Embracing her inner child, Sophie Corrigan’s style is marked by a playful, unrestrained creativity and is inspired by all things adorable.
The multi-talented illustrator and children’s writer takes us on a tour of her studio—which just so happens to be above her family’s former sweet shop in Lancashire, England.
Hey Sophie! Let’s start with you introducing us to your world. Where is your studio? What’s your town like?
I work from home, and by home I mean the converted loft studio at my parents’ house, which was a beloved sweet shop for almost forty years. They just retired this year so they’re claiming back the shop space to become part of the house. I probably should have moved out by now, but my parents are so obliging and I’m just so damn comfortable!
And so are my birds – I spend possibly too much time with my cockatiels, Tilly and Freya. I like that my coworkers are tiny and adorable and can fly. They make me laugh daily, especially Freya because she’s really weird. Working from home really suits me because I can have unlimited cups of teas, sing (badly) while I’m working, and not disturb anyone.
The village I live in near Lancashire is pretty cute and small. It’s just close enough to cities like Manchester for me to visit now and then, but far enough away (and green enough) for me to keep sane. Everyone’s very ‘down to Earth’ too, which I like. Not sure what the future will hold, but for now I have a space that I can completely make my own, and work in peacefully, so I think I’m pretty lucky.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
Animals are endlessly inspiring, so if I feel like taking a break from a project or just want to draw for the sake of drawing, I’ll draw some kind of creature. I watch a lot of comedy too, and get a lot of inspiration from funny sayings and words (which I sometimes like to combine to create a whole new animal.) The internet is great for inspiration as there’s always something new and interesting to discover!
The TV nerd in me has to know… What are you watching right now? What are some of your favorite comedies that inspire your work?
Oh gosh, there’s so many. I watch quite a lot and some of my all-time favorites are ‘Father Ted’, ‘The Office’, ‘Green Wing’, ‘The Royle Family’, ‘Psychoville’, ‘The League of Gentlemen’, ‘Blackadder’, ‘Flight of the Conchords’, ‘Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule’, ‘The Fast Show’, ‘Peep Show’, ‘Spaced’, ‘Man Down’ and basically anything by Vic & Bob.
My newer faves include ‘This Country’, ‘Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing’, ‘After Life’, ‘Fleabag’, ‘The Detectorists’, ‘Kidding’ (Jim Carrey and PUPPETS, anyone?) and ‘Nathan for You’. There’s loads more – I’m just a bit obsessed!
Are there other artists or mediums that influence your work?
There’s so many incredible illustrators out there it’s difficult to narrow down, but some of my early influences include Quentin Blake, Brian Froud, Axel Scheffler, Vic Reeves, Richard Scarry, Jennie Maizels, Tim Burton, Tove Jansson, David Shrigley and Donna Wilson. I also really love the work of Emily Hughes, Sara Ogilvie and Matt Sewell – to name just a few. I’m following some amazing artists on Instagram and try to collect stuff I like on Pinterest and Etsy too.
I’m really drawn to and inspired by native sculpture and folk art, and have a big fascination with cave drawings. It’s really the first form of illustration, and I just love the authenticity and honesty of it.
Where did your interest in children’s illustration begin?
I’ve always loved to draw, and was encouraged to by my family when I was growing up. I also loved books and reading, so it’s really been a natural progression for me.
I remember doing a book project about wallabies when I was about eight (we had to pick the subject, and I was obsessed with them at the time) and I thought it was the most fun thing I’d ever done at school!
I used to have drawing sessions with my siblings where I’d draw really silly things and characters for fun. For example, I once drew a picture of a weird-looking goat and labeled it ‘Jake the Gorilla.’ I got a laugh from that, which was encouraging. Then it was only from studying illustration at university that made me realize I could actually illustrate books as a real job!
If you could give a classic children’s tale the Sophie touch, which would it be?
That’s a really good question, because I love classic children’s tales—especially when they’re a bit dark and creepy with hidden meanings. I’m totally fascinated by character archetypes.
‘The Ugly Duckling’ is something I’d like to tackle. Even though the title itself breaks my heart a bit, because it’s a FACT that no baby animal is ugly! But I guess that’s sort of the point of the story… It would be fun to play around with that one I think, though I’m not sure I could make a duckling look ugly, even if I tried.
‘Billy Goats Gruff’ was always a favorite of mine and that story would require me to draw loads of goats and a troll—which is right up my alley.
Also nursery rhymes are very appealing to me because of the history behind them, they rhyme and they’re so short and sweet! I mean how cute does ‘Incy, Wincy Spider’ make spiders sound?! Maybe I’ll do a modern version called ‘Hairy, Scary Spider,’ but he still climbs back up that spout to prove to himself that he can do it, and because he doesn’t care what everyone thinks of him and his hairy legs… or something.
You’re an author as well, so what would you say are the biggest differences and biggest similarities between the writing and illustrating process?
Writing is way harder, I think. I’ve always loved doing it but because I’ve not studied writing and focused on it like I have with my illustration. I have a bit of impostor syndrome with it. It’s a lot newer to me to be doing “professionally.” I can’t tell if I’m ok or terrible at it, but it’s always fun to push myself and learn new things. My confidence does get knocked way more if a publisher asks for changes to the writing than if they ask for changes to the artwork. It can be stressful and a challenge, but I enjoy the process of refining words to make them better and more concise. Children’s writing is a proper art form!
I gave myself an extra challenge with my upcoming ‘Pugtato’ book, as I specifically wanted to write it in rhyme. The publisher tried to change my mind but ultimately let me do it. It was a HUGE task! I had a very specific tone of voice that I want to get across, and I was working with an American publisher so there was a lot of back and forth. I learned so much though—mainly that the publisher is usually right when they suggest changes. That being said, you have to stick to your ‘tone of voice’ guns sometimes, too.
For those of our artists who might want to pursue their own path writing and illustrating books, I wonder if you could speak to how you got connected with your publisher?
Surprisingly, every publisher I’ve worked with has gotten in touch with me after seeing my work online somewhere, and it’s just developed from there. That’s why I encourage artists to get their work out there as much as they can and not be too worried about it being “perfect.” You never know if a publisher is looking and your work might be perfect for them!
Your username on Instagram is Lady Axolotl. For those at home who don’t know, an axolotl (also known as a Mexican walking fish) is a near-extinct salamander found in Mexico that can regrow its own limbs—amazing! So I’m thinking there’s got to be an IG origin story here. How’d you land on that as your Instagram handle?
I’ve been obsessed with axolotls since the moment I saw them! They’re just adorable and enigmatic—like the actual personification of cuteness. They’re also a bit creepy too, which I love. I used to keep them as pets, after successfully raising some from eggs I got on eBay (of all places)! I was heartbroken when my last two passed away this previous year… I feel honored to have had the pleasure of keeping them, though.
For my username, I wanted something silly but interesting (like axolotls are.) They’re sometimes called ‘Peter Pan’ salamanders because most of the time they keep their juvenile characteristics all their lives. I think that’s pretty cool and something I intend to do myself. I added ‘Lady’ for my username because I sometimes pretend to be a grown-up.
Do you have any tips for other artists on using social media?
I’d just say share what you’re doing, do a lot of it and enjoy what you do. If you’re doing cool stuff, people will eventually find it.
I’ve recently started adding a little signature to my art posts because I’ve been ripped off so many times. For new illustrators just starting out, I say do that so you have a deterrent for people who want to copy you—or if people see your work shared without credit somewhere, they can at least Google you! The internet is a big place and your artwork could be shared anywhere, so anything that makes you a little easier to find is a good thing.
What’s next? Any big projects (that you can discuss…) coming up? Anything you’ve always wanted to tackle creatively?
I’m really excited for my upcoming books ‘The (Not) BAD Animals’ and ‘Pugtato Finds a Thing’, which are both coming out pretty soon! Both are written and illustrated by me (still weird to wrap my brain around.) They’re dream projects and I really can’t believe they’re going to become actual books!
I’m going to be illustrating a children’s book written by James Breakwell soon about a boy who wants to be a pterodactyl. It’s going to be epic. I’m also working on a ‘Pugtato’ board book, and thinking up story ideas for some of my other ‘Foodimal’ and ‘Thingimal’ characters like Banarwhal and Cactoise… Honest Blob needs his own book (or something) at some point, too.
Apart from books, I’d like to try to do more traditional painting and sculpting—and just take more time off! The last few years have been crazy busy, so I want to take some time to chill and refresh.
BONUS QUESTION: Okay so we got to hear about your pugtato character. Probably the cutest idea I’ve heard, but what was the story behind its creation?
I absolutely love dogs and potatoes in any form. It just made sense to me to combine two things I love! I have a full series of ‘Foodimals’ and ‘Thingimals’ characters that I love adding to whenever I’m not too busy on other projects.