Behind the Book: Seagrass Dreams, illustrated by Chloe Bonfield
Bright Artist Chloe Bonfield, with her signature multi-dimensional paper cut style, stunned readers with her first book The Perfect Tree. Her latest illustrated book, Seagrass Dreams, published May 8th with the brand new imprint of Quarto, Seagrass Press, as its debut title. Seagrass Press will publish highly visual and immersive picture books which feature wonders of the natural world — and what better way to kick off their new venture than with Chloe’s gorgeous illustrations introducing readers to marine life?
Here, Chloe Bonfield and her Bright Agent Anne Moore Armstrong talk about Chloe’s creative process, where she uses surprising mediums to create brilliant, innovative projects like Seagrass Dreams — and how her agent helped her realize her full potential by supporting her in all aspects of book creation and career trajectory.
Q: Looking through your portfolio, Chloe, it’s amazing to see all the different styles you work in. What inspired you to have such a diverse array of styles and how did some of them emerge?
Chloe Bonfield: When studying illustration at Camberwell, I worked with ceramics, paper cuts, photography, print making, and embroidery. Many mediums. But the essentials I tried to keep consistent, yet evolving. Those essentials are the narratives, characters, and communication with the viewer. So nowadays I’ve honed in on children’s books narratives. I love that magical feeling when you have all of your tools at hand, and you can meld them together to create something shiny. The different materials and ways of working emerged a bit from college and from an endless curiosity, but also from the interpretation of briefs and collaboration with designers and art directors. It’s a wonderful smorgasbord!
Q: Anne, you saw something special about Chloe’s art when you took her on. What about her work made you want to represent her at Bright?
Anne Moore Armstrong: What really intrigues me about Chloe’s work is that she has a way of looking at materials and seeing beyond their functional use. She makes them a part of a world she creates, whether out of paper or other mediums. She creates ephemeral, magical, and wonderfully intriguing worlds in her art.
Q: Chloe, can you talk a little bit about your process from photograph or cut paper to final piece?
CB: Usually the form the work will take is discussed around the time of briefing. From there I will make sketches, keeping the paper cut elements in mind. I will then get down to fiddling and chopping and painting and gluing paper. It is so, so fun. Honestly, to build those tiny things that you used to build out of paper as a child. And make them into something that, hopefully, looks half decent! Then I artwork the piece digitally. This depends on each piece of artwork and the project, as there are usually a few rounds of changes. As is the norm.
It is a bit different when I am working on one of my own authored projects. It becomes this back and forth of writing, drawing, writing drawing and then in between working up artwork to see what works best. And a ton of research. Following these different processes gives me new ideas about mediums to work in. I will develop those separately, then they go off and get made into illustrations for books or book covers.
Q: Chloe, what advice do you have for children’s book illustrators looking to experiment with different styes?
CB: Do it! I know it isn’t for everyone, and I do sometimes long for a simpler life, but then I remember that it isn’t about simplicity. All work is complex, it’s just that it’s your own work. Own it. Look at things, reference things, but don’t worry about rules. Unless you are the sort of person that does worry about rules! Then do it, create rules!
AMA: Chloe thrives on experimentation and creating new approaches to illustration. I encourage her to do that while also keeping the young audience in mind. Her characters can sometimes start out ghostly or other worldly and then become a bit more grounded for the picture book audience, once we are at that stage of refining her initial ideas. Q: Chloe, what project have you felt most excited about and what would be your dream project moving forward?
AMA: Chloe thrives on experimentation and creating new approaches to illustration. I encourage her to do that while also keeping the young audience in mind. Her characters can sometimes start out ghostly or other worldly and then become a bit more grounded for the picture book audience, once we are at that stage of refining her initial ideas.
Q: Chloe, what project have you felt most excited about and what would be your dream project moving forward?
But really I have that cheesy “artist” sensibility, where I will always want to go further! I just don’t know what life will bring so we shall see! Although I would love to work with an author to create a graphic novel… and of course, I also love to create images for cards and work on licensing projects too, through Bright Art Licensing.
Q: Chloe, can you tell us why you chose the medium you used for your latest illustrated book Seagrass Dreams?
CB: Just this week Seagrass Dreams was published with a new imprint of Quarto, Seagrass Press. It is written by a proper expert, Kathleen Hanes. It was really cool to be trusted to create illustrations for a non-fiction title and fun to try and create some romance around the creatures that are featured. I used a mix of paper cut, collage and digital to make the art for this book. As a counting and non-fiction book it needed to be clear and accurate as well as dreamy. It was a great project to work on. I admit I am a bit of an ‘earth mother’ type, so I really did dig this project!
Q: Anne, back to you. What made you decide to pitch Chloe’s artwork for this project?
AMA: Quarto contacted me as they were considering paper artists for this book, and of course, I immediately sent them Chloe’s samples with the caveat that she would be willing to do a brand new sample piece for them, as I knew Chloe is always inspired by each new project in new ways. They were delighted with her work, and chose her out of the options they had gathered.
Q: Chloe, how has being represented by Bright USA and working with your agent impacted your illustration career?
CB: Through Bright I have been given the chance to launch into a career of children’s illustration. I still have so much to learn and to make, but knowing you have this working relationship with an agent makes the dream all the more tangible. Anne is brilliant and having her art direction and editorial help has taught me much. It’s a great comfort to know someone is out there, with you all the way, sharing their expertise. And working as hard as you are!
AMA: I love when Chloe sends me a new image saying she’s just been inspired by a story or a news article or a video online that touched her heart and got her creative juices flowing. It’s that ever growing spark within her that is moving her toward her goals as an illustrator. I am honored to represent such a gifted artist as Chloe!
As an added bonus, here’s a sneak peek at an author-illustrated story Chloe is developing about Henri Matisse and his daughter. If you’re interested in hearing more about this project, please contact Anne here.