This week we have introduced our Apothecary's Cabinet Advent Calendar. We have interviewed Kate Straughan, the illustrator behind our Advent Calendar.Tell us your story - what sparked you to pursue a career in graphic design/illustration?
I was encouraged to be creative from an early age. My mum and my grandma are very talented painters, so I always looked up to them growing up. In high school and college my favourite lessons were always art and design. Getting immersed in a project was much more fun than spending time on academic things like math (yuck). I started graphic design during my GCSEs, and I had an amazing teacher who encouraged me to pursue graphics. I created a luxury chocolate bar brand, and I was fascinated by the technical aspect of art. And that’s when I knew what I wanted to do.
How would you describe your drawing style? And what do you enjoy the most about illustration?
I would say my style is inspired by natural forms and shapes. My drawings have an organic character to them. I am very colour-driven, and I have always been drawn to earthy tones such as greens, browns, deep reds, and oranges.
London to me is the people, the atmosphere and the history. My favourite thing to do when I have some spare time is to visit an area I haven't been to before and explore. Spending time reading in a coffee shop and soaking up the atmosphere, appreciating the architecture and wondering what the buildings have seen over their many years.
I also have a route that I love to walk on a Sunday, going past my favourite shops and markets in east London and having a snoop around. I'm lucky enough to live close to loads of great museums and galleries which I go and wander around when I’m low on inspo.
How do you find balance, and what keeps you inspired?
For me, stepping away from being creative is the best way to keep the flow going. I love exercises such as running, hiking, cycling and weight lifting. They help me to come back to my work with a fresh pair of eyes. Sometimes, if I'm stuck on a brief or project, it can give me time away from a blank page to think ideas over.
Through covid, I had creative burnout from being stuck in my tiny room in my flatshare and needed a big change in my life to combat this (literally). I joined the army reserves to push myself and challenge a new aspect of my character. Through that, I have met the most amazing people, which has brought me out of my bubble. That is a very extreme answer to my problem, but boy, did it help!
What do you do to motivate yourself or to switch up energy throughout the day?
I nearly always start my day with some form of exercise. I find it sets up my day in a positive way, and I feel I've accomplished something. I am also most motivated when surrounded by like-minded and talented people. It spurs me to get on and work. Coffee also always helps.
How do you define wellbeing?
Wellbeing to me is being happy. Mentally and physically, on the inside and the outside.
It is easy to focus on life's negatives and regret not doing something or pushing myself enough and comparing myself to others. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back and think:
I did this, I got myself here, and look at what I have achieved with my hard work.
I think it’s important to practice self-love. One of the ways I’ve been taught to do this is by giving myself pamper sessions (my mum's creation), where I spend an evening with a hot bath, cooking myself a yummy meal and watching a film I've had on my list. I always feel so refreshed after!
Any tips for inspiring creativity?
It has to be getting out in nature. Because a lot of my work is inspired by nature and how it makes me feel, the best thing I can do is go and take a hike and take my camera with me.
I photograph things that make me feel a certain way and spot little details that I can draw on. My family always think I'm mad for doing this, but I love being in the rain and cold because it pushes you to feel the power of nature. There’s no feeling like swimming in the sea in November or hiking to a hill peak in a rain storm.What are some small habits you practice that make a big difference?
Growing up, I was lucky enough to live in Sweden. The best thing that their culture taught me is that spending time with your friends and family is invaluable, as is taking time for the little things.
What's your life's philosophy or mantra?
Sleep can significantly affect our mood and stress levels.
Life isn't a race. Go at your own pace. Do what makes YOU happy.
What’s your ideal winding down routine to find peace and calm?
My best friend always says I'm a Grandma because I love an early night. For me, after a long day, there’s nothing like a shower or bath and being tucked up in bed with a book. I try not to look at my phone after 9 pm and try and get an hour of reading in.
That is the best time for me to read because there are no distractions, and it makes me forget about the day and feel sleepy. I have been known to fall asleep with my face in a book.
I am lucky enough to have a family of strong and inspiring women. They always have the best advice and are supportive of everything I do. They are all creative in their ways, and I love that they know how to make you feel special with little handmade cards and gifts, from baubles to pillows and watercolour paintings.What is your creative downtime like?
If I've captured a photo that I feel inspired by, I try and experiment a bit away from client briefs and work on an illustration of that. One of my favourites is when I was at the Isle of Skye, and I went down to the bay from our crofter's cottage and the sun was rising. It was cold and dull but quite magical, with the sun coming up past the sea. I used rich purples and browns for the landscape and gold and pinks for the skies, with a rough style brush to show the roughness of the scene. Landscape illustration has never been my strong point.
There's always so much more to a landscape than you first think, but I'm pleased with how it came out.
Seeing my family and being in the countryside. My family are all from the north of England, so I don't get to see them very often. It's nice to get out of London and have a slower pace of life during the Christmas break. I also get to spend time with my dog Monty, a furry bearded collie with the best personality.
Festive editSongs that make you feel motivated?
The Christmas songs that make me feel motivated are those in the album ‘Christmas blues’ by Sabrina Claudio. It's sexy, empowering, and thankfully not your average cheesy seasonal music.A party isn’t complete without…
An outfit that you feel great in. I love to get glammed up during the festive season and feel my best.What’s your favourite Christmas drink?
I wish I had a more festive answer for this, but I love an Old Fashioned or a whisky sour. I feel like whisky is defiantly a drink for colder weather. Maybe a Baileys with some ice in front of the fire wouldn't go amiss.
Your tips on how to illustrate Christmas…
Capture the cosy. Christmas is such a cosy time of year, with glowing fires and candles and snuggling down. I find the best way to do this is with darker colours that lead to brightness, with an element of sparkle.
For years, I have made wrapping paper for my gifts. It's nothing fancy, just some brown parcel paper that I have printed with some designs I carved out of lino, but I think the best thing about giving a gift is showing how much you care about the person you are gifting, and nothing says that more than giving something with a handmade element.