Illustrating an abstract concept such as economics seems like a difficult task. However, it’s one that illustrator Hazel Partridge has pulled off spectacularly in her collaboration with Yale University Press on Niall Kishtainy’s A Little History of Economics. We chatted to Hazel about how she went about completing the project, and what exciting plans she’s got for her portfolio.
You’ve got quite a few different types of illustration projects in your portfolio. How did A Little History of Economics differ from your past creations as illustrator?
I definitely find it difficult to stick to one area of interest! I love applying my designs to products and packaging as well as creating more conceptual images like those in A Little History of Economics. The medium that I choose can really affect what the outcome looks like, ‘drawing’ with a scalpel or lino cutter will give an image a completely different feel than if I use a pen, even though the fundamental style is the same.
A Little History of Economics was a sustained project requiring 40 illustrations that fitted in with the tone of the book, whereas some of my previous work has been in response to a more personal theme. It was great to work alongside the author to bring his words to life, and the art department at Yale University Press were very supportive too- now that I’ve held a copy of the book in my hands I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves in March.
What were the main challenges when bringing illustrations to a book explaining economic ideas?
The biggest challenge for me was working out how I could clearly illustrate the economic concepts- some of them are quite abstract! Luckily the author used a lot of fun examples to explain the theories (pineapple sellers on a tropical island was one of my favourites), so that gave me something to work from to keep the illustrations lively.
Another unexpected difficulty came in keeping the illustrations feeling consistent when covering such a large timeline. Moving from ancient Egyptian imagery to the modern digital age covers a huge variety of subject matter and called for a lot of research. Print is a really versatile medium and I think it works well for the A Little History series because it can feel both old-fashioned and very up-to-date, which suits the theme of the books.
Which illustration ended up being your favourite?
It’s difficult to choose but I think I have to go with the image that I created for Chapter 37 as my overall favourite. The chapter explains how technology enables economic progression, and discusses how kidney transplant patients can be helped by matching them up with a donor via a database. Organ donation is a topic that means a lot to me so I immediately picked up on this section of the chapter. I had to keep all of the illustrations relatively simple since they are printed in the book at a small scale, but I think that turning the arrows between the computer and patient into DNA strands really made this a strong illustration.
What techniques and materials do you use when illustrating? Do you have one you’re particularly keen on?
I am usually commissioned to work with either lino printing or papercutting. Removing material to create an unbroken image can involve a bit of mental gymnastics but it’s very rewarding when the final piece is complete; I love playing with silhouettes and layers, and the project that I am currently working on actually brings the two techniques together which is exciting.
I don’t really enjoy using digital editing in my work, even though sometimes it has to be done to make sure an image is fit for purpose. At the end of the day I would just rather be getting my hands dirty! In my sketchbook I use pens a lot to create detailed patterns, and I’m thinking about getting experimental with paint too- it’s hard to settle.
While I’m working I need to have something to keep my mind from wandering, I like a good audiobook because you can get really involved in the story without becoming distracted. Although I’m not much of a procrastinator, I do have to shut myself away from the world or I just cannot concentrate.
Do you have any exciting plans for your portfolio that you’d like to share?
At the moment I am working with Yale University Press to create an illustrated map of Latin America- it’s currently only in the first stages but I have to admit my geographic knowledge has been improved already! I am looking forward to working with some more colour as the last few commissions that I have completed have all been in black-and-white.
I am also looking into sourcing some products to feature my work, and have just started experimenting with embroidery, which is new to me but I’m enjoying it so far- it’s a good way to relax in the evening after working on my main projects.
Hazel Partridge is an illustrator based in the Forest of Dean, and a graduate of Falmouth University. Her illustrative work often explores themes of nature, pattern and tradition using a wide range of media, particularly lino printing and paper cutting, as well as varied drawing methods. Find out more on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.