children’s books and interior design projects too. 

What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today? I never really thought I could be creative until I was about 19 – I always wanted to be, but I wasn't really one of those obviously artistic kids and went more towards the maths/science route at school. Then after I left school, I started making posters and flyers for various events for my youth group at the time, just because there was no one else to do it. I had some great people around who were really good about feedback, which helped a lot because right from the start I was designing for an audience. I ended up really loving graphic design, eventually I was able to work on projects for local businesses and community events, and went freelance for a few months. Then I moved from New Zealand to London, got a job in retail and kind of left that side of my life nearly untouched for a couple of years. Last year I decided I'd had enough of retail, quit my job and went travelling around South East Asia. Whilst away my mum asked me to do some pictures for a story she'd written for my nephew and I was surprised to find that illustration came more naturally to me than graphic design. I adore storytelling with pictures.

Which is your favourite character/magazine cover you’ve doodled on to date? It's hard to choose! It might be my illustration of the giant Monopoly dog and the little boy with the balloon. I ended up really liking the silhouette boy because he could be anybody.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? I think at that stage I wanted to be a doctor... Tee Hee! So I suppose patients all over the world can breathe a sigh of relief that this idea never came to pass!

Which uni did you go to and what did you study? I went to Massey University in New Zealand and studied a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Psychology and Physiology. A bit of a far cry from what I'm doing today, but it taught me a lot about research and communication which helps me a lot with my workflow now.

What’s the proudest moment of your career to date? I wrote a blog post recently about how the small things we do every day are as important as the big obvious successes. I illustrated the article too with a small boy building a cathedral. I was informed that the article and illustration has since been used by a drug and alcohol counsellor who works with at-risk youth. For me this whole process is not just about creating pretty pictures and cute characters, ideally my work will mean something to someone.

Which project has been your career highlight? My illustrations will feature in a children’s book; “Ricky and the Snail” which is set to be published later this year. I really tried to strip the illustrations back to bare graphical elements thus pulling in a lot of the storytelling techniques that I had observed in vintage silent cartoons.

How do you promote yourself? At the moment it's mostly through my Facebook Page. I post fairly regularly and also try to keep my website up to date too!

Do you love or loathe social media? Right now I love it! I find Twitter and Pinterest are a great way to find new ideas and connect with really interesting people.

Which tools do you use to create stuff? I lay out the basics in Adobe Illustrator then I pull the illustration into Photoshop to apply the textures. For book layouts… I place the Photoshop files into InDesign and apply the text there. I’m getting back into silkscreen more recently too though… I prefer limiting the colour palette in my illustrative work and smoothing out the shapes, so that when the time comes I can take my existing designs and use them to make prints.

Where do you find inspiration? There are a number of great websites that I frequent when I'm looking for something fresh to inspire me (this is one of them, as you know! And the rest are here. As far as artists who I draw on for inspiration, (excuse the pun) Charley Harper and Saul Bass are right at the top of my list, I really admire the clever simplicity in their work. I also adore vintage silent cartoons, Pixar films for their epic storytelling and finally, Dr Seuss for his magical words.

What’s your favourite music to work to? I love jazz, blues and soul music, and I'll usually default to Billie Holiday if I'm not sure what kind of mood I'm in.

Pub or club? Definitely pub! I like to sit and chat and I'm a terrible dancer, so clubbing is really not for me.

Favourite pair of shoes? Right now it's a pair of red velvet ballet flats – I love the colour and when I wear them I'm Dorothy.

Which magazine or blogs do you read religiously? My favourite is Dumbo Feather. I haven't got my hands on a copy for a while, but it is beautiful in every sense of the word – amazing artwork, amazing articles, it's printed on gorgeous paper – it's more like a book really… Something special that you can keep going back to.

What do you spread on your toast in the morning? Nutella!

What are you working on at the moment? I've just opened up an Etsy Shop: Fox & Velvet where I sell ‘giclee prints’ of my illustrations. I am also creating artwork for a friend’s product design degree show… Always on the lookout for new storytelling opportunities me…